Intricate worlds. Unexpected twists, A satisfying ending. This, and much more is what an author promises a potential reader to entice them to pick their book out of thousands on the market. But delivering this isn’t and will never be easy. 

If you’re among those who look at advice telling budding authors to plot out and outline their entire novel, to write the blurb and query before they’ve penned down even a single line, to have an excel sheet ready to keep track of every character and plot twist with dismay, congratulations, you’re not alone. In writing community parlance, people who write like this are called plotters.

Their polar opposites, people who metaphorically write by the seat of their pants are called pantsers. Now, there’s a fair bit of criticism leveled at the pantsing style of writing. There are those that argue that it’s disorganized, that it results in rambling stories rife with plot holes and weak character development. I won’t say that all of this criticism is hogwash because starting to write a story with absolutely no plan in your head or on paper does indeed often result in rambling, hard-to-follow books rife with plot holes. 

But true pantsing is not disorganized. Chaos is a ladder, and a pantser uses organized chaos to their benefit by leveraging their own lack of rigidity regarding plot and character development to adapt to new ideas and critique in a way that plotters might find difficult. 

If you’ve decided the structure of plotting isn’t for you, and you want to embrace your inner pantser, here are some tips, because guess what, I’m one of you! You join me in the illustrious company of authors like George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman.

  1. A little plotting never hurt anyone, not even pantsers. Promise. You don’t need to have the entire plot in your head before you start writing. What I like to do is divide the story into 3 or more acts and decide the general events/plot threads I want in each act. This keeps you from chasing plot bunnies and rambling.
  2. Create character sheets. Add details to these sheets as you write the story. This will save time and eliminate inaccuracies by storing all details about a character in one place, allowing you to easily look up any particular detail you might need for later chapters.
  3. Follow your plot bunnies, but don’t chase them! It is good to explore side plots as inspiration strikes. This is, after all, one of the advantages of not starting with a rigid plot and will only add depth to your story… to a certain extent. Go too far, and you risk losing sight of your main plot and your reader.
  4. Pause, read, evaluate. Remember how I told you to divide your story into 3 or more acts? Well, when you finish writing a chapter, read the entire story from the first chapter of that act and evaluate for plot inconsistencies and weaknesses. There’s nothing more annoying than having to rewrite several chapters worth of material because of a plot hole you only caught during editing. When you finish writing an act, write down a plot summary for it, so you don’t have to keep rereading your story from the very beginning. When writing the next act, just refer to the plot summary of the previous one!
  5. Your first draft is going to have mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with that. As you make edits and changes, note them down. No, not to record your shame. These notes will help you keep track of the changes you need to make in the later chapters to reflect the now edited earlier chapters.
  6. Enjoy writing!