Easy Plotting for a Pantser by Calisa Rhose


I’ve been thinking about plotting lately. You know, that map some authors create and utilize so successfully when planning a new book. I, however, am NOT one of those writers who plot. Yes. My name is Calisa, and I’m a pantser. So how do I keep my stories straight in my head? Hmm. I don’t really know, since I can’t seem to remember to take my twice-daily medicine doses most days. 🙂 But I can sit and write with fairly coherent structuring as I go. Now ask me to write out of sequence or plan out scenes, chapters or a whole book before I type my first word and…forget it. I’m lost before I ever start.

I tried to keep character sheets once, a lo-o-ong time ago. It didn’t work. My characters tell me who they are, what they look like or what their careers are, as they unfold, as their story unfolds.  Usually the most I might know about a character BEFORE I type the first word is eye color, name and often their height. Often times I’ll have a title before the end of chapter one, but not always.

I do always have a title before the last word is down. I can’t write a whole book without a chapter as my North Star. The title always reflects the book for me, represents my plot, my end result. The title, for me, is like a mini tagline in one to five words. It sums up the main theme or idea of the book, of one or both main characters. By now you’ve cheated and noticed the images below. You are possibly wondering “If you don’t plot, what is that?” Below is my idea pf plotting. In the order I write, and it makes about as much sense as my first draft often does. But there is a definite GMC within. Or at least a G and C. I left the M=motivation out of this for a reason (yes, other than I forgot to include it :P). But don’t leave out the motivation in your writing. That is the whole reason your mcs even have goals or conflicts! The motivation is the why of any story. Without it there would be no need for the goal to succeed or conflict to worry about from page one.

When I begin writing I focus on who my characters are and what their internal conflicts are. That is what I have in the first screen shot.


Note that both mcs don’t necessarily have to have an internal conflict, but if that’s the case, the one who does needs to have a conflict strong enough to carry both characters. In this next shot I introduce the external conflict. This is what pushes the hero and heroine together and then pushes them apart time and again. You HAVE to have this element and it HAS to be enough that a simple solution can’t solve it. This is the conflict that will usually work up to the black moment. This conflict will cause the critical moment when all seems lost so it has to be believable. That does not mean it has to be extreme or overly dramatic. But it does have to be something that isn’t easily avoided way back in chapter three. If it can be, then that’s where your story needed to end and what kind of story would that be? 😀 So make sure the external conflict does its job.


 As I write things fall into place. It may be a place that particular scene has no business being. I make notes to myself with track change to keep up with any area I have questions about, or maybe need to research. I don’t worry about all these details while writing because I would never finish the ms. I would forever be going back over things (more than I already do just editing as I write, which seems to be the only way my OCD brain can write), instead of writing new content. So, notes to self help when I go back to start actual editing. I may move a whole scene, or just a line of dialogue, but I make notes because if I didn’t–well, let’s just say my mind isn’t what it used to be and I’ve learned not to rely too heavily on it to remember from day to day, much less the month to month process writing a manuscript often takes.


 You want to make things hard for your h/H. Make them work for their HEA. You don’t have to torture them (though that’s the fun way!) but don’t make anything easy either. Tempt and deny them at least two times before the black moment. And make those ‘squabbles’ believable too. Not like real life where the house could crumble over a menu choice. Or is that just my house? Oh well. *shrugs*


Then hit those love birds with everything in your writerly arsenal! The critical moment when you just know there is no possible way to come together for any remotely happy ending… And then they show you it can be done and they will have their HEA damn it!

I have these steps laid out in one page. It’s a guide only to make sure I get all my elements in each story. Nothing more. And I will be revising to add the M.

 Seriously, plotting hurts my head. I looked at a Pinterest page of a plotter instructor and cringed. 😆 It hurt! But for those of you who do plot, kudos and I admire you! 

Not sure if you are a plotter or pantser? Feel free to email me and I’ll send a word doc of this template to guide your writing if you think it might help.

Want to plot or learn how to plot? Then this is probably not the place for you.

That page, here, could be somewhere for you pre-plotters to begin. If looking at the page doesn’t hurt you, then I’d guess you might be a plotter.

Happy writing no matter what your process.


