The "Pitfalls" of "Panster-Style"

Most of us writers are familiar with the term "Panster-style".  Some of us belong in that category, the rest of us prefer to outline, whether in detail or in generalities.  And of course, there's nothing wrong with either.  There's both benefits and potential pitfalls to each.

Since I'm a claimed "panster", I'm going to say when I did take a shot at outlining, I found I deviated from the "course" anyway.  My outlining, though, was never in precise detail and I still allowed my characters to tow me along for the ride.  I do know that this process works great for some writers.  I also know that those of you who outline in detail, prefer it to make sure you tie up all the loose ends, or clues, that become entwined with your story.

So why do I prefer going about a new WIP (work in progress) without an outline?  I know the basic direction of my story before I begin, don't get me wrong.  I usually have a vision of the ending and how things play out, but getting there is so much fun.  There's a rush that comes with being pulled along by a bunch of "people" you have just met.  I also find numerous plot twists present themselves, but this is also what I'd consider a pitfall of "panster-style".  Sometimes it's scary as hell to pick up your book to work on it.

There's been days when I start out not even knowing where the next scene is going to take me.  I might have given it thought overnight and have an idea as to where I see it going but there are no details, no distinction between shadows of thought and clear perception.  Yes, there have been times in a WIP, I ask my characters "why" or "how is this going to play out".  I receive the silent treatment.  I know the only way I'm going to find out is by writing.   ::chews on fingernails::   After all, where am I even going to start?  However, when I force myself to write on days like that, then the magic happens.  It's reaffirmed why I'm a "panster".  Along with the "pitfall"of being afraid of a document, comes one of the largest pluses - an adrenaline rush.

As mentioned, some might consider a pitfall of "panster-style" to be missing out on tying key story elements together.  But isn't that a concern with any novel written with an outline or without?

So how do I make panster-style work for me?  As ideas for scenes strike me, I make note of them, whether it be snippets of dialogue or a vision for an outworking of a situation.  As I write, I make notes at the ending of the document to keep me aligned as to where I'm headed.  I make note of new clues and their resolution.

Another factor, that I've found to have greatly assisted me is familiarity with my characters.  Before I start a new work, I outline the main "players".  I formulate their backgrounds, their motives in life, their dreams, their strengths, their weaknesses.  Of course, all of this is simply a springboard for the "panster-style" writer, but I believe it plays a key role in making tangible characters and a fluid book.

So, if you're adventurous at heart - and I know you are as a writer - why not give "panster-style" a go?  What have you got to lose?  You might actually find out you like it.


  1. I write like this, too. The one time I tried to outline I found that it took all the life out of the book for me. I enjoy winging it!

  2. Oh, I am a panster. I have a little paragraph outlining what I want to write about, but it's so nice to deviate from the plan.

  3. ooh ladies, awesome not to be alone :) it is a bit of a rush to write where your characters take you, isn't it?

  4. Hey Carolyn! My first novel was written pantser-style. It failed miserably, but not, I think, from lack of outlining - it was my first novel and just tended toward melodrama and badly-formed characters!
    Nowadays I always use outlines, because I'm a bear of very little brain and not capable of creating an intricate mystery without one :) One day I will write a novel without an outline - but only if you promise to give me regular pep-talks whenever I break down from control-freak-related stress attacks. Deal?

  5. Charlotte, definite deal lady. I'll be here for you :)


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