Plotter vs. Panster or How I Became a Plotser by Judy Penz Sheluk


Not sure if you’re a plotter or a punster, author Judy Penz Sheluk might have the solution…

As a pantser (someone who writes without an outline, outside of a rough idea of where the story might be going), I’ve always envied plotters (someone who actually knows where the story is going before they begin to write it).

To put it in real-world terms, the pantser is the equivalent of someone who gets in the car and drives, looking for signs along the way to get to their ultimate destination. It can be a lot of fun, because you’re open to discovering all sorts of unexpected people and places along the way. But you can also get stuck in a town you don’t want to visit (sometimes called Writer’s Block) or get completely off track with nothing much to show for the experience.

The plotter, on the other hand, is armed with a GPS (and probably a paper road map as a backup). Maybe a little less adventurous than the pantser, but far more likely to reach their destination without incident—though I expect that even the most diligent plotters make the occasional U-turn as their story unfolds.

I’ll admit I’ve tried to become a plotter. I even went so far as to take a course on outlining, using a technique based on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheets. It sounded so simple, and I managed to complete the homework assignment without incident. I was ready!

The first few days went really well. I stuck with the outline and found myself writing an average of 1,500 words a day. And then something happened. A niggling voice in my head that said, “Yes, I know you have the plot all figured out, but I’d rather go in a different direction.” I tried to ignore the voice, and plodded on. And I do mean plod. Suddenly it felt as if I was wading through mud. All I could think about was that different direction. And so I learned the art of compromise.

Today, I consider myself a Plotser. Here’s how it works:

PART I: Loose Plotting


  1. Come up with a basic premise. For example, in my debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, a greedy developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street, thereby threatening the livelihoods of the independent shop owners.
  2. Create your main characters: protagonist, sidekick, antagonist AND location (yes, location should be treated like a character).
  3. Take the time to do any basic research that might be required (this is especially true of historical settings).
  4. Figure out a basic ending. In the case of a mystery, this doesn’t mean you have to know whodunit or why, but rather that you know where you want to leave your main characters at the end of the book.

PART II: Pansting

When I’m working on a book, I aim for a chapter a day, six days a week, until the first draft is done. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal, and it helps that I tend to write short chapters. Because I “pants” my way through it from this point on, I try to leave every chapter with enough of a hook that I want to work on it the next day. The added bonus to this is, if it’s a hook for me, it should be a hook for the reader.


What about you? Are you a plotter, pantser or plotser, and why?


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About Judy

An Amazon international bestselling author, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is included in several collections, including LIVE FREE OR TRI.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life.

Social Media Links

Website/Blog: http://www.judypenzsheluk.com

Facebook Author: https://business.facebook.com/JudyPenzSheluk/?business_id=736294013145101

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JudyPenzSheluk

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ca/judypenzsheluk/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Judy-Penz-Sheluk/e/B00O74NX04




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  1. My procedure is much like yours Judy. I’ve tried the plotting, but it doesn’t work for me. Knowing everything ahead of time eliminates the adventure and I get bored with the process. Tony Hillerman said that was his problem with plotting, too. Everyone is different. We have to find our own ways of working.

  2. I try to discipline myself as much as I’m able to plotser, but I really love your description of a pantser; that’s exactly how it feels to write that way. That excited freedom is heady, except for the too often dead ends.

  3. I like your take on this Judy. 🙂 Tried plotting once, dismal failure. I am definitely a panster, having writing the last chapter first and filled in the others after. Writers who plot have my utmost respect.

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