When referring to their writing method, fiction writers say they are plotters and pansters. A plotter uses structure to lay out the story and then fills in the details accordingly. Plotters know when the hero will make a life and death choice, or when to introduce relationships, new situations, struggles, and raise the stakes. Structure is like having a roadmap to follow. It gets you to your destination more quickly and if you’re driving, you probably use less gas than a panster.
A Panster’s creativity takes him wherever it wants to go. And maybe where the characters choose to lead. Pansters get lost in their stories and hear characters in their heads. They may tell you that a particular character refused to do what the writer asked.
I like The Magic Violinist’s description of panster “Pansters have the freedom to take their novel in any direction they want. They have flexibility. They’re not stuck following an outline.”
The problem for a panster is that their creativity may take them down a rabbit trail. As a result, they face extra hours of rewrites and edits when their story is completed.
There are no hard fast rules for fiction writers, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say pansters usually don’t produce as many books as the plotter, in the same given time period.
Are You a Plotter or Panster Riding Instructor?
As a riding instructor, you may be able to identify yourself as a plotter or a panster. If you’re a plotter you probably lay out a structure ahead of time. You allot so many minutes for preparation, so much warm up time, this many minutes for new material etc. Or maybe you plot according to what you want your student to learn, following a progression in lessons.
Perhaps you identify with the panster. Do you step into your lesson and take your cues from how the horse and rider are that day, what the weather is doing, who’s also in the arena, an idea you had for the lesson earlier? Do you let the lesson ‘pan out’? See where it goes?
The Pro and Cons
It’s easy to criticize the panster. Pansters want to teach their students to ride well, but because they go with their creative flow, they don’t have a plan for their lessons. At least their plan is not one that you can see or they can articulate in detail. They may follow a loose progression or none at all. They teach according to the need of the day. The danger here is that they will inadvertently miss important foundation blocks. The student may have to go back and fill in the cracks to patch their foundation. With a poor foundation, the house won’t stand. (Read Are You Teaching Foundation?)
BUT the panster is the instructor who will be in tune with how the student and horse feel. They are the one who is able to change course to suit the current need of the lesson, adapt to the student, the horse or the circumstance. The ability to adapt is an excellent quality an instructor.
The plotter covers everything they plan to teach and they do it on time. Plotters keep schedules and lay foundations. Students reach levels at a predictable rate. These also, are admirable qualities in a riding instructor.
However, the plotter’s program may draw many students but their lack of flexibility and creativity can be devastating to the student who needs flexibility. The plotter may have difficulty keeping a full load of students long term.
The planster combines the best qualities of the plotter and the panster. Some people are plansters by nature while others become plansters through experience. The structured author who can’t deny their creative side any longer becomes a planster. The author who runs on creativity and decides that preplanning may help them spend less time editing, will also become a planster.
A planster instructor is creative and flexible using a degree of structure. They are sensitive to the needs of their students and their students make good steady progress. The planster instructor keeps lessons interesting, even when working on the mundane repetition. And the good news is that we can all become planster instructors with a little bit of effort.
Who Am I?
I’m a confirmed panster author. I struggle to learn from my plotter friends. I was taught structure in riding and teaching, therefore, my panster personality became a planster instructor.
What About You?
What kind of instructor are you? Please, leave a comment. Tell me if you are a plotter, a panster, or a planster.
Thanks for joining me at The Riding Instructor.
May your students always be on time and your lessons be terrific!
Barbara Ellin Fox