Plotting vs Pantsing: Writing the First Draft

I’ve been reading all kinds of writing books and blog posts, and have come to the conclusion that every writer has their own process. Some are plotters, figuring out all the details in advance. Others are pantsers, who just take an idea and run with it, letting their characters take the story where they will. Everyone else is some mixture of the two.

I know from my experience with short stories that pantsing is not for me. I get halfway in, and unless I know where the story is going, I get bogged down. On the other hand, I just can’t think that far ahead and know the details of every scene. I’m somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

For the month of May, I set myself the goal of drafting my first novel. I did some plotting beforehand, figuring out the basic story, including how it would end. Along with that, I created character sketches, and established the major plot points. I also created a scene chart, which basically listed the scenes of the novel and briefly summarized what would happen in them.

My goal is to end up with an 80,000 word novel. To get it drafted in one month, I decided to write 3000 words a day, 1000 on Saturdays, and Sundays off.

How did I do?

To my surprise, once I got into it, 3000 words a day wasn’t too difficult. I use Scrivener, and it has a handy word count tool. I could generally crank out 1000 words in about an hour. Most days I exceeded my 3000 word goal. There was one week I knew I’d only have 4 days to write, so I did 4000 words a day without any trouble. Having the scene chart was very helpful, because I usually didn’t have to figure out what came next.

This isn’t to say I didn’t add or delete scenes. I added an entire sub-plot, with new characters I hadn’t thought of before. Many of my planned scenes got collapsed into one.

What did surprise me was that I got to the end of my novel and am only at a bit more than 50,000 words. However, it’s clear to me that my draft is not much more than a bare-bones telling of the story. There’s lots of description and setting that can be added, as well as delving into my main characters’ heads. The sub-plot needs to be ramped up a bit more.

This experience showed me the value of plotting. It works well for me. What about you? Any pantsers want to give their side of the story?

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