From Pantser To Plotter: Why Plot?

It’s been a big week here at Shadow and Fang.  I think I’ve written my two longest blog posts to date.  If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations.  You clearly have stamina!  So far I’ve talked about Why The Pantser Fears Plotting, My Problems With Pantsing, the Craft and Organizational methods I use in my own plotting, and now I want to try to tie things up.

In the name of presenting a balanced argument, I want to talk first about my problems with plotting.  Yes, the plotting cheerleader DOES have problems with it.  Who knew?

I suppose my biggest problem with plotting is that I can’t do just that.  For my current project, which is the most plotting I have ever done to date, I spent three whole months plotting.  I went from beginning to end (though some of the middle was a bit fuzzy).  I was incredibly proud of myself, and I worked very very hard.  I could see how the whole thing would work, how all the plot arcs connected, the reasons for almost every scene.  And then I sat down to actually write it.  And I froze.  I could see it in my head, kind of like a movie playing in my brain, but I couldn’t find the words.  In my determination to plot the whole damn thing out (which was largely to prove that I could), I didn’t write a bit of prose during those three months.  So when I sat down to start writing the actual book, I’d lost my voice.  I’m one of those people who must write every day, or at least not take more than a couple of days off, or I seem to forget what the heck I’m doing.   Taking three months off was not smart on my part.  It took me probably two months to FINALLY find my voice again such that my scenes didn’t sound stilted and stiff.   You pantsers are probably saying “Yep, see, I know that would happen to me.  That’s why I don’t plot.”  Well there is a simple enough solution to that: Don’t stop writing while you’re plotting. In my case, that means plotting out the next thing while I am writing something else.  So as I’m writing Hunted In Shadow (my current WIP), I am actually working on plotting out an entirely unrelated project.  This also satisfies my tendencies to want to pursue Sexy Next Book.  Once I’ve gotten my words for the day in, I’m free to plot on whatever I want.  I figure I will fine tune the plot I’m working on as I’m doing revisions on this current project.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes for me.

So okay, other problems with plotting.

One misconception that I had was that plotting would make the writing boring because I already knew what happened.  The thing is, an outline (in whatever guise you make it) is only a skeleton.  I still definitely pants the details of each scene.  That’s where my characters come to life, speak to me, and say “No! No!  It happened like this!” This was something that Pot tried to tell me during my earlier attempts at plotting, and I was really resistant.  It turned out that was mainly because my characters were motivationless brain dolls that I really just wanted to watch fall in love in my head and then take on a cruise on the S.S. Fluffyverse.  But we won’t go there right now…

Another big problem with plotting is obviously that I just flat don’t know everything at once.  And you know what?  That’s totally okay.  I absolutely have blocks where it’s really vague.  For example, when I started with Hunted in Shadow back in November, all I knew was that there were 3 trials that the hero would have to pass in order to become Alpha.  I didn’t have a clue what any of them were until…day before yesterday.  And boy howdy did that change the direction of the 3rd Act!  That’s what I’ve been working on all morning.  Which brings me to what I believe is the number one myth about plotting:

If you plot you CAN and WILL change your outline/plot!

There is this absolute misconception among so many pantsers that plotting means that you must decide everything at once and that you’re not allowed to change it, as if it is set in stone or blood or you’d be breaking some unwritten rule.  I hear so many of you (and I include myself as a former pantser) say that you deviate from your outline, often immediately, so what’s the point?  Well, I’ll tell you.

When you get to those deviations, when new ideas occur to you that change things, the difference between the pantser and the plotter is that the plotter takes the time to figure out the repercussions of that change.  What will that alteration change on down the plotline?  This sort of analysis and thinking it through is what keeps those changes and alterations from being unnecessary tangents.  You’ll know why you’re including every single scene, and you’re sure of what each one is supposed to be adding to the overall story and to the characterization of each character.  And that saves you from having wasted three months writing in the wrong direction and another three months in revisions.  That sort of follow through, of making the changes to your outline as new information occurs to you, will also enable you to figure out which ones are the crap scenes, the unnecessary scenes while you are still in outline form rather than after you’ve wasted time in writing them.  I promise, it’s much less painful to axe them BEFORE they’re already written.   One of the first things I did once I finally got into the writing of HiS was to axe or combine scenes because they weren’t enough on their own.   And while I’m on the subject, it is so much easier to rearrange things in an outline than it is in a big, long, unwieldy manuscript.  In yWriter I can simply drag a scene into whatever chapter I want.  It takes 2 seconds.  If I was working in a full pansted manuscript, I’d have to scroll to find the section, select it, cut it, scroll to find where I wanted to stick it.  It’s time consuming and clunky.

And this brings me to what is probably my number 1 reason for wanting to plot: Time Management.

Here’s the deal.  I am a very busy woman.  I work a full time research position with a major state university.  I also have a full time teaching load as an online college instructor, and from time to time, I do freelance copy editing work.   Add to that the usual responsibilities of keeping house, husband, and pets (God help me when I have kids), and it really doesn’t leave much time for writing.  The thing is, I want to write for a living.  I don’t want to keep having to do all this other stuff.  Since that writing time is very limited, I want to make the best use of it.  Pansting things and going off on tangents wastes a LOT of time.  And while I have absolutely gotten over my attachment and resistance to killing my darlings (my CP will tell you that I will fairly readily chunk tens of thousands of words if they aren’t what I need), I hate that I’ve wasted that time when some planning could have had me being more productive.  It feels like a big setback in the Grand Plan For Kait.  I’m not okay with that.

