Elaine Calloway graphic

Writing Styles Guide: 7 Tips For Pantzers

In what is turning into a series on plotters and pantzers, today's guest poster, Elaine Calloway, gives a writing styles guide of seven useful tips for pantzers to help them progress their writing, while not giving up their muse.

Writing Styles Guide | Plotters or Pantsters? Which Approach Works for You?

By Elaine Calloway

Elaine Calloway writing styles guide graphicWriters can often be seen lurking in one of two groups: the Plotters and the Pantsters.
Even if you’ve never heard of these terms, the writers in each camp are hard to miss.
Plotters tend to have color-coded charts, spreadsheets, outlines with key story points well-defined before ever typing a word on Page 1.

Pantsters are the opposite. They know their characters, have a vague idea of the story, but they prefer to write the story to find out where it will lead. Many times, a pantster will not even know the ending to the book until he/she writes it in the first draft.

These two polarized groups often debate amongst each other who is right, which method is best, etc. And bottom line, the writing method that works best for you is the one you should stick with. I have attended writing workshops where the instructor will tell the students that there is only one correct way to approach writing. If you come across this narrow-minded approach, Run. Run Fast. The best way to write is try various approaches, learn what works for you, and stick to it.

“Know your character’s goals”

So, today I would like to share what has worked for me. It’s a hybrid approach, using various techniques of both plotter and pantster. Over the course of ten manuscripts, I have come to realize this approach helps me move forward without writing myself into a corner.

  1. Know your character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts before you sit down to write. This is an imperative step, no matter what kind of writer you consider yourself to be. The things your character wants, the back-story as to why the character will forsake fear to achieve these things, and the conflicts to be faced is key to story structure.To use a Wizard of Oz example, Dorothy wants to find the wizard (goal) so she can get home (motivation) but the evil witch and other obstacles (conflicts) stand in the way of meeting that goal.
    “Find a good writing partner”
    “Anything that helps to inspire is what works best”

    Deb Dixon wrote a book titled GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) which explains these key attributes and how they relate to your story. By knowing what your character wants and why, you can set up blocks to him/her meeting that goal.

  2. Know your setting. Can you imagine Gone with the Wind being set along the surfer coastline in California? Scarlett O’Hara saying, “There’s always tomorrow, dude.”No. Such a thought is ridiculous. The South *makes* that book work. Setting can not only enhance your book’s feel, it can become a character, something that contributes essential parts to the story. Some authors who have used setting well are Pat Conroy (South Carolina coast), Stephen King (Maine), and Dennis Lehane (Boston).
  3. Know a few plot turning points. As a pantster myself, I find this step difficult to do, but I have found that brainstorming with friends ahead of time is a great way to come up with a few routes for your story.Note: This does not mean your plot is written in stone! You can stick to the plot points you come up with, or you can toss them aside for new ones. The point is to give yourself a general roadmap. You can always change course! Don’t panic and think that any pre-existing plot point ties you down. It is meant to help, not hinder. The magic of being a pantster is all those surprises you encounter when writing. You still can, but have a few backups in case you get stuck.
  4. Find a good writing partner to help you brainstorm. Whether the person is a plotter or a pantster, getting someone you trust to give you feedback, kick around ideas, is a great exercise and it frees your mind.I have an ideal set up. I am a pantster, my writing buddy is a plotter. So between the both of us, we are able to brainstorm and help each other. She helps me when I get stuck and need plot point ideas; I help her when she needs something more spontaneous than color-coded plot points. It’s a win-win. That’s what you want in a writing support group or friend.
  5. Remember that after your first draft is done, go back and polish! I heard a saying once, one I have never forgotten. This analogy has helped me in writing:
    • The first draft: You’re walking through the woods and cutting a path. The trees are tall, the shrubs are thick, and you don’t really know where you are going.
    • The second draft: You’re sitting on top of a large rock. You can see the path you’ve made; you have some perspective from the height of the boulder you’re sitting on.
    • The third draft: You’re sitting at the top of a tall tree. Now you can see more paths, curves, and escape routes than ever before. Your perspective allows you to see patterns, make updates, and see which route is best.
  6. Always write the next book! Once you finish one book and either submit to a traditional publisher or indie pub the book, your next step is to work on the next book!
  7. Some people use music when they write. I find that creating a “playlist” for each book helps me. Songs relate to the emotion, the characters, and the tone of each book. Which songs remind you of your characters? Include those first, and add/remove other songs as you write the book. This helps put me into the mindset of the story, therefore improving my writing speed.For those who prefer silence, that is fine too. Maybe place a special token or item on your desk that reminds you of your setting, your characters, etc. Anything that helps to inspire is what works best.

And remember, whether you’re a plotter, pantster, or hybrid of both--the main thing is to get the book completed, in a way that works for YOU. Thanks!

Elaine Calloway is the author of The Elemental Clan series, available on Amazon.

Anything that gets us to the writing desk, actually writing rather than procrastinating, is valuable beyond measure. Thank you very much for this writing styles guide, Elaine.

You Pantzers out there, how do you bring structure to your writing process? Share your thoughts in the comments below - and share with your friends, too!

2 thoughts on “Writing Styles Guide: 7 Tips For Pantzers

  1. I’m new to writing but know that I feel the most inspired when I let the words carry me wherever they want to go. Yet my writing can grind to a halt when I see the massive white space between the first and last chapter. That’s when the Plotter in me needs to have a turn to add some rough chapter guides to get me to the end (whether or not the pantster actually follows them is another thing). Your 7 tips have given me some more ideas of how to make the pantster and plotter in me work together. Thanks!

    1. Hi Diane,

      Thanks for stopping by to comment! You are exactly right, and I feel the same way. Being a pantzer allows the words to flow, things work when the muse is being kind. But I do often get stuck or write myself into corners. I find having the ideal combo between plotting and pantzing can really help productivity.

      Thanks again and best to you with your writing!

      Elaine Calloway

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