Pantsing versus Plotting by B. T. Polcari


Pantsing versus Plotting

There is no right or wrong way to write a novel, but when two authors meet and chat for the first time, invariably the question is asked: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

A pantser is an author who writes stories “by the seat of their pants.” Minimal time is spent laying out the story structure, so the writer has no idea what lies ahead for the story. Pantsers swear by this method as they believe it opens up their creativity by not having outlines restrict them. While this method certainly works for people, one drawback with this method is that writers can get lost and end up painting themselves into a corner, forcing them to back up in the story and make rewrites to get things back on track.

This is not to say pantsing is the wrong approach. It works for some, and not so much for others, like me. Surprisingly, one famous and very successful pantser is Stephen King.

A plotter is the exact opposite of a pantser. At the very least, a plotter will develop a basic outline before writing the story. However, many plotters spend considerable time laying out the story, some even doing complete outlines of each chapter. They know exactly where the story is going because they have laid out everything beforehand: plot, subplots, inciting event, characters, plot twists, red herrings, pinch points, beginning and end of each act (assuming a three-act story), etc. J.K Rowling fits in as a minimalist plotter. John Grisham, R.L. Stein, Dan Brown, and yours truly, B.T. Polcari, go to the extremes of laying out their stories. One big advantage of being a plotter is the risk of writer’s block is greatly reduced during the writing phase and the writing is much more efficient. For me, during the writing phase, I can usually knock out a 2500-word chapter in one day, two at the max. But it can take me three to six months researching, more researching, laying out the entire story (detailed premise, character inventory and web, out-of-whack events, plot twists, etc.), and outlining the chapters. But once I’m ready to write, I crank it out.

Critics of plotting claim it lessens creativity, which as a mystery writer I disagree with since everything must be woven through the plot so all the pieces fall together in the climax and CODA. The creativity just comes earlier in the process, during the visualization and subsequent outlining of the story. Others claim that if a change is required in the outline, the plotter must go back through the outline to make the necessary changes in the requisite chapters. While this might be true, plotting greatly reduces the number of plot holes and although I’m not a pantser, I am certain that as pantsers write and their stories take unexpected twists and turns, they also must go back through the manuscript and make the corrections in previous chapters to support these new plot twists. It’s just the corrections come earlier for plotters, and later for pantsers, but they come nonetheless. Hopefully.

For a detailed look at how I researched and developed the plot for my upcoming book, Fire & Ice, go to my blog at

B.T. Polcari is a graduate of Rutgers College of Rutgers University, an award-winning mystery author, and a proud father of two wonderful children. He’s a champion of rescue pups (Mauzzy is a rescue), craves watching football and basketball, and, of course, loves reading mysteries. Among his favorite authors are D.P. Lyle, Robert B. Parker, and Michael Connelly. He is also an unapologetic fantasy football addict. He lives with his wife in scenic Chattanooga, Tennessee. The second book in his critically-acclaimed cozy mystery series releases August 15, 2022. You can pre-order your copy of Fire & Ice and receive a free gift at 

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