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The Great Debate (as it pertains to romance authors)

Is there a question more fervently debated by romance authors than whether it’s better to be a plotter or a pantser? Sure, the intense deliberation over which Hemsworth brother is a bigger hottie does run a close second. But the plotter vs. pantser argument has probably been around long before Chris or Liam outgrew their nappies.


To make sure we’re all on the same page here, let me offer a couple of definitions. A plotter is an author who plots his or her stories before he or she sits down to write. Usually that involves some sort of outline—from something as simple as a high-level beat sheet to a detailed synopsis that might contain almost as many words as the complete finished novel. A pantser lives on the other end of the continuum. He or she may sit down in front of the screen with nothing more than a spark of an idea and begin to write.

I asked a few romance authors where they fall…

“I’m a plotter for sure. Although I don’t make detailed bible or anything, i do generally need an outline of my chapters to keep me going. I fell in love with Scrivener because of this.” 

Emma Brady

“Total, total pantser. Characters will show up, and I’ve no idea who they are or why they’re there, until they decide to tell me. I often have no idea where the story is going beyond occasionally a little flash of a scene or a particularly significant moment. Sometimes, a character clearly has a plan, and I end up thinking, “Great! Do you mind letting me in on what it is at some point?” It does make writing interesting, but it also requires a lot more rewriting of earlier scenes later on.” 

Katherine Gilbert

“I do a combination of both. I will sit down, come up with a general plot line and then sit down and write what I call a skeleton story. I use that skeleton as an outline and then flesh it out.” 

J.T. Buckley

“I’m a pantser, though I do plot out how they meet and their occupations, plus their goals, then it’s all pantsering from there. I will often feel unsure of how to end the story, and I still have a way to go, and I’ll brainstorm. But until I’m at that point in the writing, I often can’t see the solution. Not until I get there.” 

Terry Spear, USA Today Bestselling Author

“I like to keep a foot in both camps. Working with publishers means that I have to do at least some high-level plotting, as I provide a synopsis which outlines the arc of the story. Now, that’s not to say I stick to the synopsis 100%…because I often deviate in some way, especially toward the end of the story. To write an impactful black moment, I need to know my characters better in order to pull out the level of emotion I want. So my process is part plotting, part pantsing.” 

Stefanie London, USA Today Bestselling Author

As for me, much like the issue of whether Chris or Liam is the hotter Hemsworth, it’s not a simple answer. Are we talking Hunger Games Liam vs. Chris’s Thor? That takes some serious thought and probably several hours’ worth of research. As much as I’d love to be more of a plotter, I get a little freaked out if I think my whole story has to be planned before I sit down and start to type. To me, most of the fun comes in the discovery… in getting to know my characters as they show up and surprise me on the page.

How about you? Do you think you’d be more of a plotter or a pantser? And how about the real question at hand… are you #TeamLiam or #TeamChris?

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