Structure vs. formula

There is always going to be the great Planner vs. Pantser argument amongst writers.  Of late, I’ve been seeing threads of hostility amongst the planners towards the pantsers.  Not open scorn, but a certain degree of, “Well, how is not planning REALLY working out for you?”  And I can see the argument behind the ideas that, if you’re a “pantser”, but don’t finish things, or you write a couple hundred pages that you have to scrap and re-do, then you might consider the merits of some planning.

I, for one, am a planner through and through, because I’ve learned that’s what works for me.  If a pantser finds that just going headfirst into the story and seeing where it goes works for them, power to them.  But I do wonder if a number of professed pantsers really need to be planners, but they don’t know how to plan, or they’re afraid of what it might mean.

Part of that, I think, is confusing structure with formula.  Planning out a story based on structure is just figuring out the bones, placing the signposts that will guide the writing. I’m all about structure. Formula, on the other hand, is a different beast.  There, you’re talking about exact points, executed at exact moments, to re-create something else that already succeeded.  I’ve been told that for Hollywood Screenplays, one needs to follow a rather exacting formula (to the level of, “On Page 15, THIS has to happen.  Then on page 18, THIS has to happen.”)  That’s no way to generate a dynamic, creative work. 

Structure, for me, gives me the skeleton, and I’ve come up with one that helps me put my stories together.  I’ve talked about it before (previous posts on my Twelve-Part Outline), and I’ll be talking about it more in the near future.

What sort of structure do you use?  Or is it pure pantsing?  If it is, I’m really curious to hear how that works better.


  1. I become more and more of a planner with every book I write. I used to find that planning sapped my creativity, but now it’s necessary preparation for me.

  2. I have several started-and-burned out novels that were testaments to my need to plan first. They all hit that wall around five to ten thousand words where I didn’t know where the hell I was going with it, and thus ended up lost.

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