Words with Inorai #2 – Planners and Pantsers

Have some cats, too.  It’s Christmas.

Welcome back to Words With Ino!

Today I wanted to switch gears a little bit – last week’s post was more grammatical, more on the rules side of things.  Today, instead, I wanted to discuss a concept that’s a little more top-level, and a lot of that’s because these are terms you’ll hear me talking about a lot.

Planning and Pantsing.

I get asked a lot what my process is for writing, for plotting, how I come up with stories or how I develop them out.  A lot of times, people ask how they should be doing it, or what the ‘right’ way to do it is.  Now, of course, the short answer is that there is no explicit right or wrong way to handle developing a story.  Everyone processes it differently, because everyone thinks through the creative process differently.

Wow, how incredibly generic and unhelpful that is for me to say.  Wonderful xD Let me explain a little more.

To use a broad brush, there are two different schools of thought when it comes to plotting and storybuilding.  Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and frankly, it’s not black and white, it’s a spectrum. People are going to fall somewhere in the middle of these two.  But these are the two, dammit.

I’ll just note – this is more of a sensitive topic in writing, as is Worldbuilder’s Syndrome.  This is really just my opinion, which has been based off the experiences I have. But everyone is different, as I said, and your take might be totally different!  These will be terms and concepts I come back to a lot, so it’s really important to get them out there 🙂


Famous author example: Tolkien

This is really quite simple, and it works pretty much like the name implies!  Planners like to have a well-established premise and plotline before they begin, down to designing characters and plot twists and making sure everything is in just the right place.  A lot of the planners I know use Scrivener, which is a writing program that allows for you to link different blurbs and insert ties back to character descriptions and just offers a ton of tools for really making your world very methodical.

The planners are the folks you’ll see with timelines, with character sheets drawn up for the cast and everything laid out neatly.  How you choose to explore your world is, of course, up to you – but we’ll discuss Worldbuilder’s Syndrome at a later date xD

Like I said, both of these schools of thought have advantages and disadvantages.  So let’s look at some of that, shall we?

Advantages –

Since planners are planning out their world beforehand, they can take details that might not come out until later in the novel or series and ‘seed’ them beforehand.  They can take advantage of their worldbuilding and use it to make their world feel fleshed out from day one. Also, with the plotline laid out a bit more thoroughly from day one, planners tend to have a better idea of where they’re going, and might have fewer instances of hitting roadblocks.

Disadvantages –

The urge to flesh everything out can be fucking tempting.  I understand. I know. But, there are limits to what is needed, and planners are at dramatically higher risk of falling victim to Worldbuilder’s Syndrome.  That’s a bigger topic than I can discuss here today xD

I would say one of the fears that I have about planning things out too methodically is the inflexibility you develop.  Stories morph and change and grow as you write them, until you look back and you’re not quite sure how you got there. I think that going too far with planning can make you feel like you have to stick with the plan you made, and that can make you rigid.

The other disadvantage to carefully fleshing everything out beforehand, in my eyes, is that it becomes very tempting to just dump all of those lovely little details you created on the readers.  You made them, after all – why not use them? But then the reader winds up drowning to death under a flood of custom-made languages and history going back centuries. It’s a careful balance!


Famous author example: Stephen King

“Ino, what the hell is this pantsing thing you keep mentioning?”

Could not tell you the number of times I’ve been asked that xD

Pantsing is just a shortened name for ‘flying by the seat of your pants’.  Which Google informs me is a reference to early aviation, where pilots would fly without proper instruments, based on their instinct and intuition.

Pantsers are exactly the opposite of planners.  I’ve also heard it referred to as ‘Discovery Writing’.  Basically, the idea is that you take a premise or concept, and rather than methodically laying everything out, you just dive straight on in and see where it goes.

That’s….pretty much it xD you give each of your characters some proper motivation – what they want – and a goal to work towards, and then you turn them loose!  As long as they behave logically and make choices that are realistic to how they’d actually behave, they’ll follow the story through on their own.

Again, as with planning, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages here.

