Plotting and Planning

There are two schools of thought for writing a book; plotting and pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants). I’m very much a Type A personality. Hence, lots of plotting. When I go to plot a story, it looks something like this:

That being said, I can plot all I want and the story still doesn’t always go according to plan. Characters show up that I didn’t know existed. In my first manuscript I completed, Books and Dreams, I had a young lady start her own used bookstore (my childhood dream) and everything is going wrong, from the electricity not turned on to a clogged toilet. Dealing with the toilet, water sloshed over her new shoes. A voice calls from the doorway. “Ah, the glamorous life of a business owner. Toilet cleaning is so not in my job description.” Who was this voice? It was the heroine’s cousin who is helping her run the bookstore. Who knew? I didn’t know she had a cousin. And one with a snarky voice as well. The cousin turned out to be a shoulder to cry on, a shove in the right direction when the heroine needed it, and a woman worthy of her own story some day.

As writers write, we discover things about ourselves we never knew. I would have thought I was a planner, a plotter, through and through. When I went to write my first novella, Divorce, Interrupted, I discovered I could pantser with the rest of them. I sat down at the computer and that story wrote itself. Whoosh! 20,000 words in no time at all. From then on, I’ve been pantsing my shorter works and just plotting the full-length novels. It is my system and it seems to be working. Except…

When it does not. For the Summertime on Main Street boxed set I had no idea of who my characters were, the plot of the story, a title, nothing. Then I was lucky enough to go back to my old hometown and see my writing ladies. They let me brainstorm my story over lunch. It reminded me of how much I missed that connection and them. I can’t use all the ideas they had that day, but it was an enormous step in the right direction to get started on Retreat, Interrupted.

Do you plot and plan or go with the flow?

Jill James, plotter and planner…sometimes.


About Jill James

Jill is a self-published author with The Lake Willowbee Series and numerous other books in paranormal romance and zompoc romance. She enjoys reading just as much as writing. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jill_james
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18 Responses to Plotting and Planning

  1. E. Ayers says:

    I’m a pantzer. I mentally set the story and then let it go. My characters take over. Occasionally I have to rein them in or they’d go off in some totally wild direction. If I plotted it all out, then it wouldn’t be as much fun to write. Because, like the reader, I’m along for the ride, waiting to see what happens next.


  2. Diane Culver says:

    I, too, am a Type A,,,but I have a mathematical brain and the creative side does not come easy, so pantsing it is…….three books. My editor, at times, does not like me, but I tell her “It’s going to be okay and you’ll make more money.” I participate in a variety of groups and there are many who “pants”……..And you’re right. Where the heck do those characters you don’t plan on come from? But, they sure make the book……All the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kristy Tate says:

    I plot, but there are always surprises…most of them welcome. Every once in a while an idea comes out of nowhere and throws me for a loop. With the first draft of my WIP, I literally cried at the end because I didn’t know how it would all fit together, but then it did, and I really didn’t know if it could be done.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. susanrhughes says:

    Can’t wait to read your new one, Jill. I loved Divorce, Interrupted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jill James says:

      Thank you, Susan! I love Divorce, Interrupted too. A friend said I should have made it the Interrupted series. For the new story I’m using the two cases of retreat. A retreat, like a writers retreat and retreat, like escaping something.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Carol says:

    I’m mainly a pantser too. Early on, especially if I’m writing a series, I have to plot other characters in past books. So I do a bit of both. As always, there are surprise characters and a surprise twist to the story that originally played out in my head. I’m looking forward to Retreat, Interrupted, and our upcoming Summertime on Main Street.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jude Knight says:

    I figured I’d be a planner, because I am in my day job. Turns out that I am, but not quite the way I thought. We had a neighbour with six children who was frequently asked if they were all planned, and he used to say, “Yes, they are. When my wife was in the shower I lay in bed planning it.”

    When I start writing, I have a synopsis that more or less heads in the direction I want to go, a vague idea of the end, and detailed character questionnaires and story arcs. Then the characters take over, and anything could happen. I started a murder mystery not knowing who the murderer was. When the heroine of one book proposed to the hero, it came as a complete surprise, since when I started the scene I didn’t know that was going to happen.

    But as I go about my day — in bed, or in the shower, or out in the garden, or walking — ideas come to me. Yes, I am a planner. Sort of.


  7. Brittany says:

    Yes! I am a novice writer, but some of my best short stories have come from having an idea and just fleshing it out. Thanks for sharing!


  8. leighmorgan1 says:

    Ahhh, BrainStorming! Nothing like it to open up the brain and let the creativity flow in. I plot and plan, usually on index cards and a 2-3 page outline of bullet points. I do character profiles as well. The best laid plans. My longer works generally have the ending I envisioned and most of the turning points, but invariably I end up re-writing the first scene(s). It seems I miss something when I begin that hasn’t quite worked itself out until the end.

    Process evolving….I guess that’s what my process is turning out to be! Truly envy those who get it right the first time. 🙂


  9. Joan Reeves says:

    I’m a bit of both. I know what the major turning points of any story require, and I visualize the story–almost like watching a film. I write what I see in my head–getting it down quickly. *g* Then I edit and rewrite which is the fun part. With long works, I always have an outline before I start. When I get going and the writing flows, I find lovely surprises happen in the form of events that flow naturally from other events or dialogue that incites actions I hadn’t planned. My short stories are mostly a matter of sitting down at the computer and writing.


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