Plot? Pants? Both? Oh My! (Penny Rader)

This month our topic is "Are you a Plotter (outliner) or a Panster (seat-of-the-pants) writer?  Why?" 

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Plotting doesn't come easily to me, so I went trolling online for some help.  Below are snippets from articles that intrigued me.  I urge you to click on the hyperlinks and read the articles.  They are chock full of great ideas.

 Also, if any of these are helpful to you, print them or save them.  You never know when something will disappear online.  An article I planned to use for this post was available two days ago, but not today.

The 8 C’s of Plotting: Worksheets (Lara Willard)

  • Captivation
  • Change
  • Complication
  • Confrontation
  • Collapse
  • Comprehension
  • Curve ball
  • Culmination

A Date with Kate – Plotting (Kate Walker)
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Training Yourself as a Plotter

  • Read Read Read – learn the plots that make successful romances in the past and in the present – and the ones that have failed.
  • Watch soaps/dramas/films – stop it halfway – or at the end of the episode – ask yourself: Where is it going? Who will end up with whom? 
  • Read newspapers/magazines/watch people stories on TV – use them as your characters - see if you can see what will happen – check it against reality.
  • How could you rework a fairy story?
  • With every story you read, watch, hear - think about what was behind it, who is involved, why it happened - and consider what will happen next. 

The Great Debate: Plotting Versus Pantsing (DB Jackson)

First, let me say this:  Each writer has to find his or her own way.  Between the extremes of no advanced plotting whatsoever and outlining down to the most minute detail, lies a broad spectrum of possible approaches….

Second, that spectrum I mentioned really does provide a myriad of possible approaches.  I think there are few writers out there who are pure pantsers or pure plotters.

And third, the term “organic” means different things to different people.  I believe that on some level ALL writing is organic.

Finally, allow me to say this:  I think that for aspiring writers especially, some level of plot outlining makes sense.

How Plotting & Pantsering Affects Everything You Write, Pt 1 (Vince Moore)

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.

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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.

How to Write a Book ( OJ Omololu)

9 Steps for Plotting Fiction (Taken from the Verla Kay Message Boards)

  1. Triggering event
  2. Characterization
  3. First major turning point
  4. Exposition
  5. Connect the dots
  6. Negative turning point
  7. Antagonist wins
  8. Revelation
  9. Protagonist wins

Nanowrimo Prep: The Index Card Method and Story Structure Grid (Alexandra Sokoloff)
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Make two blank structure grids, one for the movie you have chosen from your master list to analyze, and one for your WIP (Work In Progress). You can just do a structure grid on a piece of paper for the movie you’ve chosen to analyze, but also do a large corkboard or cardboard structure grid for your WIP. You can fill out one structure grid while you watch the movie you’ve chosen.

Get a pack of index cards or Post Its and write down all the scenes you know about your story, and where possible, pin them onto your WIP structure grid in approximately the place they will occur.

The Outline Dilemma—Plotting vs. Pantsing (Beth Hill)


  • Plotters can write character-driven or plot-driven stories.
  • It’s quite likely that plotters know the story’s ending.
  • A lot of plotting is imagining what if.


  • The pantsers often just begin writing with the smallest kernel of a plot or with only the shadow of a character that snares their interest.
  • If you’ve got sticky notes posted as reminders on every surface of your office, you’re probably a pantser.
  • Pantsers may actually have more notes in the margins of their manuscripts than plotters will (since plotters keep their notes in the outline)...
  • Pantsers...may face plot tangles after writing the first draft that the plotter doesn’t face 
  • Pantsers also enjoy the excitement and enthusiasm of putting story to paper without first hashing through the story.

...there is no right method.

You’re the writer. Use your tools in ways that make you succeed.

Planners Versus Pantsers (Suzanne Church)
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I've tried both techniques. I tend to write short fiction as a pantser and novels as a planner.

In my opinion, two books on planning and analyzing plot and structure are particularly helpful for Planners. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

… my favorite planning tool…Excel to create a multi-worksheet planning file.  … Essentially my spreadsheet is my bible (or codex if you prefer) and can be especially helpful if I need to set the novel aside for a while.

Plotter or Pantser: The Best of Both Worlds (Cindi Myers)

By now you’ve probably identified yourself as either a plotter or a pantser. Whichever approach works for you, I’m convinced you can learn from writers who take a different approach.

