Posted On March 3, 2014 by Print This Post

The Organized Pantser with Joya Field

I thoroughly enjoy Joya’s books and I cannot imagine that she writes by the seat of her pants – they are so well-plotted. I used to think that is was because she was magic but now I know her real secret . . .

The Organized Pantser

I’m so excited to hang with the great people at Romance University today! I have a confession to make. I’m a pantser. ReunitedInDangerFinalHighResMy reputation as a pantser spans far and wide. Well, at least within my critique group. I know how to plot. Heck, I even teach a class about plotting at the local community college. But for me, closing my eyes and letting the movie unfold in my head as I type is the way I get words on paper. Fingers fly. Ideas flow. There’s no silly plot chart slowing me down.


As important as it is for pantsers to relax and let ideas unfold, I’ve learned a few time-saving, revision-from-hell-saving tips through writing eight books. As fun as it is to let loose with characters and ideas, it’s important to be prepared and organized, too. I wouldn’t exactly call it plotting. Simply a more organized way to fly by the seat of your pants.

1. Make a “book Bible” or cheat sheet for your book/series

This is especially important if you’re doing a series. My first paranormal romance was about a haunted apartment building. It wasn’t until the first book was finished that I realized it was the first of three books in a series. Yikes! Luckily, during the final read-through, I jotted important aspects about the building into a notebook. Hallway carpeting is red…even-numbered apartments overlook the harbor…that sort of thing. When I wrote the second and third books, I used my cheat sheet about the building to be sure my facts were correct.

It would have been a little easier to make those notes as I wrote the first book. Even for a single book, though, it’s tough to remember seemingly minute details. When you’re in the moment, channeling the muse and your fingers are flying across the keyboard because the characters and plot are moving along, it’s tough to remember the little things. Are his eyes hazel or green? Does she drive a Jeep or a truck? Was his sister’s name Sally or Sue? If you don’t catch the error, your editor or reader will. No head-to-desk moment for you if you keep track of the little things as you go. Bruised foreheads hurt.

Personally, I’m a very visual person. I have a corkboard beside my desk and it features pictures of my hero, heroine, setting and essential characters. (Right now, there’s a serial killer beside my desk. Creepy.) On the wide white border of the photos, I include major pieces of information like the age of the hero/heroine, eye color, hair color, etc. This enables me to fact check at a glance.

The book Bible doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be an accordion file folder with photos of your setting and characters, or maybe a brand new spiral notebook. Spirals with tabs are especially handy because you can make sections for secondary characters, setting, research information, etc.

2. Get to know your characters
Before you sit down to write their story, interview your hero and heroine. It’s time to be nosy. Pretend you’re a counselor. Ask about their childhood, their aspirations in life. Even little things like their favorite color, allergies, and likes/dislikes can help you springboard new ideas and those fabulous “a-ha!” moments that pantsers (and all writers) love.

Knowing who your characters are can make the process of writing a book so much easier. Since romantic suspense is one of the genres I write, my heroes are often law enforcement. I’ve been on several ride-alongs, and I include the beliefs/mannerisms/habits that I observed through these officers in my heroes. They often speak in short sentences. They frequently possess the ability to listen well (and often let a criminal dig his own hole as he/she jabbers nervously). It’s research, and it’s also a way to get to know that type of character better.

3. Make a playlist
As the idea for your story percolates and unfolds, add songs to your playlist that remind you of your characters. What songs might your hero and heroine listen to? What songs express the emotions they are going through, together or alone? If you’re stuck at some point in the book (because, like me, you didn’t plot so you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next), take a walk and listen to your characters’ songs. Or listen to their music as you wash dishes or commute to work. It’ll help you feel a connection to them that can take you deeper into their point of view and whatever’s going on in their lives.

4. Find critique partners who are great plotters
Here’s where I’m very lucky. My critique partners are excellent plotters and are awesome at finding holes in my stories. If I’m not sure where the story is heading, I put out a call to my crit friends and they brainstorm me through the hurdle. Works every time.

Do you have any tips that keep you feeling like a free-flowing pantser yet help keep you on track?


Joya asked a great question – please leave a comment!

On Wednesday, Nancy Weeks, joins us to talk about the incidental character.



FieldsAuthorPhoto.jpg[1]Joya Fields has had over 100 stories and articles published in local and national magazines. Her debut novel, a romantic suspense, was a NJRW GOLDEN LEAF WINNER FOR BEST FIRST BOOK OF 2012 and was nominated for RT Book Reviews 2012 Indie Press/Self-Published Contemporary Romance award. She’s since released five more books.
Over the years, Joya has taught arts and crafts, worked in public relations, owned a daycare center, helped her children raise prize-winning 4-H livestock, competed in three marathons, and even spent a year as a Baltimore Colts cheerleader. Joya loves spending time with her high school sweetheart/husband of over twenty-five years, two very supportive children, and two pugs who follow her everywhere.

Find Joya:

Amazon Author Page:
Goodreads Author Page:
Twitter: @joyafields

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30 Responses to “The Organized Pantser with Joya Field”

  1. Thanks for sharing the great tips! I use a spiral notebook, but have to shift through the pages to find what I need sometimes. The tab idea should help.

