Confessions of an Unrepentant Pantser


Writers tend to be either “plotters” or “pantsers” (who write by the seat of their pants), and I definitely fall into the second catergory.

While the writing of all my novels has followed a slightly different path, I can truthfully say that I haven’t plotted out a single one of them in advance of beginning to write. I’ve tried. I’ve even done courses. I keep being told how quick and straightforward and how much more efficient the process can be if you plan it out in advance.

But here’s the thing. I HATE plotting in advance. For me, the greatest joy in writing is discovering the story as I write it. It’s like reading a great book that you can’t wait to return to day after day. It lives in my head in between the stints at the computer, and though there will always be a few false starts, the odd detour, and days when I sit down and think ‘What on earth will I write today?’ the story generally works itself out in the end.

It’s a magical adventure of creation, and this time I thought you might like to tag along with me for the ride. I’ll also be sharing insights into the business side of being author, as I learn and develop them myself.


So … it time to start thinking about writing my next novel.

And as always, I have no plan. No end in view. Just an idea for what might make a good story. And this time I thought:

Gothic Romance. Victorian England. Spiritualism. And a young woman who is haunted by the ghost of another young woman

A woman dressed in white with blood on her dress is appearing to a man during a storm at night, in front of Gothic ruins. Aquatint, ca. 1850.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

So that’s the premise. It’s not much to go on I admit, but it’s the kernel of a story that will percolate in my head over the next few weeks or months, while I begin to research the period and search for snippets I can weave into the book. At the same time, I’m starting to think about my main characters. This takes a while, and I have character sheets that I fill out over a period of time as the characters begin to develop who they are. It’s about as far as I go with regard to planning ahead. When I first started writing I didn’t bother with this step, but over time I’ve found it helps to have a clearer idea of who I’m dealing with before I begin. Sometimes I cast actors, or people I know, which can help with descriptions and mannerisms. I read of one writer, whose name I can’t remember, who has his own repertory theatre company in his head, and he casts them accordingly. I do something similar, but the actors tend to come and go. These character traits are not set in stone of course - and the characters grow and take on their own life in the writing - which is, of course, half the fun!

Please click on the link below to take a look at the character template I use.

It’s a combination of several I found on the internet, and while I don’t always fill out all of the details, it forces me to think about aspects of my characters I might otherwise not consider. Please feel free to adapt it and use it in your own writing.

Plotters vs. Pantsers


Know the ending.

Map out the structure in acts.

Write methodically.

Have scene summaries before they start.

Use a lot of index cards.

Feel superior to pantsers.


Rush in where angels fear to tread.

Have no plan.

Make false starts.

Feel the same excitement as their readers - what will happen next?

Do a lot of rewriting.