So I look to writing with the same kind ruthless of organization I use to manage all those other responsibilities.  It takes me a good year to write a book.  That’s just a fact.  I can only turn out between 500-1,000 words a day most days.  That means it takes me a good 3-6 months to get through a draft, assuming I’m consistently moving forward.  Sometimes longer if I get stuck or life interferes (as it often does).  When I have a plot, I have that roadmap to where I’m going.  I don’t have to waste time pondering “I wonder what happens next?” or bugging my CP for that answer simply because I haven’t thought it through.   If I pants, it takes me just as long or longer to go through revisions and try to fix the problems with the tangents and the wrong turns because I’m just as prone to making more of them.  But if I plot, then when I finish that first draft, I have something solid to work with.  It may need fleshing out or cleaning up, but generally, I’m going to have a  FINISHED draft faster–not to mention that the draft will be more liable to stand on its own because I planned out the foundation rather than lucked into something that worked.  And since I’m unpublished and untried in the great wide publishing world, it behooves me to do whatever I can to make sure that the things I’m putting out the door looking for representation are the best that I can make them.

Plotting gives me the confidence that they are.

Thanks for joining me as I’ve taken this journey through my conversion from pantser to plotter!  I hope you’ve found some of this helpful.  If you have any thoughts, questions, or requests for future posts on this subject, toss them in comments!  And because I am out of books to give away, today’s prize will be a chance to be featured as a character in my current (or possibly next) paranormal romance project.

Yesterday’s winner of a gently used copy of Barbara Michaels’ Witch is…Tanya who has Scrivener.

Drop me an email at and let me know where I should send it.

16 thoughts on “From Pantser To Plotter: Why Plot?

  1. Great write up, Kait! (I read them all but didn’t comment.) You hit it right on — even plotting is an “organic” process. It’s never really done…just like laundry. I think I have all my laundry in order, some folded, the next pile ready…and whammo, the kids clean their room and suddenly there’s another mountain of laundry that messes up all my neat little sorted piles. That’s life, and that’s writing too.

  2. It’s been great to read these posts as a “born plotter.” I’m actually moving in the *opposite* direction – I’m finally being able to let go of my rigid grip on my outline. i’m fairly compulsive about knowing what happens next, and it was giving me problems when my characters were absolutely sure that the way I outlined it was not the way it should be.

    It’s been fun to come along on this journey to see how pantsers get to plotters – and it gives me a good insight into how to become a little bit more flexible – without losing my organization.

      1. For the paying job, I write procedures for financial processes. It can be VERY difficult to let go of all the organization and outlining that is absolutely essential “at work.” The first time I got to a point in a book where I didn’t know “what happens next” shut me down for several weeks, as I had no idea what to write!

  3. I’m VERY late arriving to this party–missed all the door prizes–but boy, am I glad I came! I tried flat-out pansting. Disaster. That ms will never see the light of day. I tried flat-out plotting. Another kind of disaster. That ms will never be written to see the light of day. So I’ve been floundering a bit, trying to find something in between.

    I too like software, and I think yWriter could work for me, especially since I can plan and write all in one place. I’m going to give it a whirl. Thanks for sharing your “conversion” story.

    1. I think pantsing and plotting are like any behavior really. There are extremes at either end and most people fall somewhere in between. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Excellent series Kait! I’ve enjoyed all the info. Could you tell me where I might find a copy of GMC? No one seems to have it and I have a hard time believing it’s out of print. Thanks again.

  5. Great series. I enjoyed it very much, even though I’ll probably never write an outline before writing the manuscript (I don’t even do that for non-fiction work). However, I usually start writing with some vague idea of where the story is going and use plotting techniques at some point into the writing to organize my scenes and/or figure out how to get from here to there.

    Also thanks again for pointing out the very helpful plotting software.

  6. My outline is an ever-evolving thing. Just because I write it down on a note card doesn’t mean it has to remain that way throughout the manuscript. I am always thinking of better ways to convey a particular scene or plot thread.

  7. Of all the LB&LI’ers this year you have been one of the most talked-about, Ms. Kait. Thanks for offering such a neat series of workshops, and much food for thought for all of us. 🙂

    1. Thanks for organizing everything! I’m glad some folks got something out of this little series. 🙂

  8. Wow, this has been a great workshop! Thanks.

    I was reading the part about your working in a university and teaching full-time online, and about fell over. How do you do it all? Of course, I’m also wondering, since full-time writing is your real dream, why you just don’t scale down to one job and spend the extra time furthering your craft? I don’t know your situation, though, so maybe having two jobs is necessary right now. I’ve just been reading a lot of Jack Canfield lately, and he suggests people focus their time on the things that are connected to their purpose/dream. If the second job isn’t necessary, it would seem to be a time waster–unless your real dream is to teach.

    At any rate, I wish I had your energy! Again, these posts have been great. I’ll keep an eye on your site from now on. Best of luck on reaching your dream. 🙂


    1. The second job is putting my husband through school actually. I certainly wouldn’t be killing myself with multiple jobs if I didn’t have to. 🙂

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