Tuesday Talks: Between Plotters and Pantsers

TuesdayTalksCCochet180As a writer, one of the questions I’m asked often is in regards to plotting. “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” What if you’re a combination of both? I can safely say I fall somewhere in between. I don’t plan out every single detail before I start my story, nor do I sit down in front of a blank document and allow my muse to take the wheel. Heaven knows where I’d end up.

My method of writing has been changing and evolving since writing my first short story for publication. I was once a panster, but I soon discovered I needed some form of structure.Β Before I start writing any story, I allow myself time to brainstorm my plot, get to know my characters, research my setting, and figure out POVs. I ask myself what my story is going to be about, what’s going to happen, what’s the tone, then I start collecting information into my Evernote, everything from inspirational imagery, character descriptions, to maps. After I’ve done this, I start a loose outline.

CCOutlineInitially, it’s more a list. At first, it’s very basic, a rough sketch of what’s happening to who and when, conflicts, resolutions, and timing. There’s pages and pages of information, of ideas, and snippets of conversations. Later, as I start developing my story, and as my characters become fleshed out, I start adding to this list, removing, changing, and eventually I start breaking off chapters, expanding on those until I’ve planned out each one. Here’s an example of an early outline for Johnnie’s book (click image for full view). It might look like a list of random words to you, but I know exactly what they represent. Sorry, no spoilers, you cheeky monkey.

I have a notebook for each book or series, and I start everything out handwritten. When my list starts growing, I start typing it up. Soon I end up with a nice little synopsis of my whole book, yet at the same time, I’ve given myself room to let inspiration flow. If my characters decide to take a different direction, I go back to my list/outline and make the necessary changes.

I try to write straight through when I can, but if a particular scene comes to me, or inspiration hits, I never put it off. If I ever sent anyone a WIP they would run screaming in the other direction. It’s usually a mass of random chapters, paragraphs, and scenes with highlighted bits, a bunch of *** and notes to myself, but that’s fine because it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but me. It’s a first draft, and the last thing I want to do is interrupt my flow.

With my historical stories, I research enough details beforehand to give me a sense of time and place, the bigger picture, while smaller details are researched later. I tend to work out big emotional scenes first because they have a habit of sweeping me away which helps with flow.

I need some structure to guide me toward that HEA and keep me from wandering aimlessly, but I still need the freedom to let my characters surprise me, and well, these fellas have a way of changing their own destinies.

Conclusion: Write however it feels right for you and don’t think because you’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time that you can’t change. There’s no right way or wrong way, as long as you get there in the end.

What about you? Are you a plotter, pantser, or both?


  1. I tend to use small ones in the early stages if planning, when I’ve got lots of scenes and events, but am not sure the order they will go in yet. I write one scene per card, lay them all out and start shuffling them around until I get the right order figured out.

  2. Your outlining sounds quite similar to mine – though mine usually involves notecards at some point too. I keep my outline flexible, only firming up the details as I get closer to that part of the book. And I’m always tweaking and adjusting it.

    I don’t write out of order though. Never. I can’t keep the character development smooth if I do that.

    • I haven’t tried notecards, but it seems like a handy way to organize. I jump around in my manuscript but only after laying down some of the foundation, otherwise there’s too much shuffling around of scenes. I’m curious for those of you who use notecards what your process is. Do you use them for breaking down chapters? Scenes? Do you end up using a crazy number of cards?

  3. I’m definitely more of a pantser which means more rewrites in the end. I envy plotters for that reason because they seem to have to do fewer rewrites.

    But at the same time, one of my favorite feelings when writing is just letting the muse go where she will and following the characters. That moment when they go in some unexpected direction and I’m along for their journey feels so magical to me.

    It is when I try to contain characters that my writing stalls and I find that they are all rather rebellious and enjoy doing anything but what I’ve planned in advance for them. Usually they take a more interesting path, so I let them go and try to figure out how to make it work as I go.

    The thrill of puzzle pieces falling unexpectedly into place is another thing that I get to feel by pantsing it. Being in the middle of a scene and realizing that, oh, hey, this is the perfect place to use that character that insisted on being in Scene Two, the one I had no idea why he was even there when I wrote him in, is such a big rush to me. I wonder if plotters feel that same rush?

    • Hi Leta! I know a lot of authors who are pantsers and many who fall in between, but I don’t know many who are complete plotters. It would be very interesting to read their process indeed. I do love when you’re writing and the characters are so full of life they just carry you away.

  4. Nice post, Charlie. I like your ideas & may give some of them a try, although I’m not sure I could be that organized!

    I’m a pantser through & through. Usually my stories start with a character or two and a basic idea of what the conflict is, and then I just listen and let the guys tell the story. I’ve tried to outline first, but once I know what’s going to happen it’s far less likely I’ll finish the story — so I save outlining for the second draft. I like discovering as I go — but I imagine that’s much easier to do in Contemporary than Historicals!

    • It’s a sort of organized chaos. Lol. I know what you mean about having trouble finishing a story if you know what’s going to happen at the end. I got stuck on that at first when I tried to outline every detail, which is why I allowed myself to do rough outline with a general idea of what was going to happen. So I knew the ending, but it was vague enough where I could still let the story carry me through it. I don’t think I could ever plan out every detail of the story.

      With Historical you do need to have a certain amount of information beforehand, but where the characters are concerned, as long as I know them, the Historical details can fall into place later on.

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