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Pantsers and Plotters in Writing

My writing activities were fairly closeted in the past so I did not feel the need to be involved in any sort of writing community. It was only after finding out about and joining NaNoWriMo a few months ago that I finally cared to participate.

As with all communities that exists in the internets (think MMO gaming to dollhouse building), the writing community has its own definitions and acronyms every n00b had to learn. Of interest to my n00by-ness was the term “pantser” often used alongside “plotter,” particularly when describing plotting and story building. Here’s what they mean:


A pantser is a writer who writes their story “by the seat of their pants,” so the saying goes. Pantsers do not outline or do any sort of intensive preparation. Most pantsers seem to start with a concept they are interested in writing about and go with that. Some may start with the characters themselves and introduce them to scenarios to see what they do. Some may simply start with a cool sounding title and build a story around that. It’s a “let’s see what happens” kind of attitude.

Stephen King is an example of a famous pantser. In his book On Writing, he tells us that he doesn’t outline. I was genuinely surprised to learn this.


As the name indicates, a plotter is a writer that plots out their story before the actual story writing. The level of plotting and planning can range from an outline to complicated mind maps and world building.

An example of a famous plotter is J.K. Rowling. She didn’t come out and say it like Stephen King did, but she demonstrates it quite clearly with the various tables and diagrams she released publicly. There have been blog posts that deconstructs how J. K. Rowling plots and plans with the table below.

J.K. Rowling’s Plot Table for HP, The Order of the Pheonix

J.K. Rowling’s Plot Table for HP, The Order of the Pheonix

So What am I?

I am most certainly a plotter. I had no clue there were such people as pantsers. I always thought plotting was how it was done and never considered pantsing any of my stories, ever.

Now, I’m not saying plotting is superior to pantsing or vice versa and I am not interested in debating about it (apparently, this is a sticky subject for some people). If you are a pantser and that is how you write, then good for you. For me, plotting is my thing and I doubt I can pull off pantsing an acceptable story.

I’ve always been a planner. I write lists for everything. I like math, I like programming, I like efficiency, and I dislike uncertainty. I probably sound terribly dull to a pantser, but that’s fine by me.

I view pantsing as an emotional way of writing (not that it’s a bad thing!), because it deals with people and their personalities. I see many pantsers’ story built around their characters. Plotting is more of a logical (I am thinking “if, else” statements here) way of writing. A plotter’s story is about events first with characters written in, or at least that’s how I do it.

How I do it

My plotting starts with a bit of world building. Depending on the story, I can base it off a familiar world (e.g. medieval England, ancient Rome) or develop a 50+ page wiki that documents religion, geography, the magic system, and languages.

The starting point is knowing what the place, people, culture looks like. With the situations and plot developments that I want to have happen, I place my characters in said situations, and then give them a back story to explain why they reacted that way. It’s sort of working backwards (only except it’s not).

The novel I’m writing is an epic fantasy and will span a few books (not sure how many yet). Such books seem to average from 90k to 120k words. My bullet point outline (not including the accompanying wiki or other documents) is currently sitting at 5k words and it is still not finished. To be fair, my outlines are quite detailed. When it’s finished, it is a matter of filling in the descriptions and dialogue when I finally sit down to write the story.

And since I know everything (or most things) about my story and how it progresses, I’m able to weave certain bits of referencing, clues, foreshadowing, Chekhov’s guns throughout the story as I’m writing it. I find that these discoveries are incredibly satisfying to me as a reader (or watcher.. of shows like Lost), and I want my readers to feel the same way.

In Conclusion

Every writer is different. Not everyone is a pantser, nor are they all plotters. Between themselves, pantsers have different ways and reasons for constructing their stories, and different plotters have different ways of plotting. The point is to tell a story without regards to how we get there. Just write!

So are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a pantser, how does it all start? If you’re a plotter, how do you plot?

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The Problem with Names & Code Name Ravenite

I’m a weird one. For my fantasy NaNoWriMo story, I work out the plot, twists, turns, character personalities, scenes, world setting, and even the linguistics before I know my main characters’ name.

The same level of thought does not go into naming my minor characters. I am happy as long as it fits the linguistics and setting, but otherwise, I will just pick it out of a name from my name database and continue on with my story. For my main characters, I can’t just choose willy nilly and be happy with it. It has to feel right too.

What’s your name?

Currently, I have two main characters, a male and a female, and one importantish minor character, another male. The minor guy had his name since the very inception of the story. His name is Damien… or Damian (most likely Damien). I’ll figure out the spelling later. It was easy for me to choose the name. He is a minor character after all.

I’ve known my female MC for about 5 years now (yes, the story is 5 years in the making.. in my head), but she never had a name that stuck. That was fine by me, because her name is not important to my story (per se), it was what she did that mattered.

Enter NaNoWriMo. As soon as I signed up for this year’s NaNo, I resolved to finally give this girl a name. I jumped between quite a few and once again, nothing sounded right. I spent a few days adding thousands of names to my DB and found nothing. It was frustrating. I had her whole life’s story with no clue what her name was. I lost sleep over this malarky.

So I took a break from finding her name.. to figure out what the male MC’s name was.

Lucky me, his name was found after a brain storming session, mumbling random vowels and consonants together (and getting strange looks from unsuspecting passerby). I decided on Leonce the very moment I said it out loud. It just felt right to me.

Hello Leonce, nice to meet you. 

