Can A Pantser Evolve Into A Plotter?

A couple weeks ago, I alluded to crossroads and major decisions. One of them was to join up with the team at Seriously Write

Another was resolving to evolve from pantser to plotter. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms:
A pantser sits down in front of their laptop and starts typing, with only a few rough ideas for either characters or story floating around in their head. A pantser allows their characters the freedom of writing their own story.
A plotter uses a “roadmap” or outline and finds their rhythm by organizing their thoughts prior to any actual writing. A plotter logs hours in their hero/heroine’s heads with fully developed character charts. They write a detailed, chapter-by-chapter synopsis before starting the book, so they know where the book is going, and how it will end.
If you’d like more detail on plotters and pantsers, check out my earlier post here.
Usually, a writer falls naturally into one category. Trying to do the opposite of what comes natural is like writing left-handed when you normally use your right. Early on, I tried both methods, but plotting frustrated me so much that I considered inflicting serious damage to my laptop.
As I celebrated with writer friends over their multi-book contracts, I knew that I’d never be able to accomplish this if I couldn’t learn to plot. A key component of the proposal is the synopsis, the summary of your book. No synopsis=No proposal. 

There’s nothing wrong with writing a book, submitting it, and settling in to wait for a contract. But, I want to grow as a writer, to expand my comfort zone. This pantser is determined to evolve into a plotter. I just finished synopses for two unwritten books, and I’m working on a proposal for three more. 

Want to know how? I’ll share my secrets. 🙂


Characters. I’m a visual person. I need pictures, so I started by finding my hero/heroine online and getting to know them. Then, I asked my character (whichever one you connect with first) these questions.
What do you want? (Goal)
Why do you want it? (Motivation)
Why can’t you have it? (Conflict) 

Develop the story idea/premise. What terrible thing happened in my character’s past to make them how they are today? Keep asking “what if?” until you come up with a story idea. 
Write the first few pages, expecting to delete them. Writing the backstory helped me flesh out the characters more, so that I could go back and fill in some of the blanks. Just write a bit and let words flow. It’s OK. You can, and probably will, delete them. The goal is for the story to reveal itself. You may need to tweak the premise after doing this.
Picture the story sequence in your head. This helped me tremendously, probably more than anything else. Do what it takes for you to find your zone. Close your eyes. Throw in a CD. Let your dog walk you around the park. Record the chapter number, the date, point-of-view, and what you expect to happen in that chapter/scene. If you know how you want the book to end, you can skip down and work backward.

So far, this process is working for me, but the true test will be if I can actually write the book. I’ll keep you posted.

What about you? If you’re a pantser, how do you write proposals?
Do you ever see yourself evolving into a plotter? 

8 thoughts on “Can A Pantser Evolve Into A Plotter?

  1. Ohhhh…Dora this is great. I'm saving it! I am a pantser and, as such, HATE synopsis writing too. I have to be completely finished to write it, and that's not really possible if you want to pitch several books:) But I love how you lay it out here. I think my brain works similarly to yours.

    And I'm sure you'll be able to write that book – can't wait to read it!


  2. Hi Susan.

    Here's a tip for pantsers/synopsis haters: write the scene or chapter, and then record a one or two sentence summary, including pov's, in whatever software you use (I use OneNote). When it's time to write the synopsis, copy that summary into Word, and condense. Everything is handy, and you don't have to go back through your ms to write the synopsis.

    Writing the synopsis first feels a little backward, but that's just because for so long I did it in reverse.

    Thank you for your kind words. Enjoy the ACFW conference. I'm soooo jealous. 🙂


  3. I wear both hats. I don't think that there's a thing wrong with brainstorming. The “pantser” in us needs to let the creativity flow, and then see what becomes of it. It may not come right away, but just save it and keep on trucking! The plot will thicken like Hamburger Helper on simmer. Just wait and see! Obviously, don't submit it to anyone until you DO have the plot, but, never put a cork in the creative bottle! The other day as I was dropping off my son at his high school, then, boom! I get a storyline line. I raced home, not speeding of course, and began typing until it “ran out”. I have no idea where the story will “go”, but I like what I have so far, and I can see the characters vividly. They've had an awesome meeting, but I just don't know what they'll do next. But I will know, eventually. I've saved it until I do know. Hold on to those nuggets! You never know…


  4. lol, Amy, you're right, you never know.

    I used to keep paper and pen handy for those “ahha” moments, which many times occurred during the night or when my Golden Retriever walked me around the park. I was thrilled when I discovered a couple sweet apps on my smartphone ~ Voice Recorder and Color Note. Perfect for spilling out those thoughts so you don't forget by the time you make it home.

    Thanks for sharing, Amy. 🙂


  5. I'm one of those “half-and-half” writers, but I'm becoming more of a plotter than I used to be. However, I'm not one who can plot out each chapter before I start. I know the characters, the GMC, the main plot points, and have an idea about the climax. I probably know more details about the book I'm working on now (my fifth), than any of the others. Once I got down to the nitty-gritty of what my characters wanted, the story flowed right through a synopsis, which is what I'm using to write the book.


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