Category: Ramblings Page 1 of 4

Writing 101 – Pantsers and Plotsers


This is my second Writing 101 article. The purpose is to provide a little of the lessons learned I have discovered over the years as an independent author (Indie). It may help you, or it may not.

Pantsers and Plotsers

The writing community seems to like to divide itself into two broad groups: the pantser and the plotser. A plotser is someone who plots out their novel, and a pantser is someone who writes by “flying from the seat of their pants” (i.e. makes it up as they go along). Each group is passionate about their form.

There are pros and cons for each method. I am firmly in the plotter realm. I carefully craft my story line, with an eye to timings, sequence, etc. I work backward from the climax of my novel to the start, work my way back to the end, and then start writing. I use a product called Scapple (developed by Literature and Latte – the makers of Scrivener). It’s nothing more than a Microsoft Visio-like product. But if you use Scrivener you can suck Scapple outlines in; which is nice.

I truly don’t fully understand pantsers. I admit I’m a little blind on the subject. Pantsers basically sit down, open their writing software (or pad of paper) and start writing. I always imagine Snoopy sitting on his doghouse writing “It was a dark and stormy night…” when I think of pantsers. Snoopy is a pantser, lol.

There are articles for pantsers on how to plot as one (really?), and they have me scratching my head. I suppose there are pros to being a pantser. You have total freedom to go wherever you want. You are not confined to an outline and can do whatever you like. I suppose you will have moments where you pleasantly surprise yourself, as well. The problem I see with this approach is that you will often write yourself into a corner. I did this with my first novel (unpublished) attempt and set it aside before plotting out the New Druids series. I have since written five novels in that series with one more to go. My first novel is sitting on Scrivener wasting away. I plan on going back to that novel and plot the thing out. The point is, being a pantser stopped my writing for years. Being a plotter gave me wings.

I suppose for short stories and even novellas, the pantser approach would work. I still wouldn’t recommend it. There is still a structure to writing, regardless of size, and I believe that plotting will achieve that best.

How to Plot

There are several plotting tools which some writers use. Examples are the Snowflake Method, and the Hero’s Journey. There are even templates for these plotting tools for Scrivener. Just try Google-ing it. These tools give you nothing more than a template to plot out your story. The Hero’s Journey provides plot points and character development stages. Snowflake is a little more complicated. But they are only tools. You need to fill in all the detail. The point I am making is that they are not a quick fix or a magic bullet to your writing.

I admit to using neither. For better or worse, I have read enough fiction in my life that I know how a good story develops. On my own, I plot out the story, provide challenges, surprises, challenge my characters (and kill them sometimes), all while keeping my eye on the goal: which is the climax. I know that a flat story fails to excite a reader. You need the challenges of life, the antagonist thwarting the best laid plans, and the surprise no one saw coming. Readers want the protagonist to rise to the challenges and become a better person and discover something about themselves they never knew existed. Why? Because we all want that with our own lives. It can’t be all vanilla. We read and watch movies in order to live through the life of the protagonist. We cheer them and cry with them. THAT’s what you need to write.

There are tons of articles on the web explaining how to plot. I roll my eyes at most of them. You see, I don’t believe you can cookie cutter a plot. You first need a compelling story. Then you need to know how to write. This is not the Disney movie Ratatouille: not everyone can write well. But I plot out my story line. Use a whiteboard, sticky notes, or Scapple; whatever floats your boat.

When I write I always try to see my writing through the eyes of the reader. My plotting is the same. I can predict easily 9 times out of 10 the conclusion of any Hollywood movie within the first 30 minutes. I love it when I am surprised when a novel or movie goes in a direction I did not see coming. I try to capture that in my writing.

And admit it, it is those kinds of novels that keep you reading until the last page is turned. Sometimes it is the journey through the novel that captivates you. More often than naught it is the ending you are anticipating; with a plot that builds and twists. You hold your breath and turn to the climax and hope to be amazed. It’s true some endings are inevitable. You knew Tom Hanks would get off the island and that Matt Damon would escape Mars. But some are not and we remember those stories so vividly (I see dead people…). You have that “ah-ha!” moment and then lie back and put all those sneaky little clues together and you have a new favourite author.

Plotting Benefits

Because I plot out my novels, and break them down into chapters and scenes, and then populate Scrivener with all those details, I have found a wonderful freedom in my writing. I can write any chapter in any order I want. I can take a plot line and write it out in its entirety, or I can jump from scene to scene. That is so liberating. Especially if I run up against a particularly difficult section. I can put it aside and focus on other areas. It’s wonderful.

