Planner or Pantser

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are writers, so a lot of the content I see via that particular social media platform is about the process of writing. One of the questions that comes up a lot is: Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you exhaustively world-build and outline, or do you fly by the seat of your pants and see where the characters take you?

Question number three on the New York Times list is similar in nature. Do you rehearse what you're going to say before making a phone call? Why?

I'm a pantser in both cases. In telephone calls, and in conversations with people, I usually find the situation doesn't lend itself to planning. A planned conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hello, I'm calling to change my cell plan.

Them: OK, here you go, changed!

Whereas I generally find conversations of this nature are more like this:

Me: Hello, I'm calling to change my cell plan.

Them: Why would you do that? Are you aware that by changing your cell plan, you are depriving a family of four of their beloved pet? Did you know that by keeping your existing plan, you can solve world hunger and contribute to the fight against AIDS? Here, I'll throw in an extra BonusUltraDeluxe module free of charge* so you'll stay on your plan! *BonusUltraDeluxe module only $9.99/month for people with bonsai trees, some restrictions apply, $12.99/month without bonsai subsidy, trees larger than 3 inches not included in this offer.

Me: Oh, um, I, well.

So, you know, planning kind of throws me off.

In writing, I often experience a similar frustration. Oh, I say to myself, I'll just have my character go to the store, meet her rival/love interest, they'll have a clash of opinions accompanied by an undeniable attraction, and then they'll keep running into each other! Foolproof!

Ah, ah, ah, says the character, not so fast! Sending me to the store for some milk? I am getting unreasonably distracted by the dried fruit section.

No, wait--

Oh, and what's this? A lovely stranger, who you haven't even imagined yet, approaches! I think I'll start up a conversation.

No, your love interest is over there--

Oh my! Now aliens are emerging from the cornflakes! I love a little change of genre in the morning! This has been exhilarating. Great writing session. Thanks!

Yeah. It goes great.

That said, I have been trying to do some planning. World-building, designing character roles, loosely tossing plots at the page. It gives my characters something to do, avoiding all of that.

And the more time I spend helplessly following them over the walls of the maze I hoped they'd navigate, the better I learn who they really are. Eventually, our conversations are more like this:

I'd like to get you into that town over there, what's it going to take?

Hmm, a new skill, killing off Jim from chapter 2, and a tornado.

How about I get rid of Jim from chapter 2 entirely, give all his best lines to you, and have you roll into town during a thunderstorm?


Life is all about compromise and flexibility. Sometimes plans change. Even cell phone plans.

Camiya Munsayac