What is planning? What is pantsing? Which is better? What do they have to do with NaNoWriMo?
Planning is the obvious one, and you probably all know what it means for a writer. Just in case you don’t, typically when a writer identifies as a “planner” he or she is the kind of person who has some sort of outline prepared before starting a story. For me, that means following one of several methods (I like the Snowflake method the most, up through step 5 or 6 usually) to outline a novel. For some, it’s note cards. For most writers who plan, it means having a concrete idea about the beginning, middle, and end, the major plot points one plans to hit, and a list or idea of important scenes or subplots. Nearly everyone who is a planner asserts that they write better, more efficently, and more quickly with a plan, and that their work is stronger for it.
Pantsing means “flying by the seat of your pants.” Typical pantsers have at least a vague idea about where their story is going, but not always. I’ve always been a pantser, and for me, I start with a spark – an idea of some sort, whether it’s a song, a prompt, or a plot thread – and just write. I let the characters reveal themselves to me, tell me what they need, and show me the way. That sounds a bit on the crazy side, but what writer is fully sane anyway? The story often takes me somewhere fun and unexpected. Pantsers often say that their writing flows more smoothly this way, and they don’t get bogged down by “required” plot points, so much as uncover the story as they go.
The longer I write, the more of a planner I become. When I’m writing flash fiction, since I only have 500 words to use up, I typically know what’s going to happen at the end (ahem… I am a writer of erotic fiction after all). When I write longer stories, I still know where I’m going, but character relationships start to unfold, sometimes without my full control. Sometimes the story just pulls me in one direction or another. (I recognize that in the real world, this is my intuition calling, not the actual characters actually talking to me or anything).
At this point, November has started and hopefully we’ve all decided whether we’re planners, pantsers, some kind of plan/pants hybrid, or if we’re throwing out all the rules and creating a new category.