To Plot or Not to Plot the First Draft


Last week’s introduction in the First Draft posts was an ease into what you’ll be facing next. I hope you’re excited and look forward to writing your first draft. As mentioned, there’s one question a lot of beginning, and even more experienced writers ask themselves.

Am I a Plotter, or Am I a Pantser?

Let’s open this discussion with the fact that pantser is referring to the word in its writing sense and not the mode of pulling down someone’s pants in public. (It felt like a necessary clarification.) But when referring to plotters and pantsers in the writing world describes an author’s approach to writing. Many of you may already know this, and others may not. It took me a while to figure it out as I came into the writing world with a very closed off experience. Either way, let’s break down these two areas to see what suits you most at this moment.

A Well Constructed Plan is the Key to Successful Fiction

I almost opened with an analogy of you assessing your room to identify how organized you are, but general assessments can’t define most writers. So, let’s look at this another way. When you think of a story, how do you approach it? We often see plotters as the organized writers. These are people who love to use structures, formulas, and a logical approach to their writing process. Often they spend time before writing the first draft outlining, researching, and planning how they want to complete their first (or eleventeenth) draft. Often plotters are people who like all things organized, but they can also be someone who’s completely disorganized in everything but their writing.

Being a plotter is nice because there are so many options for plotting. Some of the main approaches used are the synopsis outline, the in-depth outline, the snowflake method, and the bookend method (though this last one might appeal more toward plantsers). Not to mention the countless other approaches that people offer every day in their own writing advice. With so many options, you would think that every writer would fall into the plotter category, but in the end, we all think a little differently. Some writers need a little freedom in their approach to the first draft.

A General Direction is a Good Direction

Not everyone likes to spend hours at a desk, planning, making sure that you figure out every detail before they write the novel’s first word. (If you’re like that, I fully support you.) So what is a pantser? The title comes from a common turn of phrase, flying by the seat of your pants. In the simplest form, this means you sit your ass in your chair and write. You may only know a character, a world, a situation, or a scene, but the one thing you know is that there’s a story to write. The world and those that inhabit it develop as you write. I like to refer to this as explorative writing.

Explorative writing is taking one known and seeing where it leads. For me, this is often setting the character in a situation and watching their reactions. I kept some of those entries in the story, while others are backstory for my eyes only. Explorative writing often works well for the pantsers because they don’t feel constrained by what’s supposed to happen, allowing it to become character driven, most of the time. But what if neither of the previous approaches sounds comfortable to you?

Don’t Forget the Hybrid

There’s a third general classification of writer, the plantser. The planters are the writers who start with a plan, but know no plan survives first contact. Often plantsers start with an outline and then see how the story develops from there. As the characters and story develop, they adjust the aims of their novel to fit. This approach allows a structure like plotting, but the freedom of writing whatever feels necessary.

No Side is Perfect

There are pros and cons to each approach, but the goal of this article is to help you identify your preferred approach. If this is your first novel, then you may find that your approach changes. What’s great about first drafts is that no one may ever see them. So try the above approaches or come up with your own. Take some time today to try your hand at some different approaches. Try the practice writing prompts below.


To attempt plotting, start small. Plot (outline) a scene that may are may not appear in your story. Or you can write something unrelated. Whatever you choose, begin with the following factors: a defined character, a setting, and a goal. Then write the scene necessary to fulfill that goal. You can go into more detail if you’d like, but a minimal approach should be enough to give you the feel for plotting.

To attempt pantsing, you’ll begin small here as well, but I like to start with one known factor and go from there. You can begin with a setting, a character, or even an item. Then create the story that the respective selection is there to tell. Once again, write a scene and see where it goes.

When I say scene, I envision 500-1000 words, so try to keep it within those parameters. If you’re a plantser, mix the two exercises above and try a loosely structured approach.


Thank you as always for reading. Please let me know if you find the article helpful and what you liked most about it. Don’t forget to check in next week for tips on how to start your first draft. Keep reading, writing, and learning, and as always, stay fresh, my nugs.

Previous: The First Draft Introduction

Next: How to Begin Your First Draft

2 thoughts on “To Plot or Not to Plot the First Draft

  1. Pingback: The First Draft Introduction – Myers Fiction

  2. Pingback: How to Begin Your First Draft – Myers Fiction

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