On being a Pantser

Guest post by Sally J. Ling

Some years ago, I took a Master Class in writing featuring the most prolific fiction writer of our time—James Patterson. In it, he shared strategies on how to outline the story in preparation for getting it from one’s noggin to the computer. I went through about four or five chapters and tried his method. Then I quit. What I discovered, though it shouldn’t have been a surprise after several published novels, is that I’m not a plotter. I’m a pantster. Unlike Patterson, I write by the seat of my pants. (Yeah, I know he’s far more successful than I am, but it’s just that I haven’t been ‘discovered’ yet.)

Now, some may enjoy the outlining process. I don’t. I find it cumbersome, limiting, and dull. I prefer to let the creative juices flow, following the current wherever it takes me. And most of the time, I don’t have a clue where that will be until I get there. While writing mysteries, I typically don’t even know whodunit until the very end. Literally. Somehow, though, it just seems to work out with the antagonist being someone I least expect. But that’s what makes the story exciting. If I don’t know who did it, neither will the reader.

Does this mean I don’t plan? Well, no, and yes. I usually know the gist of the story. What I don’t know are the details or what characters I’ll meet along the way. In a series, I keep the same core characters, but others pop up at will. As does the dialogue. And I let it drift where it may with no preconceived notion. Does this create some issues? Perhaps. Sometimes I come to a standstill, not knowing what will come next. This usually happens about halfway through the tale, and I wonder how I’m going to make it to the end. But then, the characters pull me out of the quicksand before my head goes under.

This method may not be comfortable for some, but it works for me. I’ve used it in writing previous novels as well as my upcoming cozy mysteries for Anaiah Press—FRAYED ENDS (launch date November 2021) and its sequel, UNRAVELED (launch date TBD).

I’d love to know which method other authors use. Are you a plotter or a pantster?

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