PLOTTING KNOWHOW To plot, or not to plot?

In her final piece about plotting, K. L. Kettle explores the mysteries of plotting and pantsing, their pros and their cons.

When starting a new story there are a few plotting methods you may come across. Let’s look at some common ‘methods’ as well as their pros and cons, and what the writing community recommends.


Planning the events, the causes and effects, could include any or all of the following methods, from the most ‘simple’ to the most ‘deep’:

a. The heart line – From A to B – The simplest break-down of your story down. E.g. Hobbits take ring to mountain to save world.
b. Basic three points – beginning, middle, end. Some writers work out their ending first and then plot backwards.
c. Logline approach – one-line summary of your plot including your protagonist, antagonist and the major turning points. E.g. When a boy discovers he is a famous wizard and is sent to a magical school, he must…
d. Act based – there are lots – see here
e. Circle approach – similar to Acts e.g Campbell’s ‘Heroes journey’ or Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
f. Beat sheets – such as Save the Cat or the Foolscap method
g. By chapter/scene - for the really detailed!

Pros: Good for ironing out the kinks in a story before embarking, for minimising plot holes and rework, ensuring a clear thread of cause/effect and strong arcs. e.g when writing mysteries or stories which require careful placing of reveals.

Cons: Can sometimes feel restrictive, you should allow yourself to deviate.


A common term for the approach taken by many writers to ‘find’ their story – or let their story find them. Short for ‘writing by the seat of your pants’, the key fact is you let the story develop and do not constrain it.

Some ‘pantsing’ methods can include part or all of the below
  1. Linear – working through chapter by chapter. 
  2. Hopping – writing the key plot points, or scenes that really stand in your mind, then linking. 
  3. Backwards – start by writing the ending, then tell yourself the story of how you got there. 
  4. Timeboxing/Sprinting – writing, but to time. Letting yourself ‘pants’ a draft in a month (e.g. NaNoWriMo) and then returning to refine or redraft.
Pros: reactive writing, letting yourself dream, evolve and move with your characters.

Cons: lots or rewriting, padding and discarded words. Not efficient, but sometimes results in genius.

Planting (Plotting + Pantsing)

A third method, and my preference, is to combine the above. Take the Pros of both! Some ways to do this
  1. Plot then pants – allow yourself to deviate, then repeat or return to plot points you feel you can add in. 
  2. Plot a bit, pants a bit – work in chunks. Plot to the first ‘beat’. Review then pants and then plot to the next beat. 
  3. Pants a bit, plot a bit – pants the first draft, plotting as you go towards a goal (beat, ending).
But what should I use? 

Is one approach better, more common or successful in getting to that first draft? I don’t believe so, but I asked the writing community on a poll on twitter. We started this #KnowHow series with a poll, so why not end on one!

             35% I plot my 1st draft
             33% I pants my 1st draft
             32% Both

Seeing the responses split pretty evenly

I think this shows that there’s no ‘best’ way. You need to find what works for you. A huge thanks to everyone who took part, and the comments and pros and cons shared. If you’d like to read more you can check out the responses on Twitter.

Good luck with your plots, may they be twisty and bright!

Do share in the comments below and on Twitter any approaches you use that I’ve not listed here.

Header image from Maxpixel

K.L.Kettle's debut YA novel The Boy I Am will be published by Stripes Publishing in 2020  

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Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to


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