Plotting for Pansters: A Brief How-to

As a natural panster I find that sitting down to plot a book before I’ve begun it is one of the most challenging, parts of the writing process. I’ve tried everything from flow charts to mind maps to chalk-board wall decals, summaries, outlines, you name it. What I came to realize that the way a story unfolds is unique not just to every writer, but every story as well. However over the years I’ve compiled a couple cheats and tricks into a sort of plotting process for scatter-brained pansters like myself.

Start by taking the scenes you want to write, settings you’d like to explore, snippets of dialogue or even feeling and place and compiling all of your ideas into a folder or word doc. Then draw parallels with the information you need to communicate and the imagery that inspired you to write the story in the first place. You’re trying to create a complete image, develop details and ideas into full-fledged scenes, plot points and story arcs. This is, essentially, the brain storming phase.

Once you’re finished developing your ideas try  to arrange the scenes/images based on tension and significance to the plot. This is the tricky part, and as a panster I can say with confidence that this part of my haphazard “plotting” is where poop starts hitting the fan. It helps to have some idea of what scenes come first, create connections (I find that the free web app Realtime board is great with that) you’re looking to create a sort of chain reaction.

Once you’ve got a rough idea of where your story is headed, try to group scenes together into chapter and look at the chapters as mini plots of their own. Each should have a rough arc, and defined beginning middle and end, even if there are unanswered questions and cliffhangers there should be a general sense of story. During this process a range of problems are going to become apparent, your plot is too fast, the estimated word count is too low, the estimated word count is too high, there are too many introspective moments, your scenes are too similar, your scenes seem disconnected, etc. DO NOT DESPAIR. This is where the whole plotting thing can become a panster’s salvation. Essentially you’ve made your job easy by fixing mistakes before you make them.

After you’re finished working through all of these issues give yourself a firm pat on the back. You’ve got the bare bones of your story and are now free to enter the trenches and write the damn thing.

Until next time,


(Photo by: Sonny Abesamis)


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