Become a Plotter

The reason pantsing a novel is so appealing (perhaps, if you are like me) is you think you can get away with minimum (thinking) effort.  In reality, you will end up spending triple the amount of energy later on, once you hit the horrid MIDPOINT and get stumped. (Hello, Writer's Block.)  It's harder to let yourself go at that point, to let your imagination take over, when you've already spent time and words on the first half of the book.  You're invested.  You don't want to feel you've wasted any of it.  This stress does not help you to let your right brain take over and be creative.  You sit there with your left brain controlling the pen.  Logic and organization will hinder your characters' options.

Spend time, any amount of time (minutes, hours, days, weeks) ahead of time (before starting Draft One), when the idea is still forming, brainstorming and letting your imagination go wild with the images and gut emotions the story holds for you.

The problem I always had with plotting was that my story wasn't tangible.  It was just something indescrible inside my mind. Deep, deep inside my mind.  I could feel the characters, feel where I wanted the story to take them, but words couldn't necessarily describe the journey I knew would unfold once I started writing.  The trouble was, I didn't know enough about a well-structured plot to feel my way through one.

I do believe pansting a novel will work once I've written at least half a dozen manuscripts.  Once I've learned even more about plotting, even more about character arcs--one of the most important parts of plotting.

In starting this 90 Day Novel thingy, I've learned more about plotting than I had through raeding countless blog posts and other writing books I've picked up and perused.

The main things to consider when plotting a novel (even if you plan to pants it out the rest of the way through) are:

What is the underlying issue your character will face?  (I've learned this is NOT the problem(s) your character has and can solve throughout the course of the story.)  A dilemma can not be solved.  Your character will wrestle with it and will either come to terms with it or change their perception so that it is no longer an issue.  Many times this will come through as the theme of your novel.

Whatever the dilemma is, it will shape who your character is and who they will become.  Before writing your first draft, imagine who your character will be in the end.  Then, consider how they are the opposite of that in the beginning.  Show this through their dialogue and their reactions to situations and characters.

One of the most important aspects of story novice writers omit (or go too gung ho on) is the world of the story.  Don't get all purple prosey describing the world around your character.  Tell it like it is.  Say in a few short, simple sentences what (and who) your character sees every time they walk into a new scene.  You must place your characters somewhere.  You must describe it for the reader.  If you feel the need to be poetic about it, use a simile or metaphor on occasion, but make sure the comparison fits with your character's personality and life experience(s).  DON'T FORGET TO CREATE THIS WORLD.  THE WORLD OF YOUR STORY IS AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR CHARACTERS.  THINK OF IT AS A CHARACTER IN AND OF ITSELF.  READ.  READ. AND READ SOME MORE NOVELS IN YOUR GENRE TO SEE HOW WELL-ESTABLISHED, PUBLISHED NOVELISTS USE SETTING  IN THEIR NOVELS.

For more information on what to consider before writing that first draft (especially on what to consider for the dilemma and character arc, as well as other main structure points), please check out the 90 Day Novel, even if you don't want to hold to that schedule or to write a novel in three months time. 


  1. Thanks for sharing the tips. I have to know the main plot points before starting a novel but don't plot chapter by chapter. Good luck with the writing.

  2. I always thought of myself as a pantser but the truth is I know where I'm going in my head (even if I don't write it down initially). Funnily, over time, I'm going the opposite way than what you anticipated above; the more I write the more I'm plotting in advance (though I always leave room for a bit of creative pantsing!)

  3. I tried plotting once because I read somewhere that was what a writer was supposed to do. What I ended up with was a flat manuscript. Bo-ring. (And you know your writing is bad when it even bores you.) Everything exciting was right where it was supposed to be but the manuscript had no life. Nowadays I do what I call planstering - a little planning, a little plotting and a whole lot of pantsing. :shrug: It might take a little longer in the editing phase, but it works for me.

    Great post, though. People need to try different styles until they figure out what's right for them. =o)

  4. Thank you for this very helpful post.

  5. I'm a panster with a tiny outline, but have learned with my last novel, a more detailed outline is what I need to keep the plot from falling flat.
    Thanks for the tips! Much appreciated! :D

  6. What you wrote about the dilemma and character arc is so amazing, I have to copy it down so I can remember it later. The rest of the stuff I think I can get away with just keeping a link to.

    Super thanks for the post. I think this is going to help me a lot.

  7. Good stuff! I do enough plotting to know the main points of the story, and then I let my panter side take over. It is much better for me to do a basic outline first, or I'll get writers block.

  8. Like this! I don't plot out anything on paper in advance of the story, but I do have my characters run around in my head for a while before I start typing. I tend to know the ending scene first (or at least part of it). Then the beginning scene - occasionally a middle scene - then I'm off. By looking at your post, I realize that I've been focussing on the change in the character - on the difference from beginning to end. Make me feel better about my style! :)


Stay and chat with us! Share your thoughts.