Advantages –

Because you’re letting the characters and plot flow as they will, deciding the route they’ll take more on-the-fly, pantsing can help with making the chapters flow more naturally, imo.  The characters will be as strong as your mental image of them, in short, because they’re controlling things rather than their character sheet making choices.

Pantsing also gives you the ability to adapt your story as you go.  Change your mind on something? Want to take things in a bit different direction?  You can do that, because you don’t have anything set in stone to begin with 🙂 You can avoid the tear-stained pages of worldbuilding notes that have suddenly become useless!

Lastly, worldbuilding as you go allows you to drip-feed information to the readers.  You won’t be dumping a pile of exposition on them, because you don’t know right then, either.  You’re focusing specifically on what’s relevant for that scene.

Disadvantages –

Of course, there’s always a flipside.  If you’re going into a story without a concrete plan, the risk for finding yourself in a corner does become more of a thing.  Lookin’ at you, GRRM.  In my personal opinion, ‘writing yourself into a corner’ is less of a thing if your characters are making logical choices, since they’d still be making choices and taking actions.  The issue more becomes that the actions they take don’t have good outcomes, or the outcomes you want.

Given that you’re not planning ahead, it’s also harder to do things like seeding plot twists or big reveals a great deal in advance.  It can be done, absolutely – but you’re going to have to be a bit more flexible with it, and you’re going to have to really focus on how all of the motivations of your characters interact and conflict.

It’s also easier to find yourself in a soup, a position where you’re just meandering.  If your character’s motivations aren’t strong and outlined clearly enough, then the story itself can lose its direction.

How do I know which I am?

By trying stuff out!  Write a lot! Experiment with doing your plotting different ways, and see what feels natural for you!  If something feels awkward, don’t do it. Also, I’ve split these up into two distinct categories, but it’s definitely a spectrum.  Most people are a blend of the two types, in varying amounts 🙂

Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that you’re going to have to play around with.  But there’s no right or wrong way to do it, so whatever you do that allows you to puke your words out the best, that’s your way!

What do you do/Personal experience wordvomit

Yeah, it’s not really a secret, and you can probably tell from reading this, but I definitely fall on the ‘pantser’ end of the spectrum.  In terms of my own experiences, I would say that planning just doesn’t work for me personally.

When writing something like these books, I have two methods of organization.


First, I have the ‘big picture’ story maps.  These are a page or two long each, just a bullet point list that states the ending I’m working towards and key scenes/events that I have in mind to get there.  This, for example, is the original big-picture map for what eventually turned into Nightsworn and Ascendant. Aaaand, yeah, you can see that a bunch of the stuff on there never happened, or happened differently xD




xJNMR7U.jpgThen, I have chapter maps.  These are just bullet point lists too, and typically detail everything that is going to happen in that chapter, in the rough order it happens.  I basically sit down and dream through the chapter, before I write it, and then scrawl that down so I can reproduce it in words. It’s really important to me, in that it lets me write much more quickly.

Some plot twists I’ll have laid out a long, long time in advance.  Like, I already have twists in mind for books 2 and 3 of Silvertongue, and there are ‘twists’ (sort of) that happen in, like, Chosen that won’t be revealed/explored until the prequel books.  Those, I’ve been sitting on for over a year xD Typically these are key scenes that I really want to have happen, or just fun things I’ve had in mind that help to shape where the book and story goes.

Other times, I’ll have instances where I’m like, “This would be a really good place for a reveal, but I don’t quite know where I want to go with it yet.”  In cases like that, I’ll leave myself ‘flaps’. I’ll drop hints, names, clues, etc, and lay up what’s coming while I figure the rest of the details out 🙂 Sometimes I have what’s to follow very laid out, sometimes it’s just an abstract idea.

And that’s about enough on the topic, I think!

Writing and producing something creative is really an individual thing, and no two people do it quite the same.  If you’re interested in making something, keep trying until you find the way that works for you! And of course, if you have any questions or want to muddle through something, hit me up!  I’m always thrilled to talk writing!

Last but not least – Merry Christmas (almost)!  It’s been an absolutely amazing year with all of you, and we’ve come so damn far haha.  I hope all of you enjoy the holiday season and have a great time here stuffing your faces!

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