Pantser Looking for Help with Plotting

I think it may be apparent in my writing, but I’m a huge pantser when it comes to writing books. I just can not sit and plot my stories out. The most that I can do is to make a list of characters and the scenario of the story, and then that’s the full extent of my pre-planning before I begin writing.

The biggest reasons that I’m a pantser is that I always fear that after I fully plot out a story, I might comes up with a better idea in a certain part, and then, I’ll be forced to redo a lot of it. Another reason is that I just forever stuck in the plotting stage and never get to writing part and eventually get bored of my novel (which happened with a fantasy book that I have long given up on).

I was wonder if any of you guys have advice for a pretty extreme pantser like me for plotting. Some questions I have are:

  • What are your general plotting strategies?
  • How do you resist the temptation to not directly dive into your novel and begin writing?
  • How do you avoid getting stuck in plotting mode forever and get bored with your book?
  • What do you do if you want to change up a section? Do you just nuke whatever comes after it or do you try to twist your story to fit these changes?
  • How do you do character motivations? It’s one of those things that I really struggle with when trying to plot because I feel like my characters don’t really start with strong motivations, but they build and change as I write descriptions and dialogue.
  • When do you know that you are done plotting and ready to begin writing?

I have a rough idea of a story in my head, and I want to tryin to plot this one out rather than fully pantser-mode it.

Honestly, I just start with a basic idea of the plot: the beginning, the ending (with room for new ideas) and some things that should happen in the middle of the story. Then I start writing. I just love to write and see what new ideas I come up with in the meantime. These ideas are often better than the original ones, since you get to know your world and characters much better as the story progresses. However, to avoid writer’s block, I always make an outline for two or three chapters ahead.

So, as you can see, I’m not a planner either. Personally, I cannot predict in advance what evolution my characters will go through; I have to find out for myself while writing. In other words, if planning the entire outline of your book beforehand doesn’t work for you and actually causes you to turn away from a story, then just don’t do it. Some people write better with a strict outline, others just need to start writing and discover more along the way. Do whatever feels best for YOU.

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I just outline all the chapters in my book. Its like my characters tell me exactly what’s going on in the book. I basically take notes of everything that’s going on in each chapter. Once I’m done with my outline and get into writing, that’s when I start adding in more details and you know…make it look like an actual book lol

I personally never had this temptation before because I need to plan out everything before I begin writing my book. I also think outlining is fun so the temptation to dive into my book has never gotten to me.

Since I outline/plan chapter by chapter, I never really got stuck in plotting mode. I did face some writers block even with my outline but never anything too drastic.

Sometimes I nuke it while writing the book and add a new idea, sometimes I rewrite some parts in my outline and I also come up with a different idea. I just be feeling inspired lol my outline helps me a lot when brainstorming new ideas. The stuff I take out I usually place it in my Deleted Scenes doc to write later as a little treat for my readers :joy:

I’m honestly sorry if I’m not helping at all fndjjdnd anyway, when I think of a story, for some reason I know exactly what my characters motivations are and how it correlates to the plot. It just comes to me. :joy:

After I’m done outlining the ending of the chapters with all the major plots and rising actions, I keep outlining until I reach the notes of the final chapter and scene in my book. When I outline the last few chapters, I know when it’s time to wrap things up. It’s like that feeling you get when you know you have to say goodbye to someone but you really don’t want to.

