Writer's Notes

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

By Marilyn Meredith, author of the Tempe Crabtree series and Rocky Bluff PD series

Marilyn Meredith aka FM Meredith
Marilyn Meredith aka FM Meredith

Recently I attended the Public Safety Writers Association’s annual conference and one of the panels was, “Are You a Pantser or a Plotter”. The attendees were a mixture of many law enforcement types, fire and emergency medical personnel, and of course, mystery writers.

Everyone who comes is a writer, or wants to be one. Some of the public safety authors are writing non-fiction, though many are writing mysteries.

The 2015 PSWA Conference-I'm the second blond head on the right. Actually, I was on this panel and loved talking about pantsing and plotting.
The 2015 PSWA Conference-I’m the second blond head on the right. Actually, I was on this panel and loved talking about pantsing and plotting.

When this panel was introduced, many in the audience had no idea what a “pantser” was. For anyone reading this post who also might not know, a pantser is someone who writers from the seat of their pants. In other words, they don’t do an outline of the plot before they start writing.

However, as the panel discussed the topic and who did what, it turned out that even the pantser did some planning ahead of time.

I’ve been writing novels, and mostly mysteries, for many years. When I wrote historical fiction, I did a lot of research and the research helped me with the plot of the book, though I didn’t actually do a chapter by chapter outline.

Now, with my mysteries, this is how I go about starting a new book.

First, because I write series, I know who my main characters are. I also know where I left off with their lives. What I need to plan is the crime(s) or mystery part which entails new characters:

Who will die?  At least most of the time this is necessary. (In my last Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Violent Departures, the main mystery was about a missing young woman, the only murder happened years before.)

Violent Departures

Who would like to see this person dead and why? Of course there must be more than one person who had the motive and opportunity.

With new characters, they must be named and described.

How is the person going to die? I try to come up with new ways to kill off my victims.

When and where will the first scene take place?

Once I’ve made these decisions—and I’ve written them down, I usually begin writing. I try to come up with a first sentence that will immediately intrigue a reader.

As I write, new ideas flood in. So I don’t forget something that may happen later one, I have a notebook beside my computer where I keep notes about everything pertaining to the book I’m writing.

So, though I don’t outline the complete plot before I begin writing, I do some initial planning, which I think means I’m a combination Pantser/Plotter.

For you other writers reading this, which are you?

Marilyn Meredith aka F. M. Meredith

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

2 replies on “Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?”

I’m currently working on book six of the Angela Masters Detective Novel series, and I’m definitely a pantser. My technique for the first five books was to write the ending first and then move toward that end, much as Marilyn describes. For the current WP, I’m working more ‘top down’ and have done more plotting than with the past books, but it’s still a seat of the pants project.

I also think it’s easier to write seat of the pants when doing a series because, as Marilyn says, you already know many of the main characters. (Although I have to say that Angi – the protagonist and a police homicide detective – has evolved in ways I didn’t imagine when writing book one). Knowing your principals allows you to concentrate on developing plot and the new antagonist(s).

I always thought of myself as a plotter because I needed a structure within which to work. But then the characters start misbehaving and trotting off on their own. Then, I had to morph into a pantser. Guess hybrid is a better term.

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