Pantser to Planner in five novels or less

Pantser: make that stuff up as you go

I was a pantser. In fact, I was 10,000 words into my first novel before I’d even realised I was writing a novel. I started writing it randomly one day, in bed, on a 10” netbook. Yep, my wrists just loved that.

If you’d like to see this story, pop on by to her graveside the next time you’re in Writer’s Purgatory. R.I.P.


So, second novel, still a bit of a pantser, but I at least made a few notes, a few character lists. If you’d like to see this story, pop on by to her graveside the next time you’re in Writer’s Purgatory. R.I.P.

R.I.P.Then I wrote the sequel, with more notes, and by gosh, there was a plot! It was much improved. Unfortunately, as it was a sequel, it wasn’t much good in its own right. It was standing tall and strong on a crumbly Jacobs cracker base.

If you’d like to see this story, pop on by – OK. You get the idea. I’m a slow learner. But learning, I was. Despite my pain at throwing these stray dogs into the Purgatory Pound, they were getting better, each and every time. The last one didn’t even crap on my couch.

And nothing teaches you about editing better than trying to get a crappy novel into shape. It’s like hitting a crushed Pepsi can with an industrial drill, trying to make it round again.

Nowadays, I’m solidly in the planning camp. Sometimes, a bit too much. I got the balance right, I think, with last year’s novel, The Worst In Us. I had a lovely outline in a table in Pages, all colour-coded and pretty. But I left enough word count to one side to be a bit spontaneous. It made it fun. In fact, some of my favourite scenes in that story were added, on the fly, during the second and third drafts.

Which brings me to novel five, my current WIP. This is big. I mean BIG. Notorious. Like, more ambitious than anything I’ve ever attempted before. It’s the first in a Trilogy. None of this “the first novel stands on its own but has series potential” stuff. No. This. Is. Massive.

So, apparently learning from my mistakes, I planned. I planned and planned until my creaky wrists threatened to ignite with the friction and I’d killed several hundred trees. I cork-boarded, Scrivener-ed, note-booked, and post-it noted the SHIT out of this book, before ever writing an actual word.

The result? I’ve got a solid plot. I’ve got cool characters. I know exactly where this crazy freight train is headed. But upgrading my intricate plans to an actual novel is just a little bit like wading through concrete. It’s like Novel-ing By Numbers.

I’m 50,000 words in, so maybe half way through (she laughed and laughed until she cried) and I have lost all perspective of the beast. All I know is this: it had better be good, dammit. Not just good, but better. This writing lark must progress: up and up and up. If not? Well, then I’ve taken the first backwards step in my writing career.

Only time will tell. But I’m keeping my industrial drill on standby, just in case.

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