Hi, my name is Jenna, and I am a Pantser. I admit it.

The thought of extensive outlines and plotting charts and beat sheets send me running for the hills. My story becomes too stifled if I tell it what to do ahead of time instead of the other way around. But it seems more and more articles and workshops focus on plotting, and to be honest, sometimes I feel a little jealous. I want to play too!

Are you in a similar position? Are we just doomed to hopelessly wander through our first drafts without any cute little charts?


We just have to do it in a different way. Here’s my suggestion—

Write that messy first draft. Just write. Don’t worry about anything else; see what comes out no matter how bad. Discover your story. Once you have that “A-ha—I know what my story’s about” moment, now the organization can begin.

Start by making a list of your characters. Work next on character analysis. Write out everything you need to know about them—especially their wants, desires, flaws, and knots (more about character analysis and building soon!). What is your MC’s arc? What journey does he/she/they need to go on? What transformation, lesson learned, and all that fun stuff?

Once you know that, you can now move on to your favorite plotting method. Whether you use Save The Cat, Hero’s Journey, or any of the other ones, it doesn’t matter. Map out all the beats and see where your story fits into each one. Likely, you’ll find that it won’t hit each beat, and/or it may not have enough tension or conflict in each. Maybe you’ll find some hanging threads while you’re at it. That’s ok. That’s actually good! Now is the time to take the story you discovered and craft it into a novel.

Find where your “tent poles” need to be to create the frame to your novel. Decide what you’ll have to do to make sure you have emotional peaks and valleys in all the appropriate spaces. Do you have enough roadblocks in your MC’s way? Is there conflict? Tension in every scene?

Whether you use digital plotting tools like Plottr or just an old-fashioned piece of paper or index cards, find what works for you. Map out your story as it currently stands and mark all the places you need to fill in or improve. Once you’re organized with your plotting plan, you’ll be ready to rock your next revision!

There are so many plotting tools and methods available now, it may take time to find what works for you and your process (more on that coming up, too). It may end up being different methods for each book depending on the story. Just like we don’t want to be tied to an outline, we’re not tied to one method either.

But never fear, Pantsers, you can plot too!


Photo Credit: Writer Stock photos by Vecteezy