If you’re a plotter, try flying by the seat of your pants. Maybe not for a whole book. But every once in a while... Ask your characters to tell you what they’re going to do next.

If you’re a pantser, try plotting out a chapter, then writing it. See if it helps you write more quickly or more easily. Experiment. See if thinking about your book as a whole at the beginning of the process helps shorten the rewriting phase.

There’s no one way that’s right or wrong. The important thing is to write the book. It doesn’t really matter how you get there. But don’t be afraid to experiment with writing methods as a way to challenge yourself and keep your creativity fresh.

Plotters, Pantser,and Percolators (Karyn Henley)

I've discovered that I’m more of a Percolator. Percolating is a mixture of pantsing and a plotting. Here’s how it works for me: I dedicate a composition book to the project I’m starting. Then I go through Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction or his Breakout Novel Workbook, both of which ask thought-stimulating questions that I apply to my specific story. I let my story idea percolate through each question, and I jot answers in my comp book. Without fail, I discover characters and motivation, see possible scenes, hear dialogue, and so on.

Story Planning Worksheets (Jami Gold)

Jami has lots of great worksheets.  You’ll have to go to her page to access these:

  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet (plot arc oriented)
  • Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering Beat Sheet (plot arc oriented)
  • Master Beat Sheet Combining Save the Cat and Story Engineering (plot arc oriented)
  • Jami Gold’s Basic Beat Sheet (plot arc oriented and stripped down to basics)
  • Jami Gold’s Scrivener Template for the Basic Beat Sheet
  • Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure Beat Sheet (character arc oriented)
  • Jami Gold’s Romance Beat Sheet (romance arc oriented)
  • Jami Gold’s Elements of a Good Scene Checklist
  • Jami Gold’s Elements of a Good Scene Worksheet

To Plot Or Not To Plot…That Is The Question (Destiny)

Are You A Pantser?

  1. Do you commence a new novel based solely on an idea, character or sentence?
  2. Do you often say, “I let the book tell me where it’s going.”?
  3. Do you view writing as taking a road trip with only a vague destination in mind?

Are You a Plotter?

  1. Do you get inspired and then write an outline?
  2. Do you get giddy doing chapter summaries?
  3. Does the thought of not knowing whether your character is a mustard or mayo person make you anxious?

…there is no wrong or right way to write you novel. The bottom line is you have to write it! Whatever methods you take to get to that finish line is the right way for you.

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The Ultimate Plotting Tool for Pantsers: Your Novel in 9 Sentences (Joel D Canfield)

A tool he learned from Larry Brooks…stating each of these in a single sentence will give you a clear easy-to-follow path through your novel.

  1. The Hook
  2. The Setup
  3. The First Plot Point
  4. Response (including First Pinch Point)
  5. The Midpoint
  6. Attack (including Second Pinch Point)
  7. The Second Plot Point (including the “All is Lost” Moment)
  8. Climax
  9. Resolution


Did you find any of these helpful?  Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a combination of both?


Barbara said...

What a masterful post! I'm plastered, wild-eyed, against the wall at the thought of total plotting. But I do have to know where the story is going and where it's going to end before I begin, so I fall in that area of Plotzer. I did like the last list you posted. Thanks for a thoughtful and most helpful read! Barb Bettis

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Barb! I'm thrilled you found something that clicked with you.

I think I'm a Plotzer as well. I gutted my first book four times...but the beginning and climactic scene never changed. I think that's part of my problem right now. I have tons of beginnings, but I don't know the endings, hence I don't know what I'm writing toward. Not sure if that makes a lick of sense.

Louise Lyndon said...

I am both panster and plotter although I used to be entirely panster. I have since learned the value of plotting! Upon saying that I don't plot to the extent that I know everything that is going to happen - I still like the element of surprise. I use a program called snowflake pro and with it you can go into as much or as little detail as you want. I do believe that even if you are purely a panster a skeletal outline is going to help in the long run - you'll avoid the saggy middle syndrome.

Great post!

Ashantay said...

I work with both plotting and pantsing. Sometimes one book will be more one than the other. Usually I know how the story will end and a few of the main plot points, but I did write one mystery where I didn't know the villain until I wrote the scene. That was a bit scary! Thanks for the resource links.