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Being pantser is not bad though, if it works for you lol
I also fear that I’ll get bored of my own story if know what’ll happen (it actually happened once lol)

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Why would you want to plot if you’re a pantser? It takes the joy out of the whole experience and you’ll most likely feel like you’re doing nothing but paint by numbers. For months. People who plot will plot from the beginning, I think, it’s the way they work. But if you’re a pantser by nature, let me know when you end up ditching the story LOL I give you 1 week. *gets bricked

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Plotting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me! This is my process:

  1. First, I write brief outline of the plot (Literally a couple lines)
  2. I start to develop my characters by making character outlines. How do they need to be thinking in order to make the plot viable, what are their thoughts towards the events in the plot etc.
  3. Using the information I have written about the characters, I start to beef up the plot outline. I just keep adding random snippets of information including specific scenes I have thought up, etc.
    (This is an example of this blurting process. I let this take at least a couple of days, where I just write down everything that I’m thinking. As you can see, I literally just write phases that came to mind, bits of dialogue etc)
  4. I organise this blurting into chapters and outline each chapter. As you can see, some chapters have more detail than others, I don’t mind this.
  5. I start to write! My outline changes all the time when I write, sometimes I sit down to write and the chapter I had planned doesn’t inspire me at all, and so I change around the plan to find something that does!

My thoughts on pantsing/planning are this: I used to be a major pantser and this worked for the first few chapters; I was full of inspiration and motivation. However, it meant that when I encountered writers block I found it impossible to write as I had to come up with creative inspiration as well as actually writing the chapter at hand. Outlining in this way helps me so much because even if I’m not feeling especially creatively motivated, I find it so much easier to write a chapter that has already been outlined for me!

Good luck xx

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The point of an outline is to keep you on track and keep things consistent, while, at the same time, be flexible enough that you can change it if you feel differently about something as you write the story.

Here’s a list of links filled with outlining techniques:

Alderson, Martha. “How to Use a Plot Planner .” Jane Friedman. 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Blair, Robbie. “8 Ways to Outline a Novel .” Lit Reactor. 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Blumer, Adam. “How to Plot Your Novel with a Simple Spreadsheet .” Adam Blumer Books. 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Clark, Monica M. “How a Scene List Can Change Your Novel-Writing LIfe .” The Write Practice. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Clark, Monica M. “I’m Going to Start My First Draft!! But First, the Snowflake Method… ” Illegal Writing. 11 June 2012. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Drake, Laura. “Organize Your Novel With Excel .” Writers in the Storm. 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Ingermanson, Randy. “The Snowflake Method For Designing a Novel .” Advanced Fiction Writing. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Lakin, C. S. “Why Outlining Your Scenes Will Help You Write a Great Novel .” Live Write Thrive. 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Meyer, Marissa. “Subplots, Character Arcs, and Color Coding: My Process for Major Revisions .” Marissa Meyer. 29 July 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Murray, Jacqui. “Plotting a Story—with a Spreadsheet .” Word Dreams. 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Pattison, Darcy. “Shrunken Manuscript v. Spreadsheet Plotting .” Fiction Notes. 31 Oct. 2007. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

Pattison, Darcy. “Spreadsheet Plotting .” Fiction Notes. 30 Oct. 2007. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Scott, Jeffrey. “How to Get a ‘God’s-Eye View’ of Your Story in Microsoft Excel .” Animation World Network. 21 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Strathy, Glen C. “How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps .” How to Write a Book Now. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Tod, M. K. “What Does Your Plot Look Like .” A Writer of History. 2 June. 2016. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

Weiland, K. M. “7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story .” The Writers Digest. 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Wendigo, Chuck. “25 Things You Should Know About Outlining .” Terrible Minds. 2015. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

Wendigo, Chuck. “25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story .” Terrible Minds. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

Zhang, Kat. “Outlining on Excel . . . (Yes, That’s Right, Excel) .” Publishing Crawl. 17 June 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.

How to Write a Plot Outline .” Scribendi. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

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Pantser Looking for Help with Plotting

Going to the Dark Side?
youre dead to me

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My thinking goes a lot faster than my typing, and making a few notes to outline the story is less work than writing a complete first draft (and finding out that I come up with a better idea when I’m almost done).

You give the perfect reason to plan instead of pantser: it’s a plan, so it helps you to know where you’re going to, it takes away your doubts, it makes your characters stronger and your environment more credible, it makes your plot better, and when you are halfway the writing of the first draft and a brilliant idea comes up, you just add it to the plan and change the draft where necessary.

