At any author panel, in any interview with an author, someone inevitably asks the question. The framing always differs, the depth of responses might change, but at the core the question doesn’t vary. Plotter or panster?

The plotters always speak in shades of insanity. There are authors with entire walls covered in color-coded sticky notes. Others build meticulous character profiles. Some have stock photo stockpiles. Some create playlists. For the fantasy or sci-fi or even historical authors, I get it. It’s world building. Details matter. They connect and frame—or they can implode a storyline if improperly utilized. But that’s as far as my understanding goes.

Obvi, I’m a panster. I know the beginning-ish and the end, kinda. And I know some cool shit that will happen in the middle. I’ve got a decent idea of who my characters are. I probably know the setting. Done. That’s all I need. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me alive. I need the spontaneity. That way, if I decide halfway through writing a trilogy that the good guy is the bad guy and the bad guy is…well, a comprehensible villain instead of outright evil or that a minor character is actually major or that the sex appeal of a character was overstated, then I can do it. There’s no scramble to re-plot. There’s no panic at the wrench I wedged into my own plan.

Plus, planning ahead freaks me out.

I’m not a heathen. Promise. Like, I plan ahead a little. I mean, I get up early for work so I pick out my clothes the night before. And I’ve got bill pay set up. You know, to make sure my budget is on track. And clearly I keep a running shopping list so I know what to get at the store. But aside from that, nope. No planning here. When I was younger, I planned a lot less. That was part laziness and part an inability to plan ahead in life. But I grew up. Evolved a little. So I pick out my socks ahead of time. It’s not a big deal.

As it turns out, though, when you start to grow up and make a habit out of planning ahead, sometimes it carries over. I learned that I can actually be a lot lazier if I do some shit ahead of time. It’s hard to pick out socks at six a.m., but it’s not so bad at ten p.m. And, yeah, I figured out that writing out a simple timeline for a book makes it a lot easier when I’m stuck because I can just check the timeline and see where I’m going. And maybe the way I wrote novels when I was twenty is different than the way I write novels at thirty.

So I guess I’m a fucking plotter now.


  1. Panster here. When I wrote The Jam Maker, I didn’t even know what kind of story it would be. My broad outline was that it would feature strong girls and older women and that it would be a tale of the old type, an easy read that was all about the story. It would be no exaggeration to say that I had no idea what would happen next before I sat down to write and even then, the characters often had notions that I was not privy to and I could end up following them around just to see what was going to happen next. It is a process I thoroughly enjoy and it can be very entertaining.
    I am currently co-authoring a lesbian sleuth series and the approach is necessarily different. Obviously, I can’t go off on a tangent and change the plot around while my collaborator is busy writing the story as we agreed. This is a different kind of fun. Coming up with the characters, bouncing the plot off each other, building on the other’s ideas, it is a wonderfully fulfilling creative process. Having said that, there is always room for a little improvisation, just as long as it fits the character, and doesn’t take the plot down a whole new trajectory.
    Having done both, I have to say that my heart is one of a Panster. Now, and forever.


  2. I started out as a pantser but ended up painting myself into a couple of corners. A plotter I became. It isn’t such a bad thing. Just remember, even when you think you have it all plotted out, your characters are going to speak to you and take you into some interesting places. Your pantser spirit will still be there, waiting for those moments.

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