I am an outliner. I need a plan, I need to know I can hit my beats, I need to know where my characters are going. Therefore, I plan in advance.
Yet, the further I get in this journey, the more I realize what a useless label that really is. The supposed distinction between pantsing and outlining doesn’t exist, as best I can see, and the strange worries that outlining squeezes the life/inspiration/organic chemistry from a story is total nonsense.
The truth is, even the most obsessive outliner is actually a pantser! We just pants from a different distance, before zooming in to find the details. You might say, outlining is pantsing on acid. Pantsing at such a scale and pace it makes me dizzy sometimes. After all, I don’t know anyone who sits down and recites their fully-formed outline from start to finish. In practice, the whole thing is a piecemeal jumble of ideas and scenes, a schizophrenic knitting of random connections from here to there, thoughts that inspire other thoughts that lead to cool problems that suggest fascinating backstories that uncover better connections that… BOOM. Look away, kids, stories are being made.
I build my outlines by the seat of my pants, just me and raw, unfiltered characters wrestling with sparks and conflicts. If you can organize all that over the course of 50K words, and have the patience to do so, then I sincerely applaud you. I can’t. I’m far to hyper and way too impatient. I need to make it cool NOW, so I pants and pants and pants some more until I have an epically cool story. Just one that happens to be missing all the words.
If that isn’t pantsing, I don’t know what is. When it is time to write, sure I’m mostly following my plan. You could say I’m just expanding each point it from sentences to pages. I still discover the precise ways and means, the details of the conversations and the intimate feelings that appear at each turn, but I already did my pantsing. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped myself from having any fun or I’ve taken the life from the story. Why should it? It just means I was too impatient to deal with all that along the way, and had to pants it out ahead of time.
I am an outliner and my outlines are pantsed-AF.
3 thoughts on “Pantsing vs. Outlining”
I have a feeling most, if not all, writers are a mix of pantser/outliner.
Outlining used to be some mystical thing to me. I could never imagine how people could figure out what they were supposed to write before sitting down to actually write. But, I’ve also always spent a ton of time daydreaming a story before writing it, so in a way, I have planned beforehand. Just not on paper.
The lines between pantser and outliner are, indeed, blurry. Thinking about the distinction of the two, doesn’t it only really apply to how a writer gets a first draft done? There are (usually) several drafts to go after the first, so then we all end up in the “editor” category.
I think you are quite right that the distinction is just a question of how the first draft takes shape. All roads lead to Rome, and while the scenery may be different, the roads themselves are all built from the same stone and gravel.
I think this is my favourite post by you.
Best quote: “BOOM. Look away, kids, stories are being made.”
The whole thing very thoroughly sums up how I end up writing, too. Pantsing outlines is fun. 😀