Are You a Plotser or Pantser? Err...Or However that Goes

You’ve heard the heated arguments.
“I have to plot every detail, or I’d have a mess to edit.”
“I let the story lead me. Plotting stifles creativity.”

Plotter or Pantser--each proponent is passionate for his or her method. Are you a plotter, or do you fly by the seat of your pants when you write? I have done both--very effectively I believe. And each method has its benefits as well as pitfalls, but I have to say I’m about 90% plotter at this point. But I still let ‘er fly about 10% of the time. Just write!

But, see, I don’t think plotting interrupts creativity unless you are anal retentive. If you CANNOT let go of your outline and follow a character’s lead on occasion or realize there is a plot point you need to include, then this post isn’t for you. For the rest of us, we see the value in having a structure made of malleable material.

I’ve read a great deal about plotting methods trying to find something to work for me. My methods puts together pieces from a lot of folks. My conclusion: There ain’t no one way for everybody. You have to find your own plotting combo.

Here’s mine. Following Holly Lisle’s “discovery” approach (, I do some serious upfront prep. In Discovery you write down your theme, subtheme, one-line story arc for your main character, create a 25-word book summary, write the back-of-the-book blurb, and descriptions of your main characters. Whew! That is a lot of fine-grained thinking before you write a word.

I print out this stuff and post it around my desk for easy reference. Just re-reading my book summary at the beginning of the writing day, for example, helps me keep focus.

The next thing I do is list 10 key events from my plot. What is the most important stuff happening or revealed? I post that, too. Here’s what that looked like for my first (still unpublished) paranormal, Quick and the Dedd, with main characters Isabella Quick, owner of I.Q. Security Systems, and Riley Dedd, her best operative who was electrocuted a few months before the book opens.

10 Key Scenes:
Riley’s ghost, a key-but dead-operative, appears to his boss, a disbelieving Isabella
Isabella checks out Riley’s ghost claim
Another firm wants to buy her security firm out
Physical and financial threats cause her to consider selling her company
Isabella sees hope to rescue her company with a project bid for airport security
Her company gets picked for the contract despite some dirty dealings
Riley figures out his murderer and the competing company are the same
Isabella confronts the operative who is sabotaging the airport project
Justice is brought to bear for most of the culprits
Isabella and Riley try to make love and he disappears--forever?

Now comes the fun. I distribute my key events in a table so that I can add scenes leading up to or from each key event. Then, what led to or from those scenes. Repeat! In a very short time (a day or so), I have about 35-40 scenes scripted out. Scenes are numbered and include: where the scene happens, who is in it, when does it happen, the point of the scene, and what happens in the scene. Here’s the beginning of Quick and the Dedd’s scene development:

Point of scene
What happens
Offices of I.Q. Security
Anniversary of 6th mon. after Riley’s murder and also Riley’s 42nd birthday
Intro MCs;
Riley tries  to convince her he is real-but a ghost;
Intro plot point of finding his murderer
Drunken Isabella discovers the ghost of Riley sitting on her desk. She puts it down to alcohol but he insists he’s real.
Trini’s apt. for dinner
BF Trini
Gus  Stan
Evening  after Riley’s appearance
Intro support characters; Isabella doesn’t believe Riley is a ghost; wants Stan to run a check without him knowing what it’s about; she’s afraid her bias will change results
Stan questions why he should check but agrees to go to Radio Shack for the stuff Isabella identified from an on-line article on ghost hunting; include stuff on their backgrounds and relationships; bring up big contract they’re going for--her rationale for Stan’s check; confirms

I print out these scenes and tape to file cards I stack on my desk. Time to write? Pick up the next scene card and begin. Of course things happen as I write, so I add to scenes, create additional scenes or characters, and move scenes. The normal stuff. But the big stuff is there.

This may be just me, but first-draft writing comes pretty easily--if I’m prepared. When writing is hard for me I know I’ve not researched enough, plotted enough, or know my characters well enough. My current system ensures that doesn’t happen anymore.

How about you? What is your system for completing your novel?

After 39 years as an educator, Sharon Arthur Moore "transitioned" to the life of full-time fiction writer. She's an intrepid cook, game-player, and miniatures lover.

She writes culinary mysteries, women's fiction, historical fiction, short stories, plays, paranormals (under the pen name River Glynn), and erotic romance (under the pen name Angelica French).

Sharon has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them. Her current favorite region is the desert Southwest. She is married to the most extraordinary man and claims four children, one daughter-in-law, a grandson, and yellow lab Maudie.

Contact Sharon through her Facebook page: Sharon Arthur Moore Fan Page or on Twitter @Good2Tweat.
Follow her blog, “Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time”, at:

Thank you for visiting with me, Sharon. I absolutley love the cover of Mission Impastable!


Patricia Gligor said…
We truly are kindred spirits! Reading this post with a detailed explanation of your writing process made me smile. I was beginning to think I was the only writer in the world who went to such lengths before actually starting to write.
I enjoyed your post. Like you, I print out my outline and keep it close to my computer as I write. Of course, I deviate from it occasionally. I like your idea of listing ten key scenes.
Janet Greger said…
Looks to me like you're a plotter. I make a list of things to include before I begin, but not as detailed as yours. Your plan is impressive.
JL Greger
Pat--Thanks for stopping in! I cannot imagine--truly cannot imagine--how a pantser does a mystery. Hardest writing (for me) of all the genres I do. I think we could share some interesting ideas over a rootbeer!

Marilyn, thanks for your comments. My ten key scenes really frame the book for me. Then I can put up the wallpaper! lol On some of my pantser writings, I began to wallpaper first and found there was nothing to support it! lol
Janet--Nice to "see" you again! I think my recent focus on mysteries (as opposed to some of my other genres) has "bent the twig", necessarily, toward plotting. Whether it is permanent...I won't commit to that! Sometimes a book pops into my head full blown--it's happened to me twice. The story just pours out. It was finding the combo of plotting elements that worked for me. See you at PSWA!
Holli Castillo said…
You are so much more organized than I am. I write a simple scene by scene outline, including only the things that have to come out in that scene. But my way I often end up ultimately also moving chapters around and adding and deleting chapters when I determine something works better somewhere else in the novel. I guess we each have our own process. Of course it takes me 2 years to write a book, so...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LOL, Holli! I move stuff, too, but I find it happens less often when I plot it pretty specifically. It's all about finding the way you can move through your story efficiently. There ain't no one way gonna work for everybody. Thanks for stopping by to comment.
marja said…
I wish I was as organized as you are, Sharon. I'm a pantser and while I write things happen as they want to, more or less. Although I do write notes as things come to me. Excellent post!
Marja McGraw
Thanks so much, Marja! I can spend days getting organized. I love organizing. In fact, if organizing was all it took, I'd have a dozen books done! I appreciate you stopping in and commenting.

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