Plantsing: A How-to Guide for Discovery Writers

What is “plantsing”?

A word made up of “pantsing” and “planning”, it refers to writers who both do discovery writing and outlining (usually in the same work), instead of – predominantly – only planning or outlining.

I’m a plantser

I’m definitely a plantser when it comes to writing. While I do outline stories, especially the longer ones, I can start writing the first draft with nothing more than a picture or a word for inspiration.

The Knowledge Stones, a novel-length work of the Ruon Chronicles, was supposed to be a flash piece which I pantsed – and then it got out of hand. Oh my word, did it get out of hand. What was supposed to be 1 000 words is now about 60 000 words and is still about 6 000 words from the end. Oops. And only about half of that was planned.

The story also only got real structure once I had started planning out what was going to happen and linking it with my plans for the “proper” Ruon Chronicles series.

That’s part of the problem with only pantsing a story – you never know where the story will head off to. This can lead you to never finish the story because it keeps going down a rabbit hole.  

How to be a plantser

It’s not such a stretch for a strict discovery writer to become a plantser, simply because it doesn’t mean leaving all your discovery writing behind.

Now, if you haven’t discovered Writing Excuses yet, it’s about time you start listening – because the podcast is beyond awesome. Covering just about any and every angle of writing, you have thirteen full seasons to catch up on.

Here is a list of all of their “outlining” podcast episodes.

Step 1

What I find easiest to do when outlining is to write a summary of the story as I have it at that moment. It could be a few sentences or a few pages, but the point is to get everything down that you already know is going to happen.

Step 2

Next, instead of just sitting down and starting to write, fill in all the blanks that you’ve left. (If I’m writing in a notebook I usually write only on the right-hand side, leaving the left side for extra notes. In this way, everything doesn’t just become a jumble of Post-it Notes as I try to fit everything. 

Step 3

By this time you usually need to refill your tea or coffee, so go ahead and do that while you keep plotting in your head. I find it works very well to step away even if it’s just for five minutes.

Step 4

Keep going, building on the outline you’re busy with, filling in more of the blank spots. But don’t feel forced to fill in every last detail – that’s where the pantsing comes in.

Step 5

Once you’ve written down an outline of the whole – or most of – the story, start writing!

Books that are great for learning outlining*

(*Not sponsored.)

Outlining Your Novel Box Set: How to Write Your Best Book (Helping Writers Become Authors) by K.M. Weiland (I prefer the box set)

Structuring Your Novel Box Set: How to Write Solid Stories That Sell (Helping Writers Become Authors) by K.M. Weiland (I prefer the box set)

Fool Proof Outline: A No-Nonsense System for Productive Brainstorming, Outlining & Drafting Novels (Fool Proof Writer Book 1) by Christopher Downing.

Outline Your Novel: The How To Guide for Structuring and Outlining Your Novel (Writer to Author Book 3) by Scott King

About Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.

1 Response

  1. I’m a plantser who likes to pick a few key moments in the story, have a vague ending idea to move toward, and I write an outline for how to get from the beginning, through those points, to the end. I figure the logistics as I go, and completely ignore the outline… unless I get stuck.

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