by Allison Maruska


A subgroup of writers (myself included) proclaim they are pantsers, meaning they write by the seat of their pants with little planning beforehand. But even pantsters have to do some planning. In fact, it would be more accurate to call ourselves plantsers.

Planning is taking an initial idea and developing it into a cohesive premise that makes a story. Plot points, conflict, and characters have to be decided. You pretty much have to know the beginning, middle, and end of a story before the draft starts. The difference between planners and plantsers is how many smaller details are decided beforehand.

So why do writers get stuck here? Based on my own experience and talking with other writers, I see two primary culprits:


Culprit 1: The idea isn’t interesting enough to become a cohesive story.

A dog goes to space is an idea. For it to become a story, there have to be complications to overcome and a mission for the dog to achieve. As you ask questions, a story develops – why is the dog going to space? What is getting in the way? What happens if he doesn’t go to space? (Click here for more info about using questions to develop ideas).

Sometimes (more often than not, I’d say) the idea isn’t very good and wouldn’t make a very good story, so the plan stalls. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It allows us to focus our energy on the good plans and good stories. When writers get stuck in the planning stage, it could be because they’re gripping too tightly to an idea that isn’t so great.

The solution: Move on to a different idea and see if planning goes more smoothly.


Culprit 2: Implausibilities have crept into the plan.

Sometimes, planning is going great and then screeches to a halt at a specific point. This happened when I was plantsing The Fourth Descendant – I wrote a plot point that got my characters stuck in a corner and I couldn’t get them out. The problem was the plot point “took the story off the rails,” as a writing partner described it. The point was implausible and left no room for my characters to work.

The solution: Step back and talk it out. Discuss your problem plot point with a partner who isn’t so close to the project. They’ll likely see the implausibility that you can’t, and you can change the point to something that works.


What about you? If you’ve gotten stuck during planning or plantsing, what was the problem, and how did you solve it?




Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.