Another benefit is plotting will have a greater chance of removing plot holes. Plot holes are horrible. It suspends the reader and kicks them out of your world like a glass of freezing cold water being poured down your back. Plot holes mean you have failed in your writing. Examples of plot holes are: illogical events, contradictions, unresolved story lines, impossible events, and continuity errors. Imagine the Three Little Pigs with the wolf starting with the brick house and working his way down.

By the way, even as a plotter, I am not immune to plot holes. However, because I can see the entire story line, I can easily rectify the problem once I identify it (read my blog article Writing 101 – Editing). My imagination is the best spackle there is. I can patch, sand and paint over anything.

The Best of Both Worlds

So time for a full confession: I am a plotter AND a pantser.


But! I plot out my story line as fully as I can first. The problem is that I can’t plot out everything. Also, as I write – and I’ve mentioned this before – my characters often write their own story. I can’t count the number of times a character has changed dialogue and even changed events in my New Druids series. This is very much a pantser moment for me when it happens because I almost always go with it. I trust my characters know themselves better than I do. The beauty here is because I have plotted out my story, I can see the immediate cause and effect of that change and adjust relatively quickly. I consider this the best of both worlds.


I must say, every author will have their own approach to writing. If you are new to writing, I cannot emphasise enough that it is better to just write than worry about plotting out an entire novel. Writing is about writing. It’s why it’s called writing. Duh, moment there folks. You will produce something and something is always better than nothing.

I do suggest that you try to plot though. This means that you have the entire story in your head. Or maybe just a cool ending. Or something in the middle. Start there and work your way backward, forwards, and sideways. Then finish it. Please. The world needs to read your story. Trust yourself.

Kindle Create

Let me explain the process I follow to create a trade paperback version and the Kindle version of my novels for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This may surprise you.

I write with Scrivener 3 (from Literature and Latte). I have been for years now and I LOVE the programme. The new Scrivener 3 boasted an improved compiler from that found in Scrivener 2 and I was excited about it. Excited until I started using it. It is supposed to be more user friendly. It’s not. It’s supposed to allow you to format your novel in whatever manner you wish. I don’t find it does. You need a PhD. It is NOT intuitive. Try something like Vellum and you will immediately see where Scrivener fails to support the author in formatting what should be a simple thing.

So what I do is compile to a Microsoft Word docx format and an ePub3 format. The docx is for the paperback and the epub is for the Kindle. With me so far?

The paperback version of my novels is so easy to do. I open the Word doc and tweak it. I make sure chapters start on the right side page. I add drop caps (where the first letter of the chapter is enlarged), correct fonts, add blank lines, etc. Once I am happy, I export to PDF, upload to KDP, preview how KDP processes it, and nine times out of ten it is perfect and I can publish the paperback. For those in the know, yes, KDP accepts docx. The conversion is poor though and I find PDFs almost are never modified by KDP and come out exactly as you wanted.

The Kindle version is not so easy. First, you need to understand that Kindle publishes eBooks in their MOBI format. KDP will convert your epub to a mobi when you upload it. KDP has been criticised by many for not describing the specific html code it uses to format the Kindle and invariably the mobi will not match what you formatted the epub to look like. It can be quite frustrating.

What I have been doing is the following:

  1. I compile from Scrivener 3 to ePub3.
  2. I open the ePub3 in Sigil (software to format ebooks). I spend around 2-3 hours formatting the epub with html code until it looks right. I save the epub.
  3. I open the epub in Calibre (an ebook library programme) and CONVERT the epub to mobi.
  4. I upload the mobi to KDP and cross my fingers. Nine times out of ten it looks the way I want the mobi to look (with drop caps, etc.)

I just did this with Cill Darae (Volume 5 of the New Druids series, pick up yours on April 30th!). After I was done, I noticed a little hyperlink on KDP introducing Kindle Create. I was like “wuh?”. I downloaded it, opened it, and cried in joy. Now, I know this has been around for a while (now I do, anyway), but to me this was NEW and SHINY! The good news is all I need to do now is load the docx paperback version, tweak the content to my ebook content (i.e. the ISBN for Kindle is different than the paperback), and save the file in the KPF format. I upload the kpf and BAM! I have a perfect mobi version of my novel.

I’m so happy right now. Time for wine.

Get Your Geek On

In Canada, your choices for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are far and few between. Where I am in Ottawa (the nation’s capital dontchaknow)  it really comes down to two: Rogers and Bell Canada. I won’t talk about the rates and how we in Canada are charged amongst the highest for the least in the world (Google it), rather I will talk about my experiences with using Rogers and their Cable Modem.

