Which authors are pantsers?
Many well-known authors are pantsers. We’ll cover lots of examples in this article—19, in fact! The list below is as full and complete as possible. I’ll simply list the author’s name and identify one or two of their most known books, but these writers wrote many more novels.
These famous authors are pantsers:
- Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander
- Matthew Hughes, author of What the Wind Brings
- George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones
- Isaac Asimov, author of I, Robot (and many more)
- Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe Series
- Sally J. Ling, author of Frayed Ends and Unraveled
- James Joyce, author of Ulysses
- Stephen King, author of IT, Carrie, The Shining, and many more
- Mark Twain, author of the Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
- Ernest Hemmingway, author of A Farewell to Arms
- Dean Koontz, author of Odd Thomas
- William Gibson, author of The Peripheral
- Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris
- Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale
- Hilary Mantel, author of The Mirror and The Light
- Jami Gold, author of Stone Cold Heart
- Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods
- David Morrell, author of Rambo
- Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sleep
There are probably plenty more authors who pants over plot. Either they haven’t publicly claimed their pantsing ways, or their writing habits simply haven’t yet risen to public awareness (at least, not mine). I apologize if I left out your favorite pantser.
Personally, I’ve been writing for over 20 years, so I’ve experimented with all types of writing styles, including pantsing.
My second and third novels (Present Killing and Wicker Hollow) were both written in a feverish stream of consciousness. There are definite pros and cons. We’ll look at a few of them in this article.
Over the years, I’ve also studied the writing habits of many famous authors.
What Are Pantsers?
If you’re reading this article, you probably know the gist of Pantsers—they don’t plan their stories.
Writing is a process that can be very personal. Some authors will use an outline to guide their story, while others will just write whatever comes to mind without planning ahead of time. In a few words, they wing it.
These unplanned writers are called pantsers. In my opinion, it’s a much more difficult way of writing than traditional plotting. I like it, I’ve done it, and there are many good reasons to try it.
Pantsers do not plot, plan, or generally know how their story will end. When you practice pantsing, you write without knowing how your story will evolve or even if your protagonist will reach their goals. Pantsers allow the story to unfold organically, with each scene naturally leading to the next. Each bit of character banter comes fresh to the ear. Each twist is first a surprise to the reader.
Some famous authors strongly adhere to pantsing.
Stephen King is one of them. He infamously said, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”
I don’t know if I fully agree with King. But, then again, he’s the millionaire author, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I make a living with my writing, but I’m no Stephen King.
Margaret Atwood agrees with Mr. King:
When I’m writing a novel, what comes first is an image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I’ve already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn’t write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.
Is Pantsing always this bad?
Not at all. Some pantsers do struggle. Others succeed brilliantly with none of these negatives weighing down their process.
Why Do Authors Choose Pantsing?
Most pantsers see plotting as restrictive and unnatural to storytelling. Like a straight jacket for the story.
For plotters, it’s all about the ending. How does the story get there? Is it a mishmash of messy filler, or is there a plan? Some authors start out as plotters but end up as pantsers. For many writers, plotting is painfully slow and difficult. They can spend months coming up with a detailed outline before they even start writing.
Pantsers, on the other hand, dive in with the smallest spark of an idea.
They enjoy the mystery of not knowing how the story will twist and turn. They see themselves, in a way, as the first readers. For them, to plot is death to inspiration.
Pantsers thrive on the buzz of narrative motivation. They drink deeply from the well of creativity. When they write, they create. They object to anything that prevents the muse from full control over their process. They find pantsing a fulfilling and authentic way to form a story.
Does that mean that plotting is bad, cheap, or less than pantsing?
Not to me. I find both methods helpful, so I do both (as do many authors, famous and not so famous). That leads up right into the conversation about different types of pantsers.
What Are the Different Types of Pantsers?
There are two main types of pantsers:
- The Traditional Pantser: This type of pantser usually writes the entire first draft without stopping. They give their mind no time to plan ahead or plot (except, perhaps, in their nightly dreams).
