Plotter? Panster?

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 

The Panster

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

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

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


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I am a panster who has become a plans tee in all things in life because as an artist who has also worked in accounting, I understand the need to plan flexibly. In other words, have a plan but know when to make changes. This applies to all things horses as well.

    • Hi Veronica,
      Another planster! I think horses must force us to join the planster ranks. An artist working in accounting is interesting, exercising both the creative and the analytical. Good for you. Barbara

  • Is there a website or a serious of articles that you all go to for some lesson inspiration? Yes, I take regular lessons and I am continually learning new ideas and techniques, but wondered if you had a place you go to get other inspiration?

    I often look at our pony club manuals and/or 4H book and teach the skills out of the book. Or I think about my last lesson and try to utilize those ideas for my beginner riders. Thoughts?

    • Hi Beth,
      There are a lot of riding lesson plans on the Riding Instructor that will help you with beginners. In addition I will soon be launching a series of online courses that will teach what you are searching for. If you stick with me, you’ll see the courses available in the next few weeks. Thanks for posting. Barbara

  • Each week I have a theme where I teach some sort of new skill. I plan out on Monday what everyone during the week will be working on, ie ground work, bareback riding, trot poles, jumping, etc – . Something new that I want to teach all of my students for that particular week and then depending on what level of rider my student is, I tailor that new skill to that particular student. Sometimes a student cant get the new skill down during that lesson, so we may work on that skill again the next week..or come back to it when their other skills have improved. Bottom line is that each student has their own skill set so each lesson is tailored to their riding skills!

    Great article!

    • Thanks Beth. It sounds like you have a good plan for your program- start with a plan and the adapt as needed. Good Planster technique! Barbara

  • Not sure where I fit in. I do LOVE a lesson plan, but know that sometimes with kids and horses lesson plans can go out the window. I like to have props, too. Something to focus on.

    • Lori
      You sound like a Planster to me- flexible and not afraid to depart from your plan if needed but having the lessons anchored with a plan in the first place. Yup, kids and horses can sure keep us on our toes! Thanks. Barbara

  • I have a plan of progression but l adapt to the current situation. There is so much for a student to learn. It is all of value. By nature l am not a plotter. My lessons have a structure.

    • Hi Barbara,
      You sound like a fellow planster! You’re right that there is so much for students to learn. And so many ways to show it to them. We really need that combination of plotter and panster. Maybe it’s creative structure! Teaching riding provides endless opportunity for both.
      Thanks for your comment. Barbara

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