Writing Tip #9: Should you plot your story?


When it comes to writing, there really is no one right way. That’s the really good news. And there’s no bad news!

But there are challenges.

One of the biggest challenges, especially for new writers, is that there are so many possible ways to approach writing that it can be truly daunting. And of course it depends on whether you’re writing something long or something short, and whether you are writing in a genre that typically follows one or more tried and true formulas, like detective novels. In that case, you probably don’t want to go too far off the rails. But in most cases it’s really 100% up to you.

So, given that there are many ways to approach writing and most of them are acceptable, how do you pick one? That’s what we’ll talk about. I’m going to present just two approaches to writing, in a broad-brush fashion.

The neat thing about these two methods is that it’s very simple to pick one! You simply choose the method that is best for you.

Plotting or Pantsing?

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but the two methods are "plotting" and "pantsing." I’m not absolutely sure these two methods are well-known in the broader writing world, but they are concepts that make a regular appearance in the writing communities I've been involved in over the years.

I think you’ll find that this makes sense.

Plotting is what you do if you are the type of person who likes a roadmap to follow, and you feel lost without one.

Pantsing is what you do if you write better and more fluidly without a map.

It’s really as simple as that. “Pantsing,” or “flying by the seat of your pants,” which is the expression from which this method’s name is derived, means you just do it. You start writing. And as you write, the scenes, the characters and storyline come to life, right before your very eyes.

If you’re not sure, try both. Try planning out a story, the characters and the conflict, before you write a word of the actual story. Then try just writing a story, without setting down the plan for it in advance. Which method feels right? Which one gets better results?

Just as there are cooks who religiously follow recipes and there are cooks who simply follow their intuition, so are there writers who produce their craft in these two distinctly different ways. Which one is right for you?

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

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