Jennifer Estep — Plotting While Wearing Pants


Poison PromiseOh, plotting. You and I aren’t the best of friends. More like casual acquaintances, if that.

When many folks talk about writing, they often talk about two kinds of writers—plotters and pansters. Now, plotters are just what the name implies. These are the folks who plot out their books, which can include everything from doing a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book to detailed character outlines to creating storyboards of the various scenes/chapters.

And then there are pansters, or people who don’t do a lot of plotting. I am one of those folks.

Usually, when I’m thinking about an idea for a book, I’ll think about my heroine first—her personality, her strengths and weaknesses, her magic and how she can use it to defeat the bad guys. Then, I’ll think about the three big turning points of the story:

1) The first chapter that opens the book. I often think of these like those opening teasers in a James Bond movie—almost like a small, self-contained story with some action to grab people’s interest but that also ties in to the overall plot.

2) The event—a magical attack, a kidnapping, a robbery, etc.—that happens in the beginning of the Black Widowbook that drives my heroine’s actions through the middle of the book.

3) And finally, the big battle with the villain at the end of the story.

And that’s about as much as I ever plot out a book. Once I have my heroine and all these turning points in mind, I sit down, start writing, and see where the story and characters take me.

Sometimes, I have a good grasp of the overall plot and many of the specific scenes, and the story come very easily to me. Other times, I’ll get halfway through writing a book and realize that I should have zigged when I zagged. When that happens, I spend a lot of time rewriting in my second draft.

Most of the time, it falls somewhere in the middle. I know some of the scenes, but as I’m writing, the characters or story take me in an unexpected direction. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, and sometimes, it’s not.

Killer FrostNow, you may be asking why I don’t plot out a book. Surely, that would be easier and save me some time, right? Maybe. But I find that if I plot out the book beforehand, then I feel like I’ve sort of written the book already, and I’m just not as engaged with the characters and story as I am if I don’t plot everything out.

But this is just the method that works for me. One of the trickiest things about being a writer is finding the method that works for you—because no one else can do that for you. Just like no one else can write your book but you.

So whether you are a plotter or a panster or fall somewhere in between, I wish you good luck in all your writing endeavors. Happy writing and reading!

What about you guys? Are you plotters or pansters? How much planning do you do before you start writing a book?

Twitter:  (@Jennifer_Estep)


Jennifer Estep is a New York Times bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea. Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. She is also the author of the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

Poison Promise, the 11th book in the Elemental Assassin series, will be published on July 22. Black Widow, the 12th book, will be released on Nov. 25.


For more on Jennifer and her books, visit her website at You can also follow Jennifer on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter – @Jennifer_Estep.


6 comments to Jennifer Estep — Plotting While Wearing Pants

  • I feel the exact same way. If I over plot a story, I feel like I lose my passion and zeal for the story. Then the writing for it becomes stale and more like work. Whereas if I allow myself to write as go, I get into the story more and really feel the story come alive.

    Thanks for writing to us, today!

  • Sometimes, it seems to depend on the book and level of intricacy as to how much plotting I do. My fantasy novels seem to get more than my urban fantasy. I tend to do a full synopsis for my sci-fi.

    I have a big outline for my noir urban fantasy, but I tend to do it as I go along, thinking a couple chapters ahead. Beyond that, I know the endgame for the noir and have written one of the final scenes, even though I’m only about halfway through writing the book. The scene just hit me late one night and I had to get it down.

    Rogue 5 had a full 10 page or more synopsis complete with weaponry, ships and their armament, Battle Suits and their armament, etc, just so I could reference it and make sure I wasn’t giving a ship or Suit more or less rockets and such than it was supposed to have. Still, even with that synopsis that my wife and I did, there was still plenty of room to be creative and make changes. There was one place where I completely moved a scene somewhere else because it made more sense there. I wrote several new scenes because as I was writing, I felt there needed to be some bridging to make it all work. I even added villain scenes because I felt they were needed to keep the baddie from being a faceless entity, sort of like when they shot to scenes of Vader in Star Wars. I wrote a synopsis of backstory just for one character because I needed to know his motivation and his past after a beta called me out on something the character did.

    My sci-fi fantasy romance has some plotting, but mostly sketchy plotting with a lot of wiggle room.

    And much like with my noir, the middle grade I’m working with off and on I kinda just plot bits as I go along, creating little chapter blurbs about what’s supposed to happen next.

  • Not only do you have to find the method that works for you, you have to find the method that works for the story you’re writing right now. There is no guarantee that it will be the same the next time you put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard.

    To endeavor as a writer, you need to be flexible—and more than a little bit insane.

  • I don’t even do that much. My characters go off and do their own thing without troubling to consult any silly plots, and I chase after them, pen in hand, yelling “Wait for me!” and “No! Don’t do that! Don’t go in there! Oh no!!” whilst frantically scribbling notes.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Well, I started out as completely a panster because a) I had no idea what I was doing, and b) I had no reference points to try to learn more about what I was doing until I’d tried doing it some. But I have almost-from-the-begining kept a chapter-by-chapter outline as I go along so I can see who’s been doing what and when stuff happened.

    Now I’m not sure how I would classify myself. I love my outlines and my excel spread-sheets, and when I’m daydreaming the story I tend to come up with a number of scene ideas and such that I try to organize into a for-the-future outline. *But* those scene ideas cluster closely around the *when* I’m writing right now, and so I seem to be stubbornly remaining someone who does *not* know clearly what’s going to happen at the end. And it’s taken me a while to accept that I can still learn to write great stories even if I can’t know the end when I get going.

  • Razziecat

    Mostly a pantser here. I, too, can’t plan in too much detail or as you said, it feels like I’ve already written the story. I always start with characters, puzzling out their backstories, and imagining them in various situations. Eventually something about their personality, their history or their current situation really grabs me and I have to start writing. These scenes don’t always come in chronological order; in fact, more often than not, I write “backwards”, writing the later events and then going back and writing the beginning of the story. Or I write the opening first, then jump ahead, then go back. I love to just “see where it’s going.” They always surprise me when I do that, and it’s so much more fun than plotting in excruciating detail. If I get really stuck, then I open a new document and type as fast as I can think, figuring out how to get past the sticky bit. I usually end with 20 or so pages or notes, including ideas for future scenes, and details that I don’t want to forget, then I check them off as I write them into the story. It all sounds rather chaotic, but it makes sense to me 😀