Teagan Kearney/G.N. Kearney: Writer: June 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Pantster or Planner

Before I begin Part Two, where the focus will be on structure, I’m taking a brief step to the side, so to speak, because how you approach this endeavor is something that needs consideration. Hence a chapter about this topic before going any further seems appropriate.
Pantster* or Planner
Knowledge of your protagonist's strengths and flaws has grown and you have given some thought to the antagonist and supporting cast. So what next? Maybe you have an idea of how your story starts—someone is falling out of an airplane/off a mountain, looking over their shoulder at the sound of footsteps behind them—you’re having flashes about the storyline, perhaps even the ending? Various scenes are popping into your brain, and you’re itching to be off. Not everything is clear but you’re ready to dive in because the excitement you’re experiencing demands you put what is in your head down on the page/screen now!

Press pause for a second.
The Pantster
For the pantster the journey is writing the novel, and the destination is a complete first draft.
Think of it like this: you decide to go for a day trip to a beach you’ve not visited before. You’re going via the scenic route because, while you have a goal and a rough notion of the route, you’ve also resolved to enjoy the trip. Grabbing your purse/wallet, phone, off you go; you can pull in at a service station for snacks and gas and at any place you choose to appreciate the view. You have no idea of the exact route or how long the voyage will be, but that doesn’t bother you.
The pantster doesn’t use a structured framework, and there are many successful novelists who write using this technique because it allows them to run with ideas as they arise. They relish not knowing where the adventure will take them, the freedom and sense of being connected to their creativity. They can change direction and go where inspiration leads them. The process is spontaneous and they feel closely in touch with their imagination.

The Planner:
In this context planning is preparation, but writing the story is the destination.
Having decided to make your trip, you’re excited but delay it until the next day because you want to find the shortest route and prepare a picnic for lunch. The goal is to have more time at the destination.
Outlining chapters and scenes is a path into the narrative that enables planners to know their characters and their history in more depth. An outline is a tool that maps out the main character’s journey, helps identify weak spots in the storyline and gives a comprehensive overview.
When planners begin their novel, having scrutinized character motivations and plot points, making sure they work, they can devote themselves to writing without having to stop or backtrack (there’ll be enough of that in the editing!). Once the inventive wheels are turning, a map can provide as much detail as you choose, freeing you to concentrate on writing because you already know what will happen.
Nevertheless, simply because you have a blueprint, nothing, other than your own reluctance, prevents a change in direction whenever you feel a character or the plot requires it. Nothing is set in concrete.
IMHO the difference between the approaches are not as dissimilar as they initially appear. I see the two styles as short-term and long-term planning. Both methods require patience: pantsters because they may discover they haven’t figured out all the angles of getting from point A to point B and can spend time with characters, storylines and scenes that, ultimately, contribute nothing significant; planners because taking the time to outline means restraining the impulse to immerse themselves in the thrill of writing that first draft for a while longer.


When I started my first novel, I pounded out the version I had in my head, but arrived at a place when I could see where I wanted to get to, yet it was as if I had to cross a fast-flowing river but no bridge existed. I had to pause and figure out how to bridge that gap then went on to the finish. These days, I plan from the beginning to the end, defining chapters, scenes and emotions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t change my opinion about some aspects once I'm writinghowever, I generally find the major plot points and the protagonist's journey are sorted. 

Ideas for stories can appear fully formed or as small seeds which need nourishment, and we either seize hold of them or let them go. Writing is a process which brings ideas to life through the creation of characters and events, and no creative activity can be reduced to one all-encompassing formula. 

An excellent motto is do whatever works for you. The more you write, the more you learn what suits you and, whether that’s pantsing, planning or a combination of both in varying degrees, that is absolutely fine. 


This month’s homework is reading (and thinking about the pros and cons of each method). 

1: This is an overview of various famous authors’ outlines. Most of these were done before the digital revolution, but the point is having a visual overview serves a purpose.

2: James Patterson is a master planner. You can watch the video or read the transcript. Whether you read his novels or not, you can learn from this revealing insight into a successful writer’s method.

3.  Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of Designing a Novel is extremely detailed, but it’s well worth taking the time to read what he has to say. 

Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes

*Pantster: derived from the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ i.e. to decide a course of action as you go along.

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