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October 5, 2020

From Pantser to Plotter: The Evolution of Writing by guest Brenda Whiteside

Are you a pantser or plotter? If you write, whether you’re published or dreaming of the day, the question is one always asked by one writer to another. Readers not familiar with the terms ask me the same question in roundabout ways. “How do you know where to start writing on a story?” “Do you know how your book will end when you begin?” “How can you write so many pages?”
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Put a bunch of authors together and there will be a debate on which is better—pantser or plotter. So, pantser or plotter?

After ten years and ten books, my answer is totally different today than ten years ago. I only have to look in my book files to see the evolution. Those first couple of years, flying by the seat of my pants was half the fun. I’d start with a cast of characters and an ending. The rest of the story unfolded as a total surprise. If I write a post about Sleeping with the Lights On (buy at Amazon), the first book I published, or want to look up how I handled a scene in The Morning After (buy at Amazon), I get totally frustrated. There are no notes. There is no character study. There is no timeline. Arghhh! 

The Art of Love and Murder
Skip into the next couple of years. The evolution begins. By the time I wrote the first book in my Love and Murder Series, The Art of Love and Murder (buy at Amazon), I devised a Character Sketch. They were fairly bare bones and would often be filled in as the book progressed. How the character looked, their GMC, and age and birthplace would be the starting point. This book was the first one with which I used a Timeline File. Admittedly, I didn’t devise the timeline until halfway through the book and found facts that I needed to continue had vanished from my brain. I also came up with what I call Free Form Notes. This is where I brainstorm the plot. Pretty sketchy at that point. And I didn’t have any way to look back to see where the high and low points of the story happened or any other of a myriad of facts I might need to revisit as the story progressed.

By the final book of the series, The Deep Well of Love and Murder (buy at Amazon), I’d evolved into what I call a three-quarter plotter. Not only is there a Series Timeline File, but character timelines. The Character Sketch files include even minor characters. A Plot Chart gives a running account of the story by chapter, page, character, main plot, and sub-plot. There is even a working synopsis. I HATE writing a synopsis, but as the plots of my books are growing in complexity, the need to plot has reared its ugly head.

I’m still one-quarter pantser. Certain aspects of a story just can’t happen until I’m into the heat of writing. Stubborn characters won’t reveal everything unless I poke and prod. Twists and turns are sometimes hidden from me until I get to that fork in the story path. 

As far as which is the better way to write, I have to say, if a series is the goal, it’s imperative to get all the facts down in files. No matter how good the memory, a writer is not going to remember where a minor character in book one preferred to hang out by the time that character is the main protagonist in book four. Or what color was her fingernail polish? 

And I’m going to tease you with a goof I made. When I wrote book one of the Love and Murder Series, still 50/50 on the pantser/plotter scale, I didn’t know one of my minor characters would have her own book later on. Even I didn’t realize my boo-boo until I proofed the audiobook version of book one…I’d written her an entirely different background in her own book. That’s all I’ll say. But it taught me a lesson!

About the Author

Brenda Whiteside

Convinced she was born to be an artist, Brenda never took her love of writing seriously. And then one day, sometime after college, after marrying a man doing a stint in the army, and after the birth of her son, she found more satisfaction filling a blank page with words than an empty canvas with color.

Brenda and her husband are gypsies at heart having lived in six states and two countries. Currently, they split their time between the prairie in Northern Arizona and the RV life. At home or in the RV, she spends most of her time writing stories of discovery and love entangled with suspense.


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  1. I'm trying to get up the nerve to dive into NaNoWriMo next month for the first time. I facilitate a writers' group at the library I work at and we talk about pantsers and plotters, so your guest post caught my eye! Thanks for the tips! I do like to plan (sometimes more than I like following through the planning!) but I'm not a good record-keeper.

    1. Laurie, good luck with NaNoWriMo. November is a bad month for me to write for quantity. Hope the tips help. Make your files and as you go, they'll change to suit you.

  2. Great advice. I am sure practice makes perfect so it makes sense that the author has perfected her way of writing.

  3. Thank you so much for having me as a guest today!