Pantser Plotter featured

We’ve all heard of plotters and pantsers and you likely have decided which camp you lean toward. Perhaps you’re wondering how an iterative writing process like an agile first draft fits into either a plotting framework or a pantsing process.

Let’s stop right there and talk terminology.

Plotters, as we have been told, plot out a story before writing it. They sometimes outline. They definitely plan, which is why they will henceforth be known as Planners. Because pantsers write plots too so planners shouldn’t own the monopoly on plots.

Pantsers are so named because they write by the seat of their pants. From this point on they will be known as Discovery writers. Because they discover the story as they write. And planners wear pants too.

So, planners and discovery writers. We know what makes each of them different. As opposed as each method is in the extreme, it isn’t really all or nothing. There’s a spectrum and many writers fall somewhere in the middle, perhaps a bit more discovery with only a dash of planning. Perhaps planning a good bit but avoiding the dreaded outline at all costs.

Where does an agile first draft fit in?

The key to an agile first draft is that it’s an iterative process. You could say that it’s different versions that become a first draft. Or various incarnations of a narrative that build methodically toward that story you’re trying to tell. Iterations are simply a repetition of actions that get you successively closer to the desired result.

Plan your iterations

Planners are going to begin the iterative process with a plan in place. An iterative process doesn’t eliminate the need to plan or the value in planning. It’s good to start with a sense of the overall story, perhaps a plot arc mapped out, maybe even an outline. What planners may find in creating an agile first draft is that they need to plan a little less. They can divert some of the prewriting activity and problem solving into the initial drafting process, thereby saving some time and energy.

A plan will still serve them well, though perhaps a plan that requires less effort before they start writing (see how I just brought them a little closer to the middle of the plan/discovery spectrum?).

Discover in phases

Discovery writers still don’t need a plan. They can discover the story as they write because iterations only break down story elements, not the story itself. They may find with an iterative process that they write faster. That they get don’t get stuck on details that come in later iterations. That they can see where the story is going without so much noise and so don’t end up halfway down the wrong path only to come back and throw away thousands of words and hours of effort.

An agile first draft is still a discovery piece, but simpler and possibly with less effort.

Where discovery writers come to the middle of the spectrum some is not in their planning but in their analysis. An agile first draft amplifies the ability to analyze a story for plot holes, consistency, pacing and crafting an effective plot arc. The iterative process also makes it easier to adapt your story to those changes more quickly and with less effort.

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