Friday, June 4, 2010


by Anne Mohr

I just finished reading “Once More Into the Mist,” by Jo Beverley, in April’s RWR, which got me thinking. She writes about “pre-plotting versus not-pre-plotting” from the point of view of the non-plotter, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the topic.

To plot or not to plot, or are you a plotter or a pantser? Pantser, by the way, is a term that I have never liked no matter how snappy it sounds, probably because pantsing (like pantser, not a word either) which is my writing style, just sounds weird. And, the last thing any writer needs is more weirdness. Enough that ideas come out of the blue, characters speak to you, not to mention the muse, along with a myriad of other peculiarities writers have been known to experience. Plotter, while it can sound sinister, is at least a real word.

Romance generally follows a consistent formula, woman and man meet, there has to be conflict of some sort, and somewhere toward the end of the story there is resolution that es brings them together. While the idea is the same, the millions of details that propel each story are different, and each writer’s method of telling it is also different. Regardless, whether or not a writer knows every detail before actually writing the book or dives right in and figures things out along the way is irrelevant. The average reader doesn’t wonder if the author charted out every detail beforehand or not. Also, if one cared to know, the only way would be to ask the writer.

However, writers need to find the right compass that works for them to help navigate their writing process and complete a manuscript. For instance, though I don’t pre-plot, I do have a general idea of the where and when. The why and how is something that comes after I start the actual writing. As for the details, I use note cards so I don’t change my characters’ eye color or other fine points as I go along. Also, I have found that researching as I get into the story is much better for me than researching beforehand. Even though I sometimes have to stop to look up some detail, I still tend to stay focused on my story using this method. The one time I started researching before really getting into a book that I planned to write simply because I was so unfamiliar with details that I needed to include, (is anyone thinking, write what you know?) I got so horribly caught up in the research that by the time I was ready to sit and work on the manuscript my characters and their story were completely lost. After ten years on and off, I’m still struggling to finish that book.

If it is not about the destination but about the journey, then we should be sure that the tools we choose to navigate the path are ones that will enable us to succeed. And, for writers, tools need to be more than the latest greatest super laptop. Each writer needs to find the method that works best for them. It should be a personal decision based on many factors none of which should be, if it works for (insert favorite famous author name here) it’ll work for me too. Certainly, listen to talks, and read about what works for others and how they work their craft. But, remember, whatever the method, make it your own, and make it one that fits you comfortably.♥

Anne Mohr has been a member of RWA/NYC since 1993. Having lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey most of her life, she recently relocated to California, just because. Currently she is a real estate agent in both California and New Jersey. Many of her colleagues ask her to help write property descriptions and all of her clients love her emails. She writes as Jacqueline Stewart, Helen St. James and Max St. James and is published in short fiction (magazines.) She continues her work on “the book.”


  1. I love love love (!) this sentence.

    "If it is not about the destination but about the journey, then we should be sure that the tools we choose to navigate the path are ones that will enable us to succeed."

    I'm putting a new proposal together (due July 15!) and this was really helpful to me right now. Thank you, Anne!

  2. Enjoyed your post, Anne. I'm actually researching for my third book and itching to write. I agree that each writer has his/her own "formula" that works for him/her. Finding it is the key. And sometimes being flexible to try new ways can boost the process. Writing thrillers/suspense, I'm a plotter. I need to know where to put my clues/red herrings. But I do changes along the way. I've even changed the villain.

  3. "Romance generally follows a consistent formula..." I prefer the term "structure" not formula, "formula" sounds too....uh, "formulaic!" And romance is anything but formulaic! :) Thanks for reminding us that the "how" of writing doesn't really matter so much as the actual doing. I too read Beverly's article and it was interesting. Reccomended reading for everyone, definitly.

  4. Perfect title for a great post, Anne! I think every writer needs to figure out what works best for his or her writing process. I used to wing it, plotting as I went along, and while the results were disastrous they weren't compelling either! Now I've found a middle road that works perfectly for me: I sort out an outline in my head, with key characters and twists and turning points, so I know where I'm headed and how I'm going to get there. That way, when I sit down to write the first draft, I can race along toward my goal and work out the details as I go along. It's a frenetic creative experience and I love every moment!

  5. Great read! I usually go with a basic idea then formulate an outline after figuring out who my main characters are going to be. I also have character breakdowns which are 7 pages for main characters, 3 pages for minor characters and for short stories 1 page for majors and 1/2 page for minor characters. That's on top of my spreadsheet that gives my characters a birth date. This helps me figure out how my characters react to things and why they do what they do. Then, it's time to put the meat on those bones!

  6. Thanks for everyone's comments. It's great to read about everyone's writing style and Lisa, thank you, I'm glad the post was helpful!