Saturday, December 1, 2018

Does it Matter Whether You’re a Pantser or a Plotter When You Write?

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

I am beginning to plan my next book. My fifth.

By this time, you would think I’d have a process down and could just start the writing machine, right?

Except, for me, there is no one process. Each of my books has come together in a different way. Some of those ways I don’t want to go through again.

Most writers, no matter where they were in their journey, have face the question, are you a pantser or a plotter? I feel like we should wear tee shirts. Maybe get tattoos. Definitely different halls in the hotel at our conferences.

But it isn’t that simple, is it? It rarely is.

If you sit down with pantsers and listen to how they research and prepare their stories, you’ll learn that they have different ideas of what’s important.

Some people start with a thesis. Two fourth graders investigate the case of a dog being swapped for a blue cat in urban Katchitowiee written as an allegory of Jesus calling his disciples to be fishers of men. For YA.

And that’s all they need.

If you sit down with two plotters, well, have a lot of time. Seriously, they will probably tell you about their very different ways of outlining.

And somehow, after a lot of work and brain power, all these ways produce exciting stories.

Here’s a wild thought. I’ve never seen or heard of a book club or bookstore dedicated solely to books writing by pantsters. (Anyone up for the challenge?)

Why is that?

  • First, you can’t really tell which books are written by plotters and which are written by pantsers. That’s why we put our books through fifteen rounds of drafting. To smooth off the edges and fill in the holes.
  • Second, most if not all readers don’t care. They don’t care how you wrote it. They just want a good story, an exciting story, an emotional story, and/or an educational story.

But what does all this mean when I’m staring at the blank white paper or screen? (Wouldn’t that make a great horror movie? The Blank Screen! In 4-D.)

Legendary screenwriter, author, conference speaker, and my friend Torry Martin recommended in one of his classes on writing at The Novelist Retreat a few years ago the book Save the Cat!The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. Now the process has been remade for novelists and I would say for anyone writing stories in Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need.

Jessica Brody gives fifteen beats that most if not all novels, movies, stories have.

Do you have to have them all before you start? No.

But they will probably end up in your story. And it’s nice to know that you need your catalyst on page 73 before you write two hundred and fifty pages of introduction. Jessica says it’s all about pacing. That is where knowing where these beats should be placed can help keep us on the right path.

And if you don’t have a beat, know why. Rules are there to guide you. There are usually exceptions.

But Jessica gives us more than a map. She discusses ten universal story genres to help you decide how to plan your story. You will enjoy her summaries of many familiar books or movies she uses to illustrate the different beats.

Any story has some kind of a structure. (Else, it will read like this post.) You are introduced to someone or something. Something happens. And you get to some type of an ending.

It’s important to be sure that your story tells the who, the what, and the why. Some of us learn this as we write the first draft (pantsers). Others need to plot it out before they start.

Whichever way we chose to get there, we need to be sure that the map (our story) we leave for our reader(s) make sense to them. Have you ever been in your critique group and they’ll ask you a question and you say, “Oh, it’s there.”

It was in your head, but you never put it on the page.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel can be a big help to help you get the story in your head onto the page.

I would love for you to leave me a comment below about your writing journey. Do you follow both a map and a GPS doohickey? Or do you just start down a trail and enjoy the view?

No matter which way you choose to go, I hope you’re enjoying the journey.


Tim Suddeth has been published in Guideposts’ The Joy of Christmas and on He’s working on his third manuscript and looks forward to seeing his name on a cover. He is a member of ACFW and Cross n Pens. Tim’s lives in Greenville, SC with his wife, Vickie, and his happy 19-year-old autistic son, Madison. Visit Tim at and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be also reached at


  1. Great article Mr. Tim; as always. I sure hope it's okay to be a "hybrid", as I find I use both methods without much hesitation. Once I pray through an idea, which is usually attained during prayer, then I'm off. I almost always start with a skeletal outline, but "pants" my way to all the muscle and sinew needed to create story. God's blessings sir...

    1. Thanks, Jim. I think most of us use a little of each, as we should. Thanks for you continual encouragement.

  2. Great stuff, Tim. Witty AND informative. Thanks. Best to you these holidays.
    Jay Wright - Anderson, SC

    1. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to you. Wow, my first Merry Christmas this year.

  3. Great post, Tim. You are correct. Readers don't care about the process, only the end result.

  4. Very new to this writing game & didn’t realize there was a difference! Guess I’m a pantser. Lol. Thanks for the good advice. :)

    1. Thanks for reading. Wish you the best. Don't get discouraged, always remember the why of why you're writing.

  5. "It was in your head, but you never put it on the page." I find this so true when describing my characters, especially the 1st person protagonist. I can see them clearly, but my critique group readers always ask what they look like. I dislike the old "I see myself in the mirror and my red, curly hair is misshapen from sleep..." etc.
    I always thought I was an outliner (I'm a list person.) but when it came to actually making an outline for a story, I got totally bogged down. Now I get an idea or two or three, find a place to start and go for it. There is editing of course. But many times (always) I am amazed at where the story and characters take me.