You, addicted as you are to pantsing, should not kick the habit completely. Your first start, writing a scene of that story that comes up, is what you like best, so keep doing it. I always plan my story, but I do like to write one or two scenes when I’m planning the rest, just to get the ‘touch and feel’, to find out if I should write in 1st POV or 3rd POV, if I can get the tone right.

The simple way is: don’t write out the whole plot in a draft but limit yourself to a few lines that will grow into chapters or paragraphs. This works great with a short story, to learn and get some experience. You’ll need to find your own way of working, your own system (short cards or separate notes, a document, a whiteboard, whatever).

The story, the setting and the characters always grow towards each other. A war story? Take a hero and a ‘victim’, for contrast, and let the ‘victim’ save the hero, for surprise. Fantasy? Give the Wicked Wizard a powerful weapon and make the hero a thief who can steal it away from him, then add a leader of the rebellions who takes the weapon and becomes worse than the Wizard, so the thief has to ask the Wicked Wizard for help, to save the disaster he created himself. The story works best if the characters can shine, and the characters shine brighter when the story gives them the best challenges.

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My first question is this: do you actually work better when planning, or do you just feel obliged to do it? Because both planning and pantsing are the “right” way to work for different people, and forcing one is more likely to kill your motivation than to give you better ideas.

Take it from someone who tried the one he’s not best at, came to that realization, and ended up switching.

If you love pouring work into a book before you start, you’re probably a plotter. If you’d rather backload that work into revisions, you’re probably a pantser. If you’re somewhere in between, you could be a plantser.

See if any of these match you!

On the actual questions, though…

My inspiration usually gives me a title first, interestingly enough, and from there the book idea takes shape. I poke at it until I find out who the characters are, and when I have a cohesive enough idea, I take it to a beat sheet. I use the Save the Cat beat sheet, but there are others. When I can fill that out top to bottom, I start writing.

I’m never tempted. This is part of why I know I’m a plotter!

I work far, far better when I have an outline… I can’t walk out into the dark without my writer’s Google Maps, so to speak. I also write highly research-intensive books, so frontloading that is absolutely necessary and usually helps my idea take shape.

I’ve never had this problem. As I plot, I get closer to actually starting something cohesive, and that builds my motivation to start. At a certain point, it always tips over :man_shrugging:

I release myself from the need to know every scene, detail, character, etc. before I start. Plotting doesn’t mean having it all figured out. There’s a spectrum between total pantsing and total plotting, and doing what you think you should do rather than what’s actually helpful is a surefire way to kill a book.

I don’t nuke (my story is usually developed enough when I start that this would be disastrous) so I guess I’m in the “twist” camp. It doesn’t feel like a twist, though. More like a slight evolution. Because of my plotting style, big changes rarely happen by the time I’ve started writing.

I plan a character with three things:

  1. A problem
  2. A want (what they’re chasing after because they think it will fix their problem)
  3. A need (what they need to learn that will actually fix their problem)

From there, I let them grow organically and revise earlier chapters for consistency as needed.

As soon as I have the roadmap and enough sense of my characters to not go totally off the rails when I put pen to paper. Basically, whenever I feel ready!


You might have noticed by now that a lot of the things you seem to dread about plotting are the things I enjoy—or at least don’t have trouble with. To me, it doesn’t sound like you’re a plotter, but that’s ultimately for you to decide. Either way, good luck! :blush:

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Screen Shot 2020-03-26 at 6.56.57 PM

I’m 95% plotter; fight me! :laughing:

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The big reason that I want to be able to plot a bit is because I’m attempting to write a story with some mystery in it, and it’ll be difficult to really just write as you go with mystery since there are some clues / foreshadowing that you probably should introduce early on.

I also checked out your chart. I’m definitely a Lawful Pantser, but I do have elements on common with the Chaotic Pantser (lack of care for plot), and True Plantser (have a very, very rough outline).