Rogers uses a Hitron POS. When I lived in Ottawa back in 2006-2010, I used Rogers and returned this POS at least three times. Why? The WiFi portion of the modem would just stop performing. Note that this opinion of the Hitron is mine based on a decade of use.

Now back in Ottawa since 2014, I went back to Rogers (Bell didn’t have the fibre lines in my area of Barrhaven in Nepean at the time). I have since returned the Hitron POS three times (four?). I am on my fourth (fifth?) cable modem. And they don’t give you a new one, you get a refurbished one that someone else returned because it was crap. Add to this that the WiFi signal can barely cover a house of less than 2000 sqft, and that it struggles to support four people, plus I was rebooting the router EVERY DAY, and I simply had enough. When you complain to Rogers you get the literal shrug. They don’t care. They look at you as if this is YOUR fault. If they did care, they would replace the shitty cable modems with ANYTHING, and would lower their rates. They treat ones and zeroes like it’s water or electricity. News Flash: It’s not.

Enter Ubiquiti. A company formed by a former Apple WiFi technician named Robert Pera when he noticed Apple WiFi was underpowered. A co-worker of mine highly (and I mean highly) recommended Ubiquiti and their Unifi products. So, I just went out and bought a complete Unifi solution. I bought the Unifi Security Gateway (router), the Unifi 8 port 150W POE switch, the Unifi AC Lite WAP, and the Unifi Cloud Key. I bridged the Rogers router, connected everything, struggled to understand just what I was doing for about an hour, then had a short chat session with Ubiquiti tech help, and bam! I have a WiFi signal in my house that is probably pissing the neighbours off (by dominating the channels). This thing can handle four users simultaneously with no problem. It uses 2.4GHz ands 5GHz simultaneously allowing maximum throughput. This thing SINGS.

I’m so happy right now!

Beta Readers, Sci-Fi and Urban Fantasy

Beta Readers

Cill Darae, Volume 5 of the New Druids Series is almost through the second draft. I have a few beta readers lined up and I am still interested in more. Beta Reading is a task. It requires a critical mind and sense of what good epic fantasy is all about. If you are interested send me an email requested to be considered and why you think you are a good fit.

I’ve had the good and the bad with beta readers. A few I consider exceptional. Their feedback to me was invaluable and I’m so glad to have met these people. Some simply took my novels and that was it. Beta reading is critical to authors; it is through the back and forth that a novel starts to polish. Freamhaigh was the novel that saw the most feedback from beta readers and I find it stands above my other novels. So please, if interested, shoot me an email at

Urban Fantasy

I adore urban fantasy. Its my dirty little secret. There is something about reading fantasy in a modern, urban setting that I really, really enjoy. There are some truly talented authors writing urban fantasy today [shoot me an email and I will share with you my list of favourite authors in this genre]. I would love to be one. I’ve wanted to write something in this genre for a while now and I think I have the start of a concept. That’s all: just a concept. The New Druids series was always much more than a concept: I had visualised the entire series, you see, almost in one painful flash of insight.

So, I need to flush out my urban fantasy idea a little (okay, a lot) more. Then I am going to try traditional publishing. I am prepared for rejection. I feel I have already become an accomplished author and have nothing to prove to myself. If it fails the big houses, then I will self-publish, again. The premise, in case you are curious, is a man finds a single torn page hidden inside an old book. It contains a spell for finding things, written in old English. He tries it, and it works. Then he wants more spells. But there is another group(s) looking for the same thing. And another trying to wipe magic from the world. And history, ancient history, from Arthurian legend starts to expose itself [with a nod to Mary Stewart]. Dun dun dun!

Anyway, that’s the premise. It doesn’t sound like much, but with my imagination, I am sure it is going somewhere interesting! I can say that I love my heroes simple: Honest people like you and me that suddenly find themselves having to do something extraordinary. And not knowing why, or how. Not like a certain series where the main characters are all omnipotent demigods. They would have a problem, struggle through chapters and chapters and then suddenly realise: “Hey, we’re gods…” and snap their fingers. Yes, I hated the Belgariad… The struggle is real, dammit!

Science Fiction

I still have a sci-fi novel on the back burner. It is the prequel to the New Druids series, but set in today’s time. Yes. I have a sci-fi novel that prequels my fantasy world.  I had flushed this story out (single novel) a number of years ago. Then I wrote myself into a corner by writing something truly horrible (I had an AI carrying on a conversation with the protagonist’s subconscious…shudder). Happily, the New Druids series sprouted from that seed. But, I need to write it and I will. It’s not a truly happy ending kind of book. It’s a little On The Beach, if you know what I mean. It yells at me for not writing it. It has an attitude. Nasty thing.

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