Since Leonce is an actual French name (it means “lion” if you haven’t already guessed), that pushed me to make up my mind on the linguistics and etymology of his country. (It was a draw between French and Spanish. Just to clarify, I’m only using the language as an influence, not the actual history or culture. The culture in my story is a mish-mash between ancient Greek/Roman, Medieval England, and my own ideas. It’ll make sense later. Promise.)

Deciding on the linguistics forced me to look at French names for my female MC as she is from the same country as Leonce. This helped narrow the field considerably. The next step was to download a bunch of French baby names from somewhere (lost track of source, sorry) and began the process of elimination. It took about two days to go through everything. I even had a rating system. A handful of names were neck and neck (in my rating system), but I kept going back to this one name, Elodie. It sounded so right. Finally deciding on it was an awesome feeling (Dear family, please ignore my random dancing in front of the computer).

Elodie, Elodi, Elody, Elohdie, Elohdi, Elohdy, Ehlodie, Ehlodi, Ehlody.

<in Dave Chappelle’s voice> Gotcha bitch!

Damn, it felt good. Now I can move on to more important things.. like thinking up the title of the first book.

Code Name: Ravenite

Don’t worry, I am not as psycho with the book name as I am with the my FMC’s name. I haven’t actually written the book yet (though I do have a 8k+ outline), so I am not too worried about deciding on the name yet. Besides, I expect it to come to me during the writing process.

I did decide on a code name/project name though. Ravenite was initially the working title. It is named after a certain metal found in my characters’ world called Ravenite. Unfortunately, Ravenite was renamed to something else (not sure what yet, but it’s not Ravenite), so this name is no longer relevant to the story.

I’m just keeping Ravenite as a code name due to laziness and the desire to get on with my life. The names will come to me when they do (I hope).

So have you ever encountered character/place/object naming problems for your fantasy stories? Tell me about it!

P.S. I’ve begun hash-tagging the Ravenite related tweets in one neat place. Feel free to follow it!

Update: Looks like I’ll be changing my MMC’s name to Leone instead of Leonce. I am just paranoid that readers will pronounce his name like they say Beyonce’s name. Ick. Still love the name Leonce though!


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Writing and NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo_logoAs a kid, I always had my nose in a book. The stories I devoured were mostly fantasy novels, then later in my teen years, thriller/ghost stories (RL Stine, anyone?). It was entertainment. It was an escape. It was wonderful.

I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Not just any writer, I wanted to be a fantasy novelist. I wanted to create wonderful magical worlds for kids like me. I liked the idea of making up a world and its inhabitants from nothing. It was a potent and powerful concept and desire that still influences me to this day.

I wrote a lot of short stories. I thought I was a good writer too – well, maybe not good, but at least not shitty. I even started writing a fantasy novel at the age of 12. It was never finished, obviously, but I still have my notes, the outline, and the manuscript. Maybe I’ll finish it one day.

In high school, English class sucked. English class was not fiction writing class. It was grammar class; it was analyzing and reanalyzing the hell out of literature written centuries ago that I didn’t give a shit about. The teacher was a humorless beast of a woman and I and the class was terrified of her. English class was boring, it was actual work, and I hated it.

In college, I somehow got it in my head that I could finally write for fun! After all, this is where one goes to learn one’s profession, right? I was happy and excited.

My first writing assignment in college was not in an English class; it was for a required elective class about some sociology thing or another. The class was asked to write an essay on some article we read. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I didn’t mind it either, so I wrote it and I thought I did well. My TA thought otherwise. She tore my poor little essay a new asshole.

That class and that TA made me realize that I was a very bad writer – and very bad writers cannot be fantasy novelists!

It was the way I wrote. I would outline it first, draft it, rewrite it, rewrite the rewrite, and then rewrite the rewritten rewrite. The end result was a disjointed jumbled mess. I don’t know how or when I developed this writing behavior, but I suspect it was in high school when writing stopped being fun.

My childhood dream had died. It stayed quite dead for a while too.

But… about three weeks ago, I stumbled something called NaNoWriMo. I forgot how I found it, but I do remember it being unrelated to whatever I was looking for. Someone mentioned it somewhere (Twitter perhaps?) and the acronyms caught my eye and I really wanted to know what the hell NaNoWriMo stood for.

I found that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Its premise is for the participants to write a 50k novel in the month of november. That deep dark place my childhood resided in got quite excited. The adult side of me thought, “sure why not?” just to shut the childhood part of me up.

Also out of curiosity, I started to read a bunch of blogs about e-publishing on Amazon. Because, lets get real, it’s not like I expected to actually physically publishanything through traditional means.

But from those blogs, I also read about the state of the publishing industry (of which, shit has hit the fan) as well as tips on novel writing in general. One such blog that helped open my eyes was Dean Wesley Smith‘s, in particular the posts in his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. Here is my one sentence summary:

Readers don’t generally care about the nit picky grammar the same way my English teacher or that horrible TA cares about (unless it’s really horrible, obviously), they care about the storytelling.

Blows. My. Freaking. Mind.

So I’m going to do it. I will write a novel. I will work on my storytelling. I will get better.

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Going to San Juan in October!

It’s been about 4 years since I’ve taken a real vacation, but that will change this year. The family and I have booked a trip to Puerto Rico due in October. In my excitement, I checked the weather to find a hurricane over the island.


Nevertheless, I am still optimistic and I hope, nay, expect that mother nature will behave during my vacation. Yes, I am aware that October is in the middle of the hurricane season. Optimism, I said!

There will be beaches, booze, casinos, forts, museums, food, and all sorts of awesome to explore, but I am most excited about being able to relax, catch up on my reading, and work on my NaNoWriMo project. It’s like a dream come true.

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