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The Dark Side has cookies …

… but they’re low fat cranberry raisin ones the size of a quarter.

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I actually did a whole video on plotting for pansters.

Outlining doesn’t work for everyone, so may advice is not to kick pantsting in the gut all together, use a loose skeletal outline that you can constantly adjust. It is okay to be a discovery writer, and you need space and the flexibility to do that. I adjust mine after every chapter—because yes, I go off track and incorporate, remove or change something every single chapter lol.

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Ah, got it. Why not write out the bare thread of the mystery, then, and just work around that? Plan the mystery and leave yourself freedom on the rest of it! Or even better—just make a series of notes to yourself what has to come up around certain points in the book, then figure out how to weave them in as you go.

The story I pantsed/plantsed before I turned plotter is a Fantasy-Mystery, and it actually worked quite well for me to do that. So it’s possible! Though I agree, Mystery is easier to plot than pants.

I’ve got friends who are amazing writers and fall into one or several of those categories. I have to say, there is a certain excitement that comes with those that isn’t matched in a full outline.

I’m a neutral plotter, so you can see the plotting diversity in there :laughing:

The cookies, maybe, but I bake dark chocolate lava cakes strictly by the recipe and they taste delicious :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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You don’t want to know what the “chocolate” is … hint … it’s not really chocolate. :grin:

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You’re right, it’s the carmelized blood of all the poor readers who fell victim to the excellently efficacious execution of my latest plot :blush:

Oops.

Sure tastes good, though.

Lol, we should stop derailing the thread. I call truce! Let’s not scare the newer writers who might be lurking, shall we?

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Being a pantser myself, I don’t outline events. But i have an idea about the general tone of the book. Like how many fight scenes I want, 1-2 major twists, the 3-4 major characters, world building.

It’s like if I’m planning a trip to Italy, I know the following:- go to pisa, go to venice, see the Colosseum, eat pizza, don’t go during quarantine.

Then I connect all the dots.

I procrastinate.

I try the later. But sometimes the new idea is so good that I have to edit the whole book to fit it.

I think that is good. If the motivations are developing with the book, the readers will be more engaged.

When I am satisfied that I know what my characters would do in any situation and when I have a logline.

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Hi! I’m a Pantser too.

I don’t know if this helps, but I have some steps I go through as a Pantser before I put my pen to paper that aren’t exactly plotting, but help guide me through the journey and stop me from getting lost.

After the initial idea, before I put pen to paper, I like to think about:

  • Main Characters – who are they and what do they want? I like to give them one key underlying motivation and/or a fear. This helps me to set them down into the world and have them propel themselves forward based on what it is they’re moving towards (or away from).
  • Location – What key locations am I going to use to anchor my action? I like to think of a place where my characters can hang out (like a fictional café/bar), and usually a place where they’ll go to train/make their plans. This helps me to keep the pacing tight.
  • Baddie - Who is my baddie? The main character needs an obstacle to overcome so I like to give some thought about who is going to get in their way and why. Then I can have my characters react to the baddie and vice versa with no forward planning.
  • The Main Conflict – This all leads me to the most important bit – the main conflict! I never start a novel without knowing what my conflict is. The conflict is basically what the main character wants, what’s going to get in their way, and what the consequence will be of not overcoming it. It’s basically the backbone of the story and having this in mind while pantsing stops me from going off track.
  • The Inciting Incident – What is going to set my conflict into motion? I’m almost ready to start writing now, I just need to determine where I’m going to start. I think about what is going to trigger my character’s journey to the end of the book, and I set them down in my world close to this moment.
  • Three act structure - I find it helpful to think of my story in three acts . Each act will have its own theme / a journey. And each act will end with a climactic moment that will take the reader (and the characters) into the next act. I think about the theme of each act before I start, though I don’t know exactly what will happen yet!

Hope this helps a bit! And good luck with your new story!

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