The Writing Process, Writing, Young Adult

Pantser or Plotter?

With the release date for my debut young adult fantasy book, Guardians of the Dead getting closer (26th February 2015) the time felt right to review my writing notes for the sequel, Guardians of the Sky.


When I first began writing I was a classic pantser – I wrote blindly, hoping to get to the brutal end of my story with a suitable middle and a punchy beginning, but it never panned out. I turned to the thousands of how-to-write books that crowd my shelves and attended numerous creative writing classes. Each held value and I came away from every event or reading with another piece of the writing puzzle.

After reading several books and articles on plotting I decided to give this system a go – being a pantser certainly wasn’t working for me! What a revelation. Where I had initially believed that outlining would strip the creative heart from my story, I soon discovered that this method freed my muse to take over and write…and write…and write.

In my day-to-day life, I am an avid scheduling freak. I love order and structure. My diary is my BFF, and if something doesn’t have an appointment then it doesn’t happen. So why I hadn’t applied this same routine to my writing suddenly baffled me.

I tried to use the three-act novel structure:

  1. Act One – The Set Up.
  2. Act Two – The Development or ‘Complication.’
  3. Act Three – The Resolution

I wasn’t feeling the love for this, but I persevered until I attended a workshop with the incredibly talented Matt Whyman. Matt introduced me to the twelve steps on the writer’s journey developed by Christopher Vogler, and this was my (excuse the cliché) lightbulb moment!

As Matt expertly showed how to dissect the Star Wars film I finally understood the beauty of outlining.

Before I wrote the first words that would make up Guardians of the Dead, I outlined the full story. Beginning – Middle – End. I wrote in-depth profiles on every main and secondary characters including a deluge of information that would never make the book. It was this detail that made it so much easier to picture my characters as I wrote about them.

Once I began writing, my characters took over and began to weave the story how they wanted it to go – this was something I had never experienced before, and it blew my mind. I have heard many of my favourite authors talk about their characters taking over, but I had believed it to be a thing that bestselling authors said at interviews.

For example; my outline for the Guardian series clearly stated that my protagonist, Amber Noble was to be an all-powerful witch. Amber had other plans. As I was writing the scene where a destiny spell goes awry, the salt circle of protection was distorted into the shape of an eye. All of a sudden, Amber is an Oracle with supernatural powers and a host of ancient guides to help her.

What followed was a day of panic as I reworked my plot to accommodate Amber’s swerve on her destiny pathway.   Where I may have abandoned all hope at this point had I been in pantser mode, I was now able to go with it and manoeuvre my story back on track.

Writing and editing this book was an absolute joy. I am not only excited about the release, but I’m also enthusiastic about book two – who knows where my characters will take me this time. Watch this space.


Are you are pantser or a plotter?

5 thoughts on “Pantser or Plotter?”

  1. I used to be a full-blown pantser but recently I’ve been trying to plot as although I’ve finished a fair few drafts, they’re all awful to edit as I was still figuring out the plot (among other things, namely the ending) as I wrote. My previous attempts to plot have all been foiled by characters who’ve changed their destinies as though they were changing clothes and, unlike you, unfortunately I’m not patient enough to create a new plot to follow.

    Great post!



    1. Thanks for commenting Janna, I understand your pain! Characters who develop a life of their own are certainly a challenge – in a good way. You could try writing a time line of your plot and then when your characters misbehave you can weave the plot back on track. Good luck with your writing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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