The grey area between a pantser and a plotter

I am neither a pantser nor a plotter. I have my own method. It’s worked for me so far.

Pantsers write without a structure in mind and plotters outline and then fill in the blanks. The pantsers and the plotters. I never really got this distinction. The grey area between these two extremes is just too huge. Experts tell you to do what suits you best. I figured it out, for me.

I did write my first crime thriller (to be published next year) as a pantser. It took several rewrites and several years and a lot of muddling about. I want a better method. Fun as it was.

The second time around (I am penning my second thriller, a sequel) I thought I would try the plotting method. Total Fail. Got writer’s block. So that’s out of the window.

This is what did next. I wrote out about half the novel (rough first draft) and then stopped. This is usually where I get into hot water.

I decided to flesh out the characters in greater detail. Not the main characters (protagonist and villain) because I already knew them well. But there were the minor characters who weren’t as vivid in my mind as I would have liked. So I wrote out detailed physical descriptions, personality traits, goals, motivations, and interviewed them, asking them all sorts of questions. This also included the characters who play bit parts. It took time and at times seemed a futile exercise. But I carried on. Some insights I got surprised me.


It wasn’t a magic pill. After the exercise was over, it wasn’t as if that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

I picked up the draft where I had left off. The protagonist was in the thick of it already but now I knew how the minor characters were going to create even more hurdles. All of them had serious personality issues. There would be consequences.

Even then I did not plot or outline the rest of the novel. A few chapters were done this way (the last 3-4 chapters) but the rest were written out. They were written very roughly, not bothering with grammar and paragraphs. Quite basic really, not like the first half of the book, which was also a rough first draft type of thing. But in the second half, there are mostly half sentences, dialogues without tags, and plenty of notes and questions to myself. The chapters are still about 1000 words or more; I was certainly not writing an outline. This is where I am now. Hope to finish in a month or so.

I will write a proper first draft next year (hopefully in the first 3-4 months) and then finish the second draft in the next 3-4 months. If I manage it, I’ll give myself a break for a month or two and then go back and polish it up. I think it will be faster than the first novel I wrote, but it’s not as if I will be churning out book after book. I am just one of those who is slow. But at least I am clear about the story now, before I have written out the first proper draft. That’s what matters.


A writer’s journey

If there is a major pothole a writer should avoid falling into, it’s the fear of rejection. I fell into it, and am just about getting out of it. Now that I look back, maybe (partly at least) it was because I revered authors. Whether it was Charles Dickens or Minette Walters, it didn’t matter. How could I even dream of walking amongst them?

The fear of not being good enough paralysed me for years. I had wanted to write a novel since I was ten actually, and I wrote several, starting from the time I was a teenager. Not just novels and novellas, but short stories, fan fiction, and screenplays. I would read these out to friends and family off and on, but never sent anything for publication. I threw almost all of my early writings away, except for the poetry.

I turned into a journalist –  a fairly good one at that. I liked to see my byline out there in mainstream newspapers and I liked the paychecks. Often, I would submit a humour piece or a short story, and my editors liked it and published it. But writing a whole novel? That was a different ballgame. The project fell by the wayside. When I did draft a novel one day, it was in a tentative fashion. Then I kept it away and concentrated on my “real” work.

Last year, my daughter told me it was time I published it. So what if it was rejected she said. I was an experienced writer by now and should not feel insecure. She was right. The years of writing had done me well. My words flowed better. I felt more confident and decided that I was ready.  So I re-wrote my crime novel and was happy with the result.

But when I sent in the book proposals, I realised no one even wanted to read my novel, leave alone give it a shot.

I read up on self-publishing. Most of what I read was discouraging. Besides the obvious challenges that were underlined, the message was that if the holy grail of traditional publishers did not want even want to read it, something must be wrong with the book. I did not let it get me down. I sent my novel out to beta readers, and now it’s just come back from a professional edit. I will continue to search for a traditional publisher and if I am not successful in finding one, it does not mean that I will give up on my book.

(This post was originally written for a writer’s group which I am no longer a part of and therefore all references to it have been removed)