Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Planner or Pantser? by Debbie Lynne Costello

Is being a seat-of-the-pants writer wrong? Does plotting take all the fun out of writing a story? Debbie Lynne Costello gives us her experience when it comes to getting that story on the page. -- Sandy

Debbie Lynne: So what kind of writer are you? Are you a planner or a seat-of-the-pantster? Just in case you are new to the writing world and aren’t familiar with those terms here's a basic explanation: Planners plan their stories out before writing them and pantsters wing it, flying by the seat of their pants as they go through the story.

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write, and if you’re a new writer don’t let anyone tell you that your
way is wrong. Writing is as individual as fingerprints…okay, maybe not quite that unique but you get the picture.

When I first started writing and before I talked to anyone who was in the industry, I just sat down to my computer and started to type the story that God had laid on my heart. The words just flowed and I looked forward to every moment that I could sneak away and write. I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning, pouring out my story. I loved every minute I spent writing that story.

But then I got connected with the writing world.

Before I go any further let me just say that finding a writing community was the best thing that ever happened to my career. However, as I met more and more people I started hearing that the way I wrote my story was all wrong! I needed to plot it out—to plan my story scene by scene, chapter by chapter. Well, I wanted to be successful so that’s exactly what I did. I planned and plotted my next story.

But you know what happened? I lost some of the joy that I had with that first story. By plotting my story out I lost the freedom to let my characters take me where they wanted to go. And that stole the love of writing. I still enjoyed the craft but not like my first story.

I have friends that plan out their stories down to the smallest detail and they write beautifully and enjoy what they do. And so that is right for them. My point is there is no right or wrong way to write. This is a business, and an art. What makes it successful for you? God has created each of us differently and we need to follow how He has created us to write.

So on to the business side of writing. As a pantster I have run into a problem along the way that a planner doesn’t have. And that is some publishers want a detailed summary/synopsis—some even require a chapter by chapter. So what does a pantster do?

What I’ve found helps me is to take my time as I plan out the story. I walk through the scenes with my characters and give them time to tell me if they’d planned a surprise twist for me. Give yourself a few days between chapter summaries and then reread what you’ve wrote. Is your character happy with where you are taking them? If not find out why and see if you can make them happy.

The key for me is not to hurry. Now, I will say, that at times my characters have taken me down a different path even though the summary clearly stated that was not the road to go. Sometimes there is just no stopping them.  And when that happens I just do my best to keep the storyline from straying too far from the outline of the story.

How about you? Are you a planner or a pantster? Have you tried writing the other way? If so what happened?


A recent WWII widow receives a mysterious letter seeking reconciliation with her in-laws, but when she goes for a visit only her father-in-law seems to be interested in mending fences. But as the days pass mother-in-law and daughter-in-law learn a little about themselves and the true meaning of forgiveness.

Debbie Lynne has enjoyed writing stories since she was about eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina. She has worked in many capacities in her church and is currently the Children’s director. Debbie Lynne has shown and raised Shetland sheepdogs for eighteen years and still enjoys litters now and then. In their spare time, her and her husband enjoy camping and riding their Arabian and Tennessee Walking horses.
goes for a visit only her father-in-law seems to be interested in mending fences. But as the days pass mother-in-law and daughter-in-law learn a little about themselves and the true meaning of forgiveness.