Thursday, January 3, 2013

From Pantser to Plotter by Dora Hiers

Happy New Year!

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. If there's something in my personal life that needs to change, why wait? Why should my writing life be any different?

In September 2012, I resolved to evolve from pantser to plotter. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms: 

A pantser sits down in front of their laptop and starts typing, with only a few rough ideas for either characters or story floating around in their head. 

A plotter uses an outline and finds their rhythm by organizing their thoughts prior to any actual writing. 

Usually, a writer falls naturally into one category. Trying to do the opposite of what comes natural is like writing left-handed when you normally use your right. Early on, I tried both methods, but plotting frustrated me so much that I considered inflicting serious damage to my laptop.

But as I celebrated with writer friends over their multi-book contracts, I knew that I'd never be able to accomplish this if I couldn't learn to plot. A key component of the proposal is the synopsis. No synopsis=No proposal.

I started my transition by writing two proposals encompassing five books total, which meant writing books from a synopsis instead of the reverse. I’m thrilled to report that my first book is complete, and the second, roughly thirty percent. Woo-hoo!

Want to know how I transitioned from pantser to plotter? I'll share my secrets. :-)


Characters. I'm a visual person. I need pictures, so I started by finding my hero/heroine online and getting to know them. Then, I asked my character (whichever one you connect with first) these questions.

What do you want? (Goal)

Why do you want it? (Motivation)

Why can't you have it? (Conflict) 

Develop the story idea/premise. What terrible thing happened in my character's past to make them how they are today? Keep asking "what if?" until you come up with a story idea.

Write a few pages. Writing backstory helped me flesh out the characters more, so that I could go back and fill in some of the blanks. Just write a bit and let words flow. It's OK. You’ll delete them. The goal is for the story to reveal itself. You may need to tweak the premise after doing this.

Picture the story sequence in your head. Do what it takes to find your zone. Close your eyes. Throw in a CD. Let your dog walk you around the park. Record the chapter number, the date, point-of-view, and what you expect to happen in that chapter/scene. If you know how you want the book to end, you can skip down and work backward.

Implement a schedule. You must map out a timeline for the completion of your books. I’ll share more on this next week.

It’s your turn.
If you're a pantser, how do you write proposals?
Do you ever see yourself evolving into a plotter? Why or why not?


  1. I've always been a little of both. Sometimes I get an idea for the opening scene and can't wait to start. Then it's a little plotting here, a little pantsering there. The book I'm working on now, I plotted beforehand and wrote a two-page synopsis. So far, it's working well, though I don't plot chapter-by-chapter.

    1. I hear ya, Sandy. The idea for the opening scene of JOURNEY'S EMBRACE came from a dream. So vivid, I didn't have to worry about quickly jotting it down, but I was anxious to get it started. Isn't it funny how some stories practically beg to be written?

      I plotted chapter-by-chapter, but not detailed. Only a short paragraph with pov's and what I expected to happen along with a glimpse of their feelings during that particular chapter/scene.

      I'm confident we'll hear great news from you soon, Sandy! Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  2. I love your idea of visualizing the scenes as you plot. I may try it! I used to be a full-on plotter, but have transitioned to about half and half. I find a bit of pantsering helps me get deeper into pov. Thanks, for a great post, Dora!

  3. First, Congratulations on your new discipline and the fruit of it! I've done nonfiction but am just now playing with fiction. Have been resisting the plotter but it beckons everywhere I turn--this may be the needed push.Thanks for concise and clear tips.

    1. Thank you, Marcia. Talk about resisting ~ I can relate. Took me five books before I decided to give it more than a cursory attempt. Plotting felt so unnatural at first, but like all writing, the more you practice, the more comfortable you'll feel. Blessings on your move into the fiction world, Marcia!

  4. Hi Dora, I am a pantser and not a very good one at that LOL. I guess I get ideas during the night when either I can't sleep, or I'm dreaming LOL. Have a wonderful new year. xox

    1. Tanya, you're a pantser?? How can that be? You've rec'd so many multi-book contracts on series of books not completed, it makes my head spin. How do you write the proposals? Wanna share your tips on proposal writing? :-)

      Happy New Year to you, too! Give those grandbabies an extra hug from me.

  5. Oh Dora, I may write a synopsis, or have to for an editor LOL, but it never sticks exactly LOL. Things go their own way. Things just pop into my head inbetween the start to the finish. I suspect I have ADD and that's why :) God bless... as for the hugs, oh my, I sure will! xoxo


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