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

PLOTTERS:

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.


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.