Sunday, September 24, 2023

Pantser Writing by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey


 Pantser Writing 

If I had to chose between being called a plotter or a pantser writer I am definitely a pantser. I have never worked with a solid outline or arc for my novels, whether they are mystery, historical, romance, or young adult. And this is mainly because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and the plot never takes the route I thought it would.

I either start with an idea or a character and decide the setting and then start writing. I do begin the story with a character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that is out of the control of my main character or starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. They should leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.
Sometimes, part way through my story, I have to go back and add chapters at the beginning because one of my characters has decided to say to do something unexpected. I have even had characters try to hijack my story and make it about them. An example is in Sleuthing the Klondike. I had two main characters Helen and Baxter and decided that Helen needed an lady's maid. I introduced Mattie who was supposed to be a very minor character but she suddenly began telling her story and almost took over as the main female character.

For the climax of my stories my character goes through the action of resolving the problem or solving the mystery. This has to be fast paced and sometimes at a risk to the character. By this time the reader should be rooting for the main character and wanting him/her to succeed without injury. Hopefully, too, this is where the surprise comes in, where the reader goes. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming." or "I never thought it would be that person.” I have even been surprised or saddened or happy by the ending of my novels and have said that.
I believe that if my emotions are rocked by the ending so, too, should those of the readers.


  1. To start a story, I need to have a plan and that consists of many nights of me telling the story as I fall asleep. An outline emerges for what i have lived nightly for perhaps a month. I envy people who can just write their story without the plot in hand

  2. I wrote my first three novels as a pantser, then became a plotter out of necessity (my publisher at the time required a full 30-page chapter- by-chapter synopsis before contracting). While writing from a detailed outline goes faster, I enjoy the discovery of pantsing. I also found out that pantsing allows for more details and subplots as the author takes the time to discover the characters. Nowadays, I do a little of both. I start with the first scene, fully blown characters, and few plot twists, and a vague idea of where the story is going. Then I give my characters enough freedom to lead me along unexpected paths. Thanks for sharing your process.


I have opened up comments once again. The comments are moderated so if you're a spammer you are wasting your time and mine. I will not approve you.

Popular Posts

Books We Love Insider Blog

Blog Archive