Author Instructors Include:
Virginia Carmichael, Mary Connealy, Janet Dean, Clari Dees, Debby Giusti, Audra Harders, Ruth Logan Herne, Myra Johnson, Julie Lessman, Tina Radcliffe, and co-authors, Lorie Langdon and Carey Corp.
Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? This workshop will show that being a Pantser or a Plotter can affect every level of your writing. Knowing how it does this may change how you approach your writing.
When I started writing this post last month I thought that plotting and pantsering only affected the general direction of the narrative. This post was originally intended to be short and humorous.
Everything Changed with One Question!
Before I began writing this post I asked Tina to send a question to all the Seekers. The answers that came back were a real eye-opener. I saw for the first time how pantsering and plotting were affecting the very nuts and bolts of everyday writing.
This was serious business.
The comments I received from my question were unique to each author. Everyone seemed to care deeply about this subject. I soon had over 6,800 words of comments and examples that came from twelve different authors. At this point I knew I had something big. This was information that was important and that needed to be told. I asked Tina for a Part II of this post to run in the future like Julie Lessman’s Kissology posts. Tina gave the go ahead for two posts but she chose to have one appear after the other. This resulted in a Two-Day Workshop.
Here is the Question that Authors were asked:
Can you point to any passages in your books which would not have been written if you had not been plotting or pantsering at the time?
This may seem like a simple enough question. You might even think the answers would be much the same. They were not. Each author’s answer was unique. I soon discovered that pantsering and plotting are much more complex than I imagined.
Here’s an analogy which I found helpful.
Pantsering and plotting are similar to being left or right handed. Each person tends to favor a dominate hand and yet each individual also tends to make ample use of both hands. So too it is with pantsers and plotters. Authors often have to both pantser and plot on a given book.
A Plotter cannot plot a plot. The plot needs to be pantsered because there is no plot to follow when you’re creating a plot. Moreover, if every element of a story were plotted ahead of time, the plot outline would become a fully pantsered book. There are situations when what a writer is doing might be described as either plotting or pantsering or both. This should tell us in pantsering and plotting we are dealing with something quite complicated.
Pantsers Have Plots – They Just Get to them Differently
Pantsers always have plots even when this means adjusting their plotlines after the fact. As two Seekers will show in this workshop, pantsers usually must prepare a detailed synopsis (sometimes fourteen plus pages) for publishers once they sell their first book.
It’s just a fact of writing that at times plotters have to pantser and pantsers have to plot.
Two devoted pantsers, Audra Harders and Myra Johnson, have learned how to use the writing program Scrivener to give them the freedom to pantser while still enjoying many of the advantages of being a plotter. Scrivener allows freestyle plotting for pantsers while also giving plotters the opportunity to pantser more often than they might otherwise do.
Just as there is every shade of left handed and right handedness -- even including the truly ambidextrous – there is also every shade of pantsers and plotters. While most writers favor pantsering or plotting, each can benefit from knowing more about the opposite approach.
Types of Pantsers and Plotters
Type I Plotter: this is a writer who was born a plotter. This writer may even think plotting is the only way to write. I’m a type I plotter. I wrote a seventy-eight page outline for my “Stranded in a Cabin” WIP before I ever wrote the first word of text. I’ve always been this way both in school and in business. I always plotted my advertising copy to insure getting the most selling points in the copy while using the fewest words.
Type II Adult-onset Plotter: this I believe is the most common type of plotter. Most Type II’s have tried pantsering and can’t make it work. It may be possible that when you have all the time in the world, pantsering will work. However, after your first book is published deadlines may make pantsering too time consuming or ‘hit and miss’.
One team of workshop authors were pantsers until they became coauthors. Afterwards they had to plot their stories to avoid going off in different directions.
TYPE I Pantser: I think almost all pantsers are lifelong type I’s. I have yet to meet a pantser who was once a plotter but had to give it up. (Debby Giusti is a strong plotter who has to remind herself to pantser more often. Myra Johnson once tried plotting but it didn’t work for her.) I don’t think there are any TYPE II Adult onset pantsers. If you are one, please leave a comment.
