Panster's Guide to Writing

Hi, my name is Tonya Kappes. I'm a panster.

If there was a twelve step program for the pansters of the writing community, I would be the leader.
I've heard it all:
*post its? Those would be everywhere. No way.
*Note cards? No way.
*I let my MUSE do the walking and talking.
*Plotting stifles me.
*My characters carry me through.
*My characters drive my story.
. . .sound familiar?

Well. . .these are examples from my own procrastination station.

And here are a few things that have helped propel that manuscript forward. It's not really plotting, but it gives you a bare bones to where you will end up.

Start with your idea! Your story. You know the beginning and end. Write down the idea like you would see on a blurb or preview of a movie. As you write these down, you will get a few visuals in your head. Do they give you inspiration?
Don't lose that feeling. I grab a new notebook or journal and cut out pictures of the images in my head. The story is starting to mold, take shape, and I don't want to forget those images.
If you aren't into cutting, pasting, taping, etc...Pinterest is a GREAT new website to use when starting your idea/story. It's easy to use and takes minutes to help get your ideas in one place.

Now that you have some ideas of your setting/story/idea, are your characters beginning to talk to you? Is their story starting to take shape? Are they giving you ideas on where they want to in the plot?


I use a character worksheet to keep all my characters straight. There is nothing more aggravating than having to go back try to remember what color your protag's eyes are. If you would like a character worksheet emailed to you, email me at tonyak11(at)yahoo(dot)com and put character worksheet in the subject line. I will zip you one!

Recently, one of my critique partners came up with a fabulous idea that she has began to use in her worshops. Heather Webber is teaching character development by using an address book to keep track of your characters. HOW genius is she? VERY! Don't steal the idea unless you give her credit!
You can list your characters by name and use the page to add any plot ideas about that character, personality traits, description, anything!

With these two simple ideas, you're well on your way to getting that great story written and ready for the world to see. It's not taking away your pansting ways, or stifling your creativity, it's giving you the boost to help our ideas come to life and flourish into that great story you have within you.

What do you do to help get your pansting into a finished novel?

Remember: if you want a character development worksheet or an invite to Pinterest, email me!

Check out these great websites on how to help the panster:
David Krancher
Nathan Bransford


  1. It added some ideas on my part. I can infuse some of them.
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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lisa. I think when I break it down to get to know my characters and story idea, I find it's easier to write freely and pants like I like too.

  3. I'm a pantser, but I do keep bare bones notebooks, character "interviews" and questionnaires. I find images of what I think my characters look like and add that to the questionnaire files, as though I've got their resume set up, with a headshot & life experience. I also keep a blank notebook around for when the pantsing gets tough, to jot ideas, or get my thoughts in order.

    Great post, Tonya!

    1. You sound like me, Taryn! I have my journal and notes throughout the day as I think of them. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Total pantzer here:-) It's the only way to go. Great post, Tonya!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! It does let me develop my characters deeper and get to know them so much better.

  5. Liz Lipperman developed Plot + (Pant) ster = Plotster.

    We kinda have some points to hit, but have no idea at first, how we are getting there.

  6. the address book idea is very cool.
    I use a spreadsheet in Excel. That allows me to control size & font, etc., as well as placement. It comes out to something like a chart.
    On one side is the heroine, her relatives, friends & co-workers. On the other side is the hero ... and all of his contacts Those individuals who are connected to both are in columns in between the hero & heroine. Individuals connected only to one or the other are fanned out in the opposite direction.

  7. Argh - I'm an extreme plotter/planner, but the WIP I'm currently editing was my attempt at spontaneous pantsing for NaNoWriMo last year. Its amazing how sometimes, the pieces come together when writing without a plan. I'm finding things in the first edit that I didn't even know I had effectively foreshadowed.

    But its a whole different dragon to wrangle, when compared to my previous pieces. Whew! Thanks for the tips!

  8. The address book is a good idea. I'm trying to keep all my notes digital but I tend to still use a notebook for ideas anyway.

    Another cool trick I saw is someone used a desk calendar - the large one that lays flat with room enough to write in - and used that for plot points. She used stickys so she could move them around; kind of Blake Snyder-ish like his grid.

    Oh, to be a planner. I am trying to learn the ways!

    Found your blog from the #MyWANA hashtag :)

  9. I am such a pantser! I have a notebook that I scribble character development, story arc ideas, etc into. I can't quite get away from some handwriting! Love the character worksheet idea! Thanks for a great post!

  10. Thank you so much for this post, Tonya! I'm usually a plotter (booo!) but I long for the pantser ways. A good chunk of my writing group are pantsers and I'm constantly surprised by what they can accomplish that way.

    I think it's a case of "grass is always greener" when it comes to plotting versus pantsing. I want to be more creative and spontaneous, while they want to be more organized. If only there were a middle ground...


Do you believe in curses?

By Mae West from A Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series written by Tonya Kappes Seriously...curse? Meh, I'm not scared... ...