The Pantser, The Plotter and The Inbetweener

This brilliant guest post written by Karen Henderson, whom I’ve known online since the day Al Gore invented blogging. She’s writing about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: plotting, or the lack thereof. Read on to the end to discover how you can win a copy of her book. Free books!

The Pantser, The Plotter and The Inbetweener

Unless you are writing for personal reasons, it is assumed you want someone to read your work. If someone does pick up your manuscript then you will hopefully also want that person to find it interesting enough to read every word, on every page, until they reach The End.

How many times have you, as a reader, put a book down and moved on to the next one because the author waffled on and on and on, or they wrote long, dreary weather reports, or they simply told a story that wasn’t worth telling?

For most, life is boring enough. We read to discover new worlds, new adventures, new people and new ways of life. We want to be transported out of reality to experience the things we do not or cannot experience on a day to day basis. We desire that elusive love affair or to travel through space at light speeds we can only imagine.

We have one life but can live many through the words of a book. But how do we write a book that breathes life into the reader and does such a book need to be planned?

There are three types of novel writers: one will just sit and write, one will plan every detail of the story and then sit and write, and the third will do a little of each.  But what is the best method?

The answer to that question can only be answered by you, the writer. Whatever suits you best is the right method for you. Let’s take a look at the three methods and maybe it will help you decide:

The Pantser is someone who writes by the seat of his or her pants. They haven’t got the time or the inclination to outline the characters and the plot. They want to get words onto paper as quickly as possible. They like to be taken by surprise. They enjoy going wherever the characters or the plot takes them. They have no idea where the story will end … but it’s fun finding out.  However, there is a real possibility of writer’s block when the ideas stop coming. The writer might also be inclined to waffle as the characters go in circles, confusing the hell out of everyone, including the writer. A lot of editing might be required to strengthen and straighten the good stuff and to alleviate the nonsense.

The Plotter couldn’t possibly write a single word without detailed character profiles, chapter outlines, maps, and something resembling a Wikipedia site for the other information they needed to build their world (imaginary or not). They know everything—and I mean everything—about the characters and their storylines, as well as the main plot and every sub-plot before they start writing. They probably have numerous software packages that collates and organises the information, or a folder system (hard copy or soft copy, it doesn’t matter) that would make a non-Plotter’s mind boggle. They spit in the face of writer’s block because, in their opinion, it’s not possible to get stuck when you know exactly what happens next. However, the Plotter may feel as if they’ve written the book before they even get started because so much prep has gone into the story and they know it so well. This may cause loss of motivation, which leads to half-finished manuscripts.

The Inbetweener doesn’t feel comfortable just writing but, on the other hand, feels constricted if they plot too much. They are at their happiest when they know what makes their characters tick and know where the story is going, but have the freedom to explore new avenues along the way. They may have key plot points they have to reach but are not tied in to how they get there.

You may read these descriptions and instantly know which type you are. But writers cannot be pigeon-holed. Think about it for a while and you might discover that the short story you’re writing indicates you’re a Pantser, but that novel you’ve been working on for years proves you’re a Plotter from way back.

If you have been a Pantser but cannot finish a story, become a Plotter or an Inbetweener and see if that helps. If you are an unmotivated Plotter, throw caution to the wind and try writing as a Pantser for a while. Above all else, you must write. Only a completed manuscript can be submitted for publication.

There is no right or wrong. Do what works for you. Remember though that whatever type you are your story must be worth reading. Don’t bore the reader with long descriptions. Allow their imaginations to soar. To achieve this there must be logic and flow and pace. The characters must be likable or ‘real’ enough to draw the reader into caring about them and their situation. The plot must be solid. The words must be concise and must always move the story forward.

If you want to go from a writer to an author, then you must write, write, write. What are you waiting for? Go and write now.

Hang on, before you go, I have a question for you. I am all three of the above. I’ve been a Plotter and an Inbetweener for novels. I am a Pantser for short stories. What about you? Are you a Pantser, a Plotter or an Inbetweener?


This guest post is part of the “Tomorrow” Virtual Book Tour starting on 6 July 2013. To find out more about the stories, the authors and the publication go to the virtual book tour schedule page at

I am offering “The Struggling Writer” readers a chance to win a copy to the “Tomorrow” ebook (in the format of the winner’s choice). Just leave a comment on this post and your name will be in the draw. One name will be randomly drawn and the winner will be announced in the comments section, in a couple of days.

Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to Paul for hosting this stop on the book tour. If you haven’t been here before you should take a moment to look around. You’ll find an interesting look at a writer who admits to procrastination and a great cross-section of writing tips.

About Karen Henderson

Karen Henderson is an editor at Kayelle Press, a small independent publisher of speculative fiction in Australia. Their latest release is “Tomorrow”, a post-apocalyptic anthology exploring the possible outcomes of plagues, biohazards, human error, natural disasters and intergalactic travel. The book is available in paperback and various digital formats from their website and from most online bookstores. Visit the website ( to find out more.

15 thoughts on “The Pantser, The Plotter and The Inbetweener

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I tend to feel like the best way is to just sit down and write. Let it flow. Juju, Muses and whatnot. Three failed NanoWriMo attempts later, I see this simply as a setup for failure.

    I’ve dedicated this year to reading only debut novels, and if I’ve gleaned anything, it’s that good writing, the kind that draws you in and keeps hold, takes some forethought. The trick for me, as I move forward in my own writing, is to find the balance. To stay out of the mud of distraction and stick to the road, as sketchy and shifting as it may be at times.

    Great post …

    • As a writer who has lots of unfinished manuscripts due to the sit down and write method, I agree that it’s not the best way to go (for some). I believe you should at least have a sound knowledge of how the story ends and some key points of how to get there to turn “unfinished” into “completed”. It’s certainly worked for me.

      I like your idea about reading only debut novels too. It would be interesting to know if you pick up anything helpful from it. Have you, so far?

  2. “Do what works for you” is key, I think…but it took me a while to let go of feeling like I needed to do things “the right way” (or, to realize that there isn’t a right way!). There’s much to learn from both pantsers and plotters, I think, but as it turns out, I’m a muller, which I guess is something like an inbetweener. I spend a lot of time in my head–mulling, brainstorming, mulling again–before I feel ready to start writing.

    • Shari, it’s fine to let things mull. I like to mull ideas for a while too. I find they develop nicely that way, but at some point you must start writing. If you don’t write, you’ll never complete any manuscripts or have anything to submit for publication.

      However, if that mulling leads to active writing … then you have a winner!

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  6. And the winner is … Brian.

    Congratulations, Brian! Please contact me via email advising which format you’d like (epub, mobi, pdf) and I’ll email the ebook to you. The email address is: kayellepress AT gmail DOT com (replacing the AT and DOT with the appropriate symbols, of course).

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  9. As former hardcore plotter (now inbetweener), the trick is writing the plan ‘bad’, without correcting typos, redundancy and whatever, using some ugly writing programs like text note.
    You will have both a complete plan and the motivation to turn something with horrible writing in something cool.
    When I was an hardcore plotter I was able to finish my stories. But now I prefer the ‘Inbvetween’ method.
    I tried the panster method too. Is good when you want to explore or to try to find a new story, but you have to fell totally serene to do so.
    Anyway I keep in mind that in every case, a story needs to be rewrite at least 5 times.

  10. Pingback: Meditation and Ritual’s Role in Non-Pantser Writing | The Collaborative Writer

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