Updates, Work-in-Progress, Writing Process

A Reformed Pantser’s Plotting Method

If you do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you know what “pantser” means. It’s basically a term made up to describe writers that go in with absolutely no plan and fly by the seat of their pants. Hence, “pants-ers.”

I used to write this way. I hated outlines. Mostly because every English teacher from middle school to high school forced us to turn in outlines with our papers even if they were one page essays. I would do those outlines after writing the papers because heck if I knew what I wanted to say before I wrote the paper. Did I go back to make sure the paper still said what I wanted? Nope. Would the paper have been better if I did? Heck yeah.

To me, book outlines work the same way. I need to know the BASICS of what I want to say, but if I do more than that it feels like I’m just reciting what somebody else wants me to write. It’s almost better to have an outline for revision than for a first draft. That is until you’re pulling apart your entire draft to rewrite it and undoing months of work. So please please…do a basic thinking of what you want to say before you start so you don’t literally have to rewrite everything…like I have for every piece before finding a bare bones plotting method.

I love what’s called “headlights drafting.” You know your destination, you know the basic route, but you can’t really see much of the road besides what is exactly in front of you. Aka, what’s lit by your headlights. It’s why I still like to have a map for driving, but like to have options for the routes.

The Plot Embryo

I will sing about the plot embryo from the mountaintops if I can. This thing is like an outline without the scene-by-scene layout of every single thing that has to happen. It lays out the basic conflicting forces, the motive/goals, and the theme, but leaves the rest up to creativity. I love it.

The start of my plot embryo. I’ve blocked out what I don’t want y’all to see because of spoilers.

The Plot Embryo is the brain child of Rachael Stephen based on Dan Harmon’s story circle, which is based off of Joseph Cambpell’s the Hero’s journey.

The best part about sitting down to figure out where I’m going first is that it makes drafting so much faster. I don’t have to worry about having a consistent theme, because I’ve figured it out first. I don’t have to worry about the conflict staying the same, because I’ve already figure out the antagonist that is causing the issue.

However, this style of pre-planning doesn’t keep me to specific scenes, just specific incidents. It’s the emotional events that happen and the type of events that happen, but not exactly how they happen. It’s what would be described in the writing world as “the beats” of the story. I still get the freedom to play around how things really happen.

I still get surprised!

My Next Steps

Obviously, I need to finish the page up. I’m brainstorming some major events to finish off the story and can’t quite decide how I want to end things. I’m also working on the antagonist’s plot embryo (yup! there’s one for the other side too!). Having that finished will help make sure that there’s always a conflicting force against the main character so that’s kind of important.

I always struggle with stakes and keeping them realistic, high, and in the picture. So, that is also a battle for me.

What do you guys use for plotting? Any tips for keeping stakes high and in view?

Happy Writing!


2 thoughts on “A Reformed Pantser’s Plotting Method”

  1. After pantsing through my fourth manuscript and having to rewrite—or discard—entire chapters, I am also going to take the plotting route for my next project. Now I think that it’s worth the time investment to come up with a direction beforehand, so that you don’t write yourself into a corner. Anyway, thanks for this post!


    1. I think it’s well worth feeling that type of disappointment/regret too. Like, there’s a great level of learning from experience that comes from learning what should and shouldn’t be in a book. That being said, SOME kind of pre-planning is so so helpful.


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