Friday Speak Out!: Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

Friday, February 07, 2020
by June Trop

When I was first asked that question, I responded, “Whaaat?” I’d never heard those terms before. Maybe you haven’t either.

When referring to writers, Plotters are those who plan out their novel before writing it, such as with an outline. Pantsers are those who fly by the seat of their pants. Most people, of course, are Plantsers meaning they do both but probably lean more one way than the other.

Plotters know where they’re going so they’re less likely to get caught in writer’s block, whereas Pantsers have the freedom to take their novel anywhere, but, of course, they risk getting stuck. I haven’t counted, but the experts say that among published writers, about half are Plotters, and about half are Pantsers. In other words, there’s no right way.

If you know me, then you know I’m a Plotter because I do everything else that way too. I go to the store with a list, and before going to bed, I write my objectives for the next day. In fact, I’ve never winged anything. Well, that’s almost true.

So, when I commit to an idea for a story, I first look at it through the goggles of a plot structure. Here’s a basic plan I build on:

1. Introduction: A static period in which I introduce the major characters and their setting

2. Inciting Incident: The hint of trouble that forces the protagonist into action

3. Rising Action: More and more complex obstacles as the protagonist continues to reach for her goal

4. Turning Point: Here, at about the midpoint, events start to go sour for the protagonist.

5. Falling Action: Events continue to worsen for the protagonist. The author gives a hint of the tragedy to follow, but the reader still has hope for her success.

6. Climax: Moment of catastrophe. No new characters or information introduced here, just drama.

7. Denouement: The return to a static period. Protagonist may have reached her goal but has suffered a loss.

Still, no matter which you are, it can be worthwhile to try out a different approach just to see what comes out. As I’ve gotten more experienced as a writer, I’ve dared to be more spontaneous within each of the seven parts of the plan. The result is my fifth Miriam bat Isaac novel, THE DEADLIEST THIEF, my first opportunity to be a Plantser. When I started—with my outline, of course—I knew who the thief was, but little did I know there’d come to be another thief more deadly and definitely unexpected. In short, a better story.

* * *
June Trop is the author of the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series set in first-century CE Roman-occupied Alexandria. Her books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite. Kirkus praised The Deadliest Thief for its “vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.”

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling.

June, an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with June on her website or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Renee Roberson said...


I'm a total pantser, which is probably why I've never had any of my novels published. I'm working hard to reform into a planner after reading a great book on the writing process called "Save the Cat Writes a Novel." I love how you broke down the steps for us in the post, and that even your own characters surprised you! Keep up the great writing!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks for the post, June! :)

I'm also a Plantser. I was a pantser until, like Renee, I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, which I highly recommend.

Congratulations on your latest novel! It sounds wonderful; I love books with a twist.

Margo Dill said...

I like your basic plan. Mostly, I have realized that there are two ways to write a novel--plan a lot and then write--without having to do much revision when you finish. Or pants the heck out of it, and then have to do major revision. Both probably take just as long, and the process is different for every writer, it seems!

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