Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? by Marilyn Meredith

PSWA Conference. 2015 #1

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.

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

15 thoughts on “Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? by Marilyn Meredith

  1. I’m more pantser than plotter, and the idea of a formal outline gives me hives. On the other hand, like Marilyn, I have an idea of who at least the main characters are, what the mystery is about (vaguely), and then I proceed. Sometimes I get stuck, and I have a couple of ways to solve that. One is to find out what the bad guys are doing, which gives a different perspective on the story; another is to look at what’s happening from the point of view of other characters. I don’t usually know who is the murderer is until I’m well along in the story, but I know who the victim is from the beginning. Good post, Marilyn!


    1. I have the same thing happening when I write, I don’t always know who the murderer is until I’m well into the story–though I always have plenty of suspects.


  2. I’m a combination. For mystery I have a sheet with the possible murderers, their motives, and their alibis. Then I decide where the book should start and who I think the murderer is and why and then I start writing the book. Good post!


  3. I’m definitely a plotter. I work out every detail very carefully before I write. Then, as I sit down to actually write it out, I change everything as I go!


  4. I’m a plotter. For my WIP I didn’t start with much of an outline and after 50 pages I had to stop and start over, so a solid outline keeps me on track. I make adjustments as I go along–sometimes a scene will be moved to a different spot–but I need to know my route before I hop in the car and start driving or I end up in a cul-de-sac.


  5. Sure missed PSWA, and seeing you in particular. Sounds like a good panel. I’m in the Panster column, and moving forward is much like yours. I didn’t know that, so learned something new! Continued “pantsing” success, Marilyn! (smile)

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  6. So glad to find someone else that see the story in their head. I thought I was alone in this sea of writers. Great article not many pantser pieces out there.


  7. I’m a pantser. I just sit down and start writing the story. I kind of know who the main character is and what she is involved with will be the story. I note things down as I write like the character’s name and under it eye color etc. My characters tell me what they are doing and saying. I can see the story in my head in the form of a movie and as it goes so goes my story. When I hit a brick wall or dead end situation I back up and sit until the characters start into action. Then I just hold on and try to keep up typing with the story as it unfolds.
    Please nobody call the little men in white coats. Other than a writer’s mind( I think a writer’s mind is what I have) I’m pretty normal, well not exactly normal but then what is normal? But I am fun and do love to write.


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