Plotter or Pantser? What’s Your Writing Style?

As a writer, do you outline everything before hand? Or do you wing it, just sit down to write and see what comes out each day?

If you ask any fiction writer how they write, their answer will place them firmly into one of two camps. They are either a Plotter, or a Pantser.

Plotters plot their stories out ahead of time. They live and die by their outline. A Plotter puts the time in to figuring out the full arc of the story before they even write their first line. They know who their characters are, and what their relationships are to each other. Plotters don’t have to pull rabbits out of their hats to make the ending work. They don’t go wandering into dark alleys where they get stuck, or write themselves into a corner where they can’t get out. They’ve already thought through every detail of the story. They’ve found the holes that need to be fixed before they invested the time, and energy of writing out a novel, until they know exactly how it will work.

Plotters can be very prolific, because they know what they are going to write before they write it. This way of writing is efficient and productive, but sometimes there’s a cost for this. Plotter writers have to make sure they are showing real emotion. Sometimes the stories can feel a little flat or undeveloped.

You might be a Plotter if:

  • It’s the beginning of August, and you’re already done with your Christmas shopping.
  • You get excited about your to-do list.
  • Your desk is neat and organized.
  • When you go on vacation, you have a detailed itinerary of what you will do.
  • You type out your shopping list.
  • You hit all your deadlines on time.

As a proud and proper Pantser, I envy the Plotter. As a Pantser, I write by the seat of my pants. I make it a point to sit down every day and put in the time to write. But, as a rule, I have no idea where I am going. I am driving without a roadmap or GPS. Sometimes it feels like I’m driving with no headlights on a dark and stormy night. To a proper Plotter, this would be majorly stress inducing and considered certifiably crazy behavior.

And they might be right. I have too many partially completed novels sitting on my hard drive. It is painful and discouraging to write a couple hundred pages into a story and then find out you don’t know where you’re going, and have no idea how to finish.

That said, I wouldn’t trade places with a Plotter. I think I have more fun. For me, a big part of writing is in the discovery. It is a true joy when you think your characters are going one way, and they surprise you and go off in a whole new direction.

I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed out loud when someone in my story said something I didn’t expect them to say. Being a Pantser is about letting go, and letting your subconscious take over. When it is flowing, it feels like you have a direct line to the universe, and it is dictating the story to you and you are just typing as fast as you can, trying to keep up. The pain is real when it doesn’t work. But when it does, Wow! That is a cool thing.

If I am surprising myself, I know my readers are also feeling that, and I think these stories have a real life to them because of that.

You might be a Pantser if:

  • You know you have the receipt you are looking for, you just don’t remember which pile you put it in.
  • You are why stores are open on Christmas Eve.
  • You like to wing it, and you cook without using a recipe.
  • Deadlines? It will get done when it gets done.

These are exaggerations of course, and most Pantsers try and have an idea of where they are going, and most Plotters will go off course from time to time as new ideas present themselves.

When I first started writing my newest novel The Family Man (To be released soon), I had already written pages of notes. I knew it would be about a Hitman who has a family and works for a secretive organization, where both his identity and theirs are hidden. I knew the basic idea of the story, but I discovered the rest as I wrote.

The novel I am writing now, will be a series. I know that I am going to have to get a whole lot better at pre-plotting, to make sure this all comes together in the best way possible. And I am truly working on it, but for now, it feels uncomfortable.

Each writer has a style that fits them most naturally but taking on some of the other style can help to improve their writing overall.

I’ll keep you informed of my progress as I try to become more of a hybrid, a Plantser, maybe.


Thoughts on Writing – How to Make Your Characters Believable

Have you ever finished a good book, closed the cover and then felt a sense of loss?

Does it sometimes feel like a friend or family member has moved away when the story is over?

I feel that way sometimes. And when I do, I know that the author did a great job of creating the characters. These characters weren’t just a collection of character traits, and descriptions. They were real, living, breathing people whose live mattered.

Setting, plot and pacing are all essential elements in any good story. But the one thing that really makes a story come alive, is having realistic, memorable characters.

Writing compelling fiction is like a magic trick. It is an illusion. Readers are reading words on a page, but when it all comes together, it clicks, and the world seems real.

Like with magicians, there are some tricks to the craft which can help you round out your characters, and make them real. In my novel, Summer on Earth, my two main characters are a young boy, and a space alien stranded on Earth. These characters are so different, and for the story to work, I needed to make them, as well as the other characters, feel real.

Here are a few things that I do with my writing that helps to breathe life into my characters.

  1. Physical description and identifying characteristics – When you first introduce a character in a story, you describe them. Personally, I believe that less is more. Rather than giving a very detailed rundown of how the character looks, I give a brief physical description, and let the reader fill in the rest with their own imagination. The character is revealed more by their actions, what they do and what they say.
  2. Give them a goal – Every character, even minor ones, should have a goal in the story. What is the one thing they want more than anything else in the world? What drives and motivates them? If you know what your characters want, that determines how they will act, and that makes them more real.
  3. Emotion – This is the secret sauce. As humans, we identify and respond to emotions. If someone smiles at us, we smile back. If someone around us is in a bad mood, that can be contagious. The same thing goes with your characters. If they lack emotion, they come off as flat. When you give them real emotions, we identify with that and they will seem more authentic.
  4. Everyone is the hero in their own movie – It’s easy to make your hero likable, but in the villain or antagonists mind, they are the hero. From the view of your story, they might be evil and nasty and stupid, but not in their own mind. While writing, think of what the world looks like from each character’s perspective. It will add depth and fullness to your characters.
  5. Dialogue – What your characters say to each other is a way to move the story forward, to reveal information the reader needs to know, and a great way to reveal who that character really is. Everyone talks differently. They use different vocabulary, different phrases and everyone has their own vocal tics. A professor will talk differently than a cowboy, and a teenager will speak differently than a young mother. The way your characters talk will let you know if they have power, or not, their level of education, how they feel about the person they are talking with, their level of confidence and so much more. This can be a great way to build a character who is memorable.

These are just a few things that work for me. Think of your characters as real people and they will take on their own life on the page.

What makes characters real for you?