How a Pantser Learned to Plot


by Tonya R. Moore

I used to be a pantser.  Time was writing by the seat of my pants was the only way I could imagine getting any writing done. This particular approach to the writing process worked for me for a very long time. That changed, though, when a medical condition which seems to have affected the way my brain works, left me unable to focus or effortlessly string my ideas together.

I very quickly learned that to keep being a writer, I needed to change my whole approach to the art of writing stories. I needed a system.

At first, I was at a loss. For years, I had balked at the notion of planning and plotting my stories. Now my wherewithal to write them depended on my willingness and ability to do just that.

I searched online for clues. How did plotters approach the writing process? I needed to know. Right away, I realized that going to great lengths to meticulously plot my stories was never going to be my thing. Still, I needed to do something.

Luckily, I was able to arrive at a happy medium between pantsing and what I interpreted as the extremes of plotting. I developed a sort of hybrid approach to the story-planning process.

It took some time but I eventually ended up using the following form to plan my short stories:


Main Characters:

Point of View:

Opening Scene:
Inciting Incident:
Plot Point:

Rising Action:
Falling Action:


The plot is merely something I start with and more often than not, my stories deviate from the plan but it’s still good to be able to refer back to my original idea and decide whether or not I want to keep or chuck the changes to the story.

With novels and novellas, things were a bit tricky at first but then realized that there was no need to go overboard. Using the same form that I utilize to plot my short stories as a guide, I create a synopsis. Then I split the synopsis up into segments (chapters). As I write each chapter, I flesh out separate scenes as needed.

The great thing about my current approach to plotting stories is that I’m now more inclined to stay on task, plus, I still have the flexibility to change things up as I go along.

I’m still a pantser at heart but I have that safety net for those times when I lose focus or have trouble stringing those ideas into a coherent whole.

Have you had a similar experience, found that you needed to change your approach to writing for one reason or another? How did you end up working it out? Is your solution still working for you?




Guest post contributed by Tonya R. Moore. Tonya is a Jamaican born, science fiction, horror, and urban fantasy writer from Bradenton, Florida. 

21 thoughts on “How a Pantser Learned to Plot

  1. I’m a pantser too who’d written for years without planning. But all that changed because of a chronic illness… and NaNoWriMo 2014.

    I was lucky to find an online writing group that wasn’t bloated with useless info and guided me through the basics – outline/logline/tagline/story progression. I’ve expanded on those themes quite a bit and added more.

    My characters still run the show, I’ve just corraled them a bit! LOL!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tonya, I can relate! Started as a panther to write my book. At about 10,000 words, I realized I needed a story structure to get to 75,000. It’s well worth the time. I found the hook hidden half way through and began the story with it, then filled in the back story that I originally started with. The structure helped me to think like a reader. The reader needs to wonder how the protagonist will ever or try to meet a goal. If the reader answers yes or no whether the protagonist succeeds with a goal, then they don’t read further! Happy weekend! 🎶 Christine

    Liked by 2 people

  3. When I first started writing, I was a pantser, I just wanted to write whatever came to mind. Then I realised that this wasn’t working because everything I wrote wasn’t coherent or succinct. Now I’m the complete opposite. I can spend 6 months easy plotting my stories.


  4. Good article. I try to mix planning and ‘pantser-ing?’ but I have over the last few years, mainly from NANoWriMo’s, planned my writing a lot more. I’m glad your new system is working for you.


  5. Yes! I, too, started as a pantster, but when working on the synopsis for shopping my novel around, I discovered all the cool worksheets and tools out there for plotting. It’s so much easier for me now having the points set in place and just having to write my way from one to the next.


  6. I find myself planning and planning more (well trying to find the time to!) as I get older and grow as a writer, while I still respect the ability to ‘pants’ I honestly think the hybrid approach is best.


  7. My whole purpose of being on WordPress and blogging is to discover just how to write as a writer. Find what works for me and run with it. It’s reassuring to know that there are people stumbling and running right along with me ;D (In the most respectful and considerate way!) Good luck and good writing!


  8. I do my preliminary work much the same as you, using the three act method with my summaries. I do fill out worksheets for the main characters so I will not forget who is who and what their roles are. In my current project, I have decided to write summaries for the more complicated scenes as well so I do not lose my way to the next scene.


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