Plotting vs “Pantsing”

Plotting vs “Pantsing”

Author Sarah Hoyt (who very kindly linked “Dream Student” on her blog yesterday) had an article a couple of weeks ago in which she outed herself as a “Pantser.”


You should also be aware that sometimes the plot changes as you write and characters take on a life of their own.  This happens to some writers all the time, to others not at all, and to some occasionally.  If it happens to you, you’re normal.  Just roll with it, and change your plot as you go.  Of course, then you might find yourself becoming a pantser.


I used to write plots so detailed that I’d just fill in dialogue and description, and I had a full novel.  And then… it changed.  I could write all the plots I wanted, but the story would refuse to conform.  Or the story blasted through so fast, I had no time to plot.

I’m definitely a pantser myself.  I have a general idea where the story is going, but it often changes over the course of the book as the characters go in different directions, and as some minor characters turn out to be not-so-minor after all.  The subplot about Janet’s dying mother in “Dream Doctor” came about that way.  Janet wasn’t really meant to be a major character in the book; I only included her because I wanted Sara to have at least one familiar face in med school, and Janet had been mentioned in the first book as a pre-med student in Sara’s same year.  But as I wrote, she took on a larger role, because Sara needed a close friend, and Beth, her best friend from the first book, was very much offstage.

Then it occured to me that Sara should have a secondary dream-related plot, unrelated to the main murder mystery.  And it came together – something that was more personal and painful, and also a “teaching moment”, as dealing with terminal patients and their families is something every doctor has to learn to handle.  But none of it was outlined or planned until it revealed itself to me.

The entire main plot of “Dream Family” happened this way, as well.  Sara’s arrest was going to be a minor roadblock and a small embarrassment, but it turned into a terrible ordeal and the plot turned into Sara’s efforts to recover.  The original idea was an “evil dreamer” who was using her powers for, well, evil.  The only surviving part of that plot in “Dream Family” is the trouble Sara’s godmother finds herself in.  But the idea survived, and it’s the main plot of book #5.  But there again, pantsing rears its head – my favorite scene so far in the book was entirely unplanned – Sara catching her adoptive daughter Grace having her first kiss, and Sara’s subsequent flashback to her own.  I’m sure there’ll be plenty more surprises for me as the book goes on…

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