#NaNoPrep Season: Learning Your Pre-writing Style #NaNoWriMo

There are many writers who claim to pants their stories. That is, fly by the seat of their pants, aka no plan, no outline, no nothing before starting to write. The other option is planning, which consists of drawing up a complete outline, character bios, detailed setting documents, and so on.

Pantser vs. Plotter

I wish to submit two controversial opinions:

  1. Pantsing and plotting are not two options, but rather two ends of a spectrum.
  2. As with many linear scales, most of us fit most comfortably somewhere between the two extremes.

The popularized term for folks who do “both” is Plantser. My argument is that we are all plantsers. Or, at least, the majority of us are.


The hitch: until you start writing, you have no real idea where you fit on that spectrum. You may think you’re on the Pantser end, then you get stuck on Day 4 with no idea what to do. Or you could Plannerize everything down to the details, then discover you only want to write a few of those scenes because the rest is already fulfilled in your head. Or your plans fly out the window because on Day 3, you thought of something brilliant.

My advice to any writer who isn’t sure where you fall on the spectrum is to aim for the middle. This list is not in order, because no one uses exactly the same process:

  1. Draft an outline focused on the major plot points. Leave out details and keep to the basic facts.
  2. Figure out the broad strokes of your main characters.
  3. Do some pre-writing of 1-3 short scenes that would take place before the novel starts to settle into the characters’ voices and mannerisms.
  4. Figure out what your setting needs to accommodate your plot and characters.
  5. If you have any mystery elements at all, come up with the clues.
  6. Come up with your ideal “It’s this meets this!” line. Example: “It’s Harry Potter meets Pacific Rim!” (I have no idea what that would look like, but I’d read the hell out of it.)
  7. Do your research, whether it’s about a place, a person label, a culture, clothing, technology, or whatever. Bookmark web pages with useful information about whatever topics you need.

For the average writer, this list should cover your prepping needs. You may discover you need more detail. Maybe you’re better with less.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to toss your outline if your brain takes you in a direction than your outline. Be flexible. But when you decide to veer off course, take a little time and figure out why. Is the new idea really better? Does the new journey suit the character/theme/conflict you want to portray?

If you feel good about the new direction, do a fresh set of plot points with it in mind and carry on.


  1. Your explanation of planning and pantsing being simply 2 ends of the spectrum is perfect. Some may feel they are *more* one than the other, so they are able to call themselves one, but I came to the same conclusion a few years ago that most of us are some of both. Extreme pantsers feel like planning means locking yourself into an outline that might not end up working, but even extreme planners may not let that happen. And extreme planners often do a lot of their writing in the planning, which can be why they are able to stick to their outline–it’s not just an outline anymore, it’s the story already written in broad strokes. That would also explain the need for a more broad outline if you want to avoid burning out on the actual writing when it’s time, which is a something I’m really glad you mentioned, because though it’s easy for me to come up with downsides to pantsing, it’s harder for me to come up with downsides to planning, but that’s definitely one.

    You echoed my own mind, and then added something new for me to consider! Great post! Good luck with NaNo!

  2. I am one who flies by the seat of my pants
    Which is why it’s strange to see such rants!
    I seem to begin at the start
    And then write out each part
    Until at long last I can drink and dance!

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