- The Nontraditional Pantser: Nontraditional, of course, is subjective. You could call this type the “thoughtful pantsers”. They write slowly and might revise as they go. This gives their subconscious space to shape the story in advance. They don’t plot, per se, but they do a kind of mental planning.
Dean Koontz is a nontraditional pantser. He admits to revising each page 20 times before moving on with the story. This revision time sharpens his story. His mind has time to connect the narrative dots, fill in plot holes, and prepare for future scenes.
I have more self-doubt than any writer I’ve ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt – if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it – is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image.
This is also what happened to me as I wrote my two pantsing novels.
Before I finished the first third of the story, my mind jumped ahead to construct possible endings. Without thinking or trying, I naturally weaved my way toward one of these conclusions.
Which Authors Are Both Pantsers and Plotters?
There are many other popular authors who claim to use both methods. In other words, they use a mix of pantsing and plotting. They are affectionately called “plantsers.”
Examples of plantsers:
- Italo Calvino
- Katherine Anne Porter
- Tina Morlock
- Violet Duke
In reality, most authors both pants and plot their stories. It’s virtually inevitable.
Those who plot might shift gears mid-scene because a brilliant idea strikes them. They might marvel at a line of dialogue they didn’t see coming or laugh out loud at a character reaction.
Pantsers, too, may secretly plot.
As author Violet Duke so humorously says:
I’m a well-intentioned plotter who ends up with wondrous pantsing revelations and (at times) ginormous rewrites that look almost nothing like my carefully plotted plans.
Many so-called pantsers start from a clear image, write the ending before the beginning, or know the conclusion of the story. There is nothing wrong with any approach.
As far as I’m concerned, if the story is good, you’ve done your job as an author.
Are There Any Pure Pantsers?
That brings up a good question: are any authors truly pantsers?
I say “yes” with a caveat. All authors probably think ahead—it’s nearly impossible not to do so.
If we stick with a strict definition of pantser as “a writer who does not plan his or her story,” then I think many writers fall into this category. Just as many, or more, are plotters.
Keep in mind that pantsing and plotting usually refer only to first drafts.
After first drafts, I’d say 99.9% of authors become plotters. They read, revise, and reconstruct their stories with the insight of a finished map.
From this vantage point, they change the introduction, fix plot mistakes, flesh out thin scenes. They might delete entire scenes or add new ones. They play god in their fictional universe.
This is to say that all writers are plotters after the first draft.
The degree of revision is often very different with plotters and pantsers. Pantsers typically discover the story in their first draft. In a way, their first draft serves as a very detailed outline for what the story will become after a few rounds of editing.
What Type of Writer Are You?
The following table will help you determine your writer type. The first column lists the three main types of writers and the second column lists descriptions of those writers.
Have fun with this!
|Pantser||You like to fly by the seat of your pants. You find plotting cookie-cutter, inorganic, and offensive to your writing process. You would never be caught dead planning a story in advance. You love the feeling of discovering the story as you write. Sometimes your characters do unexpected things that take you by surprise.|
|Plotter||You enjoy structure. You need to know the end before you begin. You find plotting fun and creative. You want to ensure that your story holds up to high standards and includes all the elements of a great story. You make detailed outlines, character profiles, and your corkboard looks like a veteran detective on the hunt for a globe-trotting serial killer.|
|Plantser||You like a starting point, but also the flexibility to change the story anytime you want. You build in freedom to your structure. You know a general idea of the story, maybe the ending, and a few details of pillar scenes. But, you allow yourself to wander in your scenes. You give yourself permission to go “off map” to chase an interesting idea that hits you mid-writing session.|
Odds are, you fall into the third category that combines the best of plotting and pantsing.
If so, you are in very good company. Both methods produce immensely popular stories that make it on the bestseller lists.
Final Thoughts on “Which Authors Are Pantsers?”
I’ll repeat something I said earlier: it ultimately doesn’t matter whether you identify as pantsers or plotters (or plantser).
What matters is that you find a process that works for you.
Thanks for reading!
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