The Plotting Pantser: this is a pantser who may be ‘passing as a plotter’. She keeps changing the plot as new ideas arise with almost every chapter. Is she really a plotter if she keeps changing the plot by ‘the seat of her pants’? I think some authors, who don’t like to plot, use this technique on their editors. While they do submit a synopsis, they also feel free to change anything they want to before the story is finished.
The Pantsering Plotter: this is a plotter who may be passing as a pantser. She starts writing without a plot in true pantsering fashion but then keeps building a plot on the back end of whatever she has written. With each new page the plot outline also increases. Within a few chapters a complete plot has materialized. This person is probably a stealth plotter.
Mary Connealy Takes the Bull by the Horns and Reveals ‘How Pantsers Operate’.
“In the following example from my September release of, Fired Up , (Trouble in Texas Book #2), I needed a moment of drama to pick up the pace of my book. Simple as that.
“Originally in the scene, ‘Dare and Vince’ are eating breakfast. (Yes, I've got a hero coming named Vince!). I thought this was boring. Sitting down is boring. I needed them to move. They're bickering because Dare wants to quit being a doctor. He's never been to any school. He's only learned by being a medic in a prison camp so he feels like a fraud. That gets worked into this scene but it didn't start out with that. I just needed action. So I metaphorically shot someone.
“I came up with a family racing into town with a sick child. Only trouble? It’s a tiny town in Indian Territory. No families, no children. Yet I decided I wanted this scene so I had to figure out who these people were.
“Since Luke is in Swept Away, (Trouble in Texas book #1) and since he had taken back his land, others may well have come back to reclaim their land. Since I was still working on book I, I was able to give Luke the backstory I needed for book II.
“Luke was given a black friend named Gil, who was the reason Luke, a Texan, fought for the north. Suddenly Gil's got a bigger role than just a scared dad with a sick child who is going to need the services of a doctor. He's now got a wife who needs a name. He also has three children who need names.
“Here you can see how pantsering in book II leads to changes in book I which was still being written. I essentially pantser more than one book at a time.”
Here's the scene: (remember it started out generic. No names, no connections. This family wasn't black and there was no covered wagon. They were just random people with a sick child.)
Set-up: Dare is the hero. His house burned down last night. He's decided to quit doctoring and become a rancher. ***
“I’m through being a doctor. That house burning down was a message straight from God.”
A loud clatter of fast moving wheels sounded outside and a man shouted, “Whoa!”
Dare turned to watch a covered wagon skidding to a stop right outside the diner window. A cloud of dust swallowed the man sitting high on the wagon seat.
“I need a doctor!” The man, who had ebony skin, leapt to the ground from the dangerously high seat. “Somebody help me! My son, Elias, I think he’s dying!”
Dare was outside in the blustery November wind before he gave serious thought to moving. He sprinted for the back of the wagon, following the man who turned, holding a young boy in his arms. “He’s running a high fever.”
“I’m a doctor.” Dare took the child, burning hot. Vince was at Dare’s side. “Bring him to the law office.”
Dare saw a woman and two more boys, younger than this one, climbing out of the wagon.
“We have to get him out of the cold. Follow me.” Dare hurried after Vince, who had his desk cleared by the time Dare got inside. The only flat surface in the room. Stretching the child out, Dare looked up at Vince. “Get me cold water. We’ve got to get this fever down.”
“I’m on it, Doc.”
Dare thought he heard sarcasm in Vince’s voice and undue emphasis on the word ‘doc’ but he was too busy to pay it any attention.”
The above is a good example of advanced pantsering. Mary can pantser more than one book at a time. This allows Mary to have events that would be great in book II be setup in the backstory of book I. Ordinarily you might think that only plotters would be able to do this. However, because Mary can write more than one book at a time, she enjoys much of the advantages of being a plotter without an apparent loss of creative freedom.
