Why Didn’t I Plan!? The Regrets of a Pantser

I prefer pantsing when writing, which is going with the flow and seeing where the story takes me. There’s little planning involved beyond a vague idea of plot and characters (if you’re lucky). It’s perfect for creating natural story arcs and organic surprises and twists, but when it comes to the little details, I’ve discovered that some planning does indeed go a long way.

I’m currently editing four books in a connecting YA series and quickly discovering that I should have—at the very least—planned out locations, spacial layouts, and character descriptions, and used these plans when I started each book!

Failing to do this has led to a lot of inconsistency, such as realizing that a character I gave blue eyes to in book two, suddenly has green eyes in book four, and a motel location used frequently as a setting is at one end of town when first mentioned in the series, but at another when it’s brought up again in the final book—the consequences of which actually messed up my plot.

Are these details that can be fixed? Yes, but it is currently making my editing a long, drawn-out chore.

Does this make me want to become a planner for my next writing project? No, because that’s not how I write.

Does it make me regret not being a planner? Yes, absolutely.

While I won’t be spending hours writing outlines, or character descriptions and backgrounds so detailed that I could moonlight as a hired private eye before starting my next WIP, I have learned that a pantser needs to plan the finer details.

When I sit down to start my next book, I’ll make sure to note down the physical description and personality trait of each character in a file I can use as a blueprint. That way, I don’t have to rely on what I think I wrote, and my characters won’t suddenly find themselves sharing the same physical or personality traits, or even the same fashion sense—during one edit I found that I’d dressed two very different female characters in the same yellow sundress, which I think would have been avoided if I’d planned out a specific style for each character.

So my advice to you if you’re a pantser is to learn from my regrets. Plan a little, plan a lot, plan something before you get too deep into the flow of your words. It’ll cut down on the number of editing drafts you’ll need to cycle through, and will certainly make a better foundation for your story.

— K.M. Allan

9 thoughts on “Why Didn’t I Plan!? The Regrets of a Pantser

  1. I feel your pain, K.M. I’m also a pantser, and a lazy, disorganized one to boot! This post gives me the kick in the butt I’ve needed to make character profiles. I’m already on book #5 in my mystery series, and so far I’ve been relying on memory (OR, searching through previous books in the series to find a particular trait I can’t recall, etc.). So, thanks much for this helpful post! 🙂

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    1. You’re welcome, Michael, although it is comforting to hear I’m not the only pantser who has these issues. I just wished I’d learned it a little sooner. Good luck with book 5 and your character descriptions!

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  2. Great post. I am somewhere in the middle I think. Parts of my novel were so meticulously planned, others not even a little bit. These are the bits that will the hardest to edit. I think you made a valid point here, and hope the rest of your edits go well 🙂

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    1. Thanks! When it came to book four, I had most of that planned because of everything that happened in the books before it, so that one was the easiest to write and I finished the first draft in six weeks. Everything else was written based on very little planning, and even though I’ve loved every minute of it, there’s no doubt that writing with some planning involved is certainly faster and a little bit easier. Definitely lessons for future projects. I hope the rest of your editing goes well too. Are you fully out of your slump now?

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      1. I am out of my slump now! Just in my busiest season at work and uni has started again, so my editing time is not so frequent. Hoping in a couple of weeks things will have calmed down and I can start working on it more frequently! x

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