Posted on 10/10/2013, in Pen of the Dreamer. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I don’t remember who said it, but there was an author that said if you aren’t surprised by what you write, your readers won’t be either. Works for me since I never know quite what’s going to happen until it hits my computer screen. Now if I could just get to that editing part so that I might have something ready to publish. 🙂


  2. I am not a plotter either. I usually start with a conflict and work from there. I often have an idea of the big black moment and how they will end up resolving it, but all the little challenges along the way remain a mystery to solve as I go along. The thought of a Pinterest plotting board makes me twitch. I do keep a spreadsheet with character names. An important tool if the secondary characters demand their own stories.


  3. Hi Calisa, just got DH to bed ( hope he stays, first day home from hospital, and had a bad spell this time) and was taking time to read my emails. I’m a pantser also. If I do a outline of a book I’m through. I have told the whole story and I’m ready to get to the next book. In fact I have two books outlined and they are just sitting there waiting for me to fill in the “fluff” I’ve heard it called. As you said when I write I the characters tell me what they are going to do and say and when. I’m so glad to find another writer that writes like I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m really out of place in writers meetings because try as I might what I hear that sounds so great and organized won’t work for me. Thanks for this article it helped me a lot. Monkey see, Monkey do seems a comfort to me. LOL


    • I’m glad your husband’s home and hope he recovers quickly, Jo. Thanks for taking time from what little you undoubtedly have to stop by to support another pantser. Yes, it is nice to know there are others like us. I don’t feel out of place at meetings, but I don’t get plotting either. lol Have a great weekend, hon.


      • Yes it is so good to find someone who understands “I don’t plot but admire ones who do”. You may find me sitting closer in meetings to you, your energy is mind building and mine is sagging a little right now. Have a good day one the ranch. Jo


  4. Hi, Calisa. You and I are sisters! I make notes to myself as I write…warnings, things to remember to address later. To me it’s all about the mystery of what comes from my writing on any given day. Planning kills the creative fun of pantsing! Good on you, girl!


    • YAY! I love having like sisters, Rolynn. It’s always nice to know we’re never alone on any walk in this business, isn’t it. And I couldn’t think of a nicer sister. 🙂 Glad you came over.


  5. Love this! I, too, am a pantser who has tried to plot and hated it. I can so relate to this! Emailing you right now!


    • Thanks for stopping in, Jen. I got your email. 🙂 Those who plot must be part god! It seems like everything I write down as plotting goes to the ditch when my characters get a whiff. Apparently I do not know them or their story enough to even guess to their approval. 😆


  6. Great idea! I’m a pantser too, but I guess I do think about the structure in my head as I go…I always have blank scenes when I go through on the second draft tho, so I have to come up with something interesting to happen there.

    I try to decide the title early too, but more so for use in chatting about it with my writer’s group, lol!


    • I put this on ‘paper’ but usually it stays in my head too, Kelly. My titles are so critical to me. You have some awesome titles! 🙂 ‘See’ you tomorrow.


  7. It’s funny how different things work for different people. Even as a pantser, it appears a framework helps. I’m a plotter but I’ve actually pantsed a few stories. Maybe I’m a hybrid. 🙂


    • Maybe you are, Alicia. LOL I have tried to plot a couple of times but it really didn’t help me. My characters just did as they pleased while I felt like a new pre-K teacher in an over-full room! All I could do was shake my head and watch. 😆 Thanks for coming by.


  8. I was smiling through your entire layout. I too am a pantser, but I don’t even have that much of a map! I know pretty much how my lovers will meet. And because I write mysteries, I have to figure out what gets stolen or who gets murdered. And because my characters must wind up together, I must concoct some conflicts. But if I know all that to begin with, as in an actual outline? Well, then the process is boring, like reading the last chapter of a book first. Thank you for a wonderful post!


    • Did you notice the “blah blah blah” A.Y.? lol That is pretty much the extent of my plans when I begin! I don’t have a clue what will replace the blahs until it happens. 🙂 I would love to write a mystery or suspense one day. Thanks for stopping by!


  9. Great post, Calisa! I love how you choose your title before the book is done. I wishwishwish I could do that because I love how you put that it is your North Star. I have such a terrible time with naming a book and I know if I could do it your way, it would guide me better too!

    I’m a total panster too. I know my beginning scene and my last scene and then I give my characters pixie stix and let them loose. loved your illustrations on how to plot for a panster. It really is good to remember the things that are crucial for writing romance!


    • Hi Tera. Titles don’t always come for me before two thirds. Then my North Star is a bit dim. lol I hope you find what works for you. I love your pixie stix reference. lol I just let my characters loose and hope for the best. 🙂


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