A Question of Experience
A beginning writer should consider how many years of writing experience it will take to be able to pantser across a two or three book series. Perhaps an aspiring writer might benefit more by learning to plot early in her career? Also if book II is changing book I to fit it’s needs, then isn’t that like having book II plotting book I? Sometimes plotting and pantsering can look a lot alike.
How Audra Harders Uses Scrivener to Enjoy the Benefits of Plotting While Being a Pantser
“I’m a tried and true pantser. My sense of sequencing (or lack of, in my case) is enough to frighten even the hardiest of editors. With Scrivener, it doesn’t matter if I write scenes out of order. It doesn’t matter if I suddenly realize an elusive motivation or if I figure out that I’ve built a scene on a misguided conflict. I’m able to write all my ‘brain-busts’ out of order and keep them on separate ‘cards’ until I figure out if I can use them.
“For me, this is huge. It also keeps all the clips of my scenes on the main page or dashboard, so I don’t have to wonder where I put the brainstorm I’d had days or weeks ago. The side bar, in Scrivener’s, allows me to use keywords to help locate ideas, scribbles and scenes. The corkboard pulls up the index cards for the chapter with a brief overview of the scene.
“It’s easy to take a scene that is out of place and move it where it belongs. I can click and move an idea onto the corkboard of a different chapter in order to fix my sequencing mishaps. (Scrivener even allows moving a scene to another book in the a series I’m working on.)
“Scrivener allows me to write the way I think now and later shuffle it into some semblance of order. Don’t mess with my Scrivener or you’ll be barred from winning chocolate from me for life!!!”
If you have not used Scrivener, please note that all the ‘cards’, as well as the corkboard and scribbles, are virtual. There is no mess building up around your computer. No cards will get lost. Scrivener has four different search engines (not just one) so that you can find almost anything given any attribute of the item. You almost need a search engine to find all the other search engines.
Audra uses Scrivener in much the same way that Mary does things in her head. I call it ‘back-end plotting’.
Tina Would Rather Pantser than Plot
“I am a pantser at heart. But in order to sell on a partial I must turn in a proposal that consists of three chapters and a 10-14-page (or longer) synopsis detailing each turning point in the book utilizing Michael Hauge's Six Stage Plotting Structure.
“However there is still the magic of pantsering as the story fills out and your characters talk to you – especially when an ‘Aha! Moment’ appears.
“In Oklahoma Reunion one ‘Aha! Moment’ in particular was the sugar maple tree in the heroine’s front yard. That tree is mentioned again as the arc of the hero and heroine’s relationship develops. The maple tree arc is an example of pantsering that I never planned.
“The huge sugar maple near the street was barren of leaves, the naked branches dead and the bark peeling. It would have to be cut down which meant one more problem to solve, one more thing to do and much too much to think about.” Page 36
“The pruning is pretty much done. I just have to rent a chainsaw and cut down that dead sugar maple by the curb.”
Kait turned, her alarmed gaze meeting his.
“Oh, not the maple.”
“No?” he asked.
“You said it just needed a good pruning and some TLC and it would be fine.” Her lower lip trembled as she spoke.” Page 166
“What? You mean the sugar maple? Yeah, I noticed. Won’t know for sure until spring, but it looks like that tree is going to make it.” He smiled.” Page 208
What Tina demonstrates here is that important ongoing elements in a story can be pantsered into the narrative a little at a time as the author thinks of them.
In Praise of Plotters: Debby Gisuti
“I spend a great deal of time and effort trying to plot the story before I start writing. Recently, I've wondered if I spend too much time trying to get everything in place. Often I "see" the ending but don't have all the little points woven in as tightly as I would like. As a result I spend day after day trying to get those small items into place.
“I'm beginning to think I should get the plot in a fairly decent shape and then start writing, even if I'm not satisfied with the ending. What I have found recently is that the ending reveals itself as I'm moving forward in the story.
