I’ve told you all this before, but I am not a plotter. I have an idea, and I follow it, hoping that the story will make sense as it develops. But I’ve fallen into an abyss, unable to figure my way out. My story has hit a wall, and I can’t find my way through. I keep gnawing on the problem, but so far, no answers.

I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t plot—and probably not the only one who falls into an abyss. But recently I’ve found support, at least for the nonplotters.. Just in the last month, the New York Times Book Review has had comments by two writers of mystery fiction indicating they aren’t plotters either.

Chris Bohjalian, author of THE FLIGHT ATTENDENT, which has made it to the Times best seller list, says in the “Inside the List” column, “I’m in awe of writers who outline—or even those writers who know how a book is going to end when they begin . . .I never have even the slightest clue. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story.”

And in the April 29th edition of the Book Review, in the same column , Lisa Scottoline, the best-selling author who writes three books a year, says, “I plan absolutely nothing.. . .  It’s not in my nature. I write a book in an organic way, asking myself after each chapter what the characters would do next. I never know what the story is until I tell it to myself. Not only don’t I know how it ends, I don’t know how it middles!” Scottoline goes on to say, “. . . the surprise ending always comes as a surprise to me!”

So, I’m not the only one with a problem. But I’m an amateur compared to those guys. How shall I fix my problem? My murderer is apparently unbelievable, and the story has great, big plot holes. Do I need another character? Maybe that would help with the problem. Maybe I don’t want to kill one guy too early in the story. If I keep him alive, he might be the murderer.

Now that’s an idea! Maybe the murderee should be the murderer. I’ll play with that for a while. I need a reason for that, though, and right now my mind is blank. I do have a sense, however, that I killed off the first victim too soon, that I should let him live a bit more and develop more of a story.

I remember attending a writing panel where two writers were non-plotters and one, who wrote for television, was emphatically a plotter. One of the non-plotters told us that when she got to the end of her novel, she liked the person she had made the murderer too much to cast him in that role, so she went back and added another character. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with these problems.

Do any of you ever get yourselves into this kind of mess? Let me know. It’ll make me feel better, just like Bohjalian and Scottoline did.


  1. I make a bold effort to plot each book but invariably the characters reveal themselves in ways that I have to consider. By listening to each character, the book becomes richer and more interesting to write. It’s not unusual for my admirable minor character to reveal his or her true colors as a manipulator or villain, possibly even the real murderer. — Kate, writing as C T Collier


  2. Fellow pantser here. I surprise myself with my stories. If something isn’t working, I go back to the characters and get inside their heads more to find out what happens next. They know what to do. I like the quote from Lisa Scottoline. She sums up the process perfectly.


  3. Carole, I’m not a full blown plotter or panster. I know my beginning and end when I start a book and a few plot points in between, but the ending doesn’t’ always end the way I thought in the beginning. When I find that I’m stuck, I either bounce the story off a friend or take a good long look at whether I forced a character to do something they wouldn’t. Which could be the case of your murderer. Good luck! Good post!


  4. Nice job. I really enjoyed your blog and also am one of those who doesn’t outline or even take copious notes. The books never end the way I anticipate when I write them!


  5. Really enjoyed your blog. I do not outline either, nor do I keep copious notes. My plots don’t always end the way I anticipated at the beginning. Nice job!


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