Mary Gillgannon said...

Interesting post with a lot of information. I'm a hopeless Pantser mostly because my muse doesn't speak to me when I try to plot. But I keep trying to find a hybrid method between the two styles because I get so tired of how slow some stories come.

Marlow Kelly said...

Thanks Penny. This post has come at the perfect time for me. I'm trying to plot my stories, but it's hard, I like to discover the character as I go. The problem is I back myself into a corner and then have to rewrite. I'm trying to work smarter and that means plotting, as least a bit.

Rebecca J. Clark said...

I flagged this post to read later so I can click on all the links. I'll also share this on my FB page. I'm a pantser who's trying to become a plotter who is really a pantser at heart. I love reading books and articles on plotting and doing all the exercises they suggest, but in the end, I just pants it.

sydney st. claire said...

Wonderful post. Lots to go thru and will def. flag. Love the Save the Cat. Use that a lot. I'm a combo. I always have a plot and outline but not super formal as I find the characters and plot tend to lead me where we all need to go. If it's not working, it usually means I'm trying to force something.

Raven A. Xavier said...

I found this post most informative. I'm a plotter for the most part, but I do let the story tell itself and the plot dopes change from what I began with at times. It is a great post... THanks

J.C. McKenzie said...

What a great post! Very informative. I think I fall somewhere between and pantser plotter or type II plotter. I get a great idea and then it percolates and then I quickly write the scenes down in order in a rough outline. I continuously revise the outline while I write, adding in connections, transitions and additional comments. And sometimes my writing takes me off course and I change the outline to reflect this. I've always called myself a pantser-plotter hybrid! I don't think there's any wrong way to go about it. Unless you teach high school English. Then you need an outline! Lol

Penny Rader said...

Hi Louise,

I've read about the Snowflake method but I didn't realize computer program had been created. Thanks for sharing.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Ashantay. So glad you found the links helpful. I imagine that was pretty scary not knowing who the villain was until you wrote the scene.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Mary. I hope you find a blend between plot and pantsing that works for you.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Marlow. Isn't it cool when you find something right when you need it? I hope the links aid you avoiding those corners. :D

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for sharing the post, Rebecca. I'm a 'how-to' writing book and workshop junkie...always hoping I'll absorb something to help me get words on paper.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Sydney. I've heard a lot about Save the Cat, but I haven't read it yet. Will have to remedy that. :D

Penny Rader said...

So glad you found the post helpful, Raven. Thanks for dropping by!

Penny Rader said...

J.C., it sounds like you've given this a lot of thought and found a method that works for you. Thank you sharing with us.

Jami Gold said...

Thanks for the links to my Beat Sheets and worksheets, Penny! I'm always open to creating new ones if people would find them helpful too. (*whispers* I'm kind of an addict. ;) )

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for creating the worksheets, Jami, and making them available to us. I don't have a handle on "beats" just yet, but I plan to study your posts and figure it out. :) Turning Points are another area I need to study more and to find examples. Thanks for your wonderful blog.

Rox Delaney said...

I used Jami's worksheets when I realized my romance arc wasn't only weak but almost non-existent. What a difference it made!

Nina Sipes said...

I swear, everyone has their own talents for writing different things. Like the people who write cereal box ads, and blurbs for books, and novels. YOU have mastered the blog post. Yes, the rest of us have something to say, but you are FABULOUS at it. I loved every detail of this post! I have had several crisis of identity and worry over mental breakdown because of my new skill of writing. You've found the arguments all in one place and displayed them for delectation like a banquet of possibilities. Well done woman!

Nina Sipes said...

Rox used a portion of your blog so I went and checked it out. I downloaded one of Jami's work thingys. Then imputed my current wip. Now to go find out what I found out.....

Nina Sipes said...

Rox, Which one is the romance arc?

Penny Rader said...

You're such a sweetie, Nina, and do wonders for my ego. :) I feel like a fraud every time I put one of these posts together, because basically I'm using other peoples' posts to explain what I can't. I'm tickled you find them helpful.

Penny Rader said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penny Rader said...

Rox, thanks for letting us know how helpful you found Jami's worksheet.

Nina, here's a direct link to Jami's Romance Beat Sheet

Rox, let me know if I'm pointing Nina in the wrong direction.