“Plot points that I didn't give much attention to early in the process take on more weight or new items appear that I never expected. So...I need to learn to allow a bit of "pantser" to meld with my usual plotter technique.
“Once or twice in each story, something new will pop onto the page as I'm typing. I've learned to allow that ‘where-did-that-info-come-from’ to remain, knowing I can always delete it in the final draft. More often than not, that tiny fact or piece of info will turn into a significant item that I'll need later in the story.
“It's as if God is planting that seed because He knows it will be valuable. I'm still amazed when it happens but have come to trust that He will tie it all together in the end.”
Debby understands the benefit of pantsering when the opportunity arises. And Debby is a consummate plotter. In her Military Investigations series books she manages to weave four separate threads into a seamless whole. There’s the mystery (‘who done it?’), the suspense (will the hero and heroine survive to the end of the story?), the romance (will the hero and heroine overcome their conflicts and fall in love?) and the inspirational element (“will the hero and/or heroine make peace with God and enjoy a full rich life in the Spirit”).
To work all these threads into one plot and give each theme justice is almost impossible. I’ve rarely see this done fully in an inspirational suspense romance. The plotting skill required to do this well needs to be of the greatest precision. Yet, even at this level of skill, Debby feels she needs to spend more time pantsering.
Clari Dees and the Pantser Satori – The Classic Pantser Experience
“In a way, my first book, ‘The Marshal Meets His Match’, was a result of both pantsering and plotting. I woke up one morning with such a vivid scenario playing through my head I had to write it down. That ‘seat-of-the-pants’ scene kept me writing for ten pages. When I caught my breath, I had to know more about these characters. Who was this girl and why was she toting a rifle? Who was the man she confronted? How had they ended up in a cemetery? Being shot at?
“At that point, my pantsering-self had to do a bit of back-tracking and plotting. Ack! But I had a goal to work for, a scene to plot toward, and I managed to construct a skeleton of an outline under the guise of researching (something I love to do) the time period and location.
"Here’s a portion of the final version of that scene—it actually appears in the last quarter of the book.
“You!” Meri’s knees suddenly threatened to buckle, and the barrel of her carbine drooped toward the ground.
“May we put our hands down, or are you going to use that on us?” Wyatt grinned and motioned toward her gun.
She kept the barrel pointed toward the ground but shifted it toward Wyatt. “That depends on how you answer my question. What are you and Jonah doing in there?” It took some effort, but she kept the tremor out of her voice.
Then dismayed realization dawned. “How long have you been up there?” She cringed, thinking how she’d blubbered over her mother’s grave.
“Long enough to realize you wouldn’t appreciate an audience,” Wyatt said softly.
She almost dropped the carbine. Of all the people to witness her tears… She didn’t know whether to melt in mortification or… She tightened her grip on the gun and took a step toward Wyatt and Jonah. Jonah stepped back.
Wyatt stood his ground with a crooked grin. “You just figure out if you shoot us there won’t be any witnesses?”
How does he always know what I’m thinking? “Would you quit changing the subject?” she huffed.
In The Marshall Meets His Match, Clari Dees has painted a heroine so intriguing and unpredictable that I began rapidly turning the pages just to find out what this heroine was going to do next. Clari is very good at giving readers multiple reason to turn the pages. And while Clari is a pantser she also knows when to plot. An experienced craftsman learns to become proficient with both hands.
And So Ends Day One. Be Sure to Return Tomorrow for Part Two! There’s Still Many Authors to Hear From and Much to Learn.
Now…How About You? Do you have anything to add about how you pantser or plot? Do you have any questions for our panel of experts?
Please leave a comment for an opportunity to win a copy of any of the books mentioned today as available on Amazon. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Vince Mooney is a friend of Seekerville. He’s a retired marketing creative person and college teacher who now runs a real estate school by mail and writes romances and nonfiction books on writing. He was university trained to be a philosopher and runs the Philosophy of Romance web site. It’s been said that sometimes it’s hard to tell when he is being serious.