    Posted by Teri Riggs | March 3, 2014, 12:26 am
  2. I use a Staples Arc notebook for my series bible. It is a disc binding system and you can move the pages around, as well as adding dividers, folders, etc., without any problem. I’ve even used smaller pages and staggered them so I can see the heading on each page. More expensive than a standard spiral notebook, but I love it!

    Posted by Janel Gradowski | March 3, 2014, 6:55 am
  3. Morning Joya!

    Thanks for being with us on RU today! I’m SO bad at plotting, but I love to pants…and like you, sometimes I write myself into a corner. Okay, almost every time I write myself into a corner!

    When I get stuck, I like to bounce the problem off someone who is a non-writer. “What would you do if you were in a blizzard with a gorgeous man and the heat went out?” and sometimes one of the responses will knock loose an idea of how to keep going.

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 3, 2014, 9:03 am
    • Oh, Carrie! I can sooooo relate to writing yourself into a corner. LOVE your idea about bouncing ideas of non-writers. I’m guessing that even if you don’t use the ideas, they help you springboard toward a new idea of your own. Thanks for sharing your trick!

      Posted by Joya Fields | March 3, 2014, 9:06 am
  4. Hi Joya,

    I’m a pantser who has notebooks and pens stashed around the house and in the car and in my purse. I have an idea folder. Character names, opening lines, you name it. When I’m stuck, I skim through it.

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 3, 2014, 9:38 am
  5. Love these tips. As a pantser, the second draft is the most challenging–trying to organize all those thoughts and plotlines into one cohesive book–I feel like a character wrangler. 🙂

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | March 3, 2014, 9:52 am
  6. Hi Joya,
    I love your tips, especially the music reference. With each book I write, I key into a certain music genre and listen to it while writing. I never thought to find my character’s music preference to bring me closer to them. Brilliant! Like you, I love to close my eyes and allow the story to type itself too. While I don’t write in Scrivener, I do keep a very detailed list of character bios, scenes, and tone of research. I seem to write about things I know nothing about– but soon become a semi-expert. Scrivener is great for keeping everything organizer and everything I need is just a click away.

    Posted by Nancy C Weeks | March 3, 2014, 12:46 pm
  7. Hi Nancy! I know what you mean about becoming an expert. Sounds like a fun idea to key into a music genre, too!

    Posted by Joya Fields | March 3, 2014, 1:58 pm
  8. Fantastic ideas. Thank you. As my fingers fly across the keyboard with me having no idea where the book is going or what’s happening next! this is so helpful. The characters know though, so that works but having some structure will help me.

    Posted by Sherry Marshall | March 3, 2014, 4:08 pm
  9. An organized pantser? That sounds like an oxymoron.

    I interview my characters after the first draft. I like to find out what they’re ashamed of, what secret they’re harboring, and the one thing no one knows about them.

    I’m trying to find ways to work with more structure without losing the spontaneity and surprise. The inner editor likes structure. The muse likes flow. If I try tuning into both at the same time I get static. So I’m trying to flow and then step back and determine the structure.

    Great ideas!

    Posted by Diane Holcomb | March 3, 2014, 5:20 pm
    • I know, Diane! It does sound like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? That’s a great idea to interview your characters after the first draft. It IS hard to find structure without losing spontaneity and surprise. Your ideas are great. Good luck! 🙂

      Posted by Joya Fields | March 3, 2014, 5:57 pm
  10. This is great, Joya! I LOVE this: “I wouldn’t exactly call it plotting. Simply a more organized way to fly by the seat of your pants.”

    I love Diane Holcomb’s comment, too:

    “I’m trying to find ways to work with more structure without losing the spontaneity and surprise.”

    This is exactly what I need!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 3, 2014, 5:29 pm
  11. Joya -Are you in my head?? This is TOTALLY what I do but I think of myself as a Plotter. LOL – thanks for coming by. You rock.

    Posted by Robin Covington | March 3, 2014, 6:35 pm
  12. My own tip is to trust the process. There’s so much advice out there for pantsers (or intuitive plotters) that just assumes the stories are broken and a mess and that may not be true. One of the biggest things I learned was that most of the how-to advice skews to plotters, and it doesn’t always translate that well for those who don’t outline.

    Posted by Linda Maye Adams, Soldier, Storyteller | March 3, 2014, 7:11 pm
    • Linda Maye you are right about trusting the process. Good point about all of the advice being slanted toward plotters (who I have nothing against, btw…I’m actually envious of them). Trust the process. Will do! Thanks for the reminder. 😉

      Posted by Joya Fields | March 3, 2014, 10:22 pm
  13. I consider myself an organized pantser with an extensive bible, a time line, character outlines and a list of plot points. Love the advice above. I don’t have a playlist. Have to do that one.

    Posted by Susan Gourley | March 3, 2014, 7:36 pm
  14. Yay! I do things very close to the way you do them. Happy I’m not alone. 🙂 All I can add is that I keep a locked Pinterest board of inspiration and elements. When the book comes out, I’ll unlock it. 🙂

    Posted by Robyn LaRue | March 3, 2014, 9:34 pm
  15. Yay,
    Your post is one of the best. It has tips that can assist one to prepare for writing. As you have put it disturbance needs not entertainment. Interruptions hamper the flow of ideas from the mind to the running finger tips.

    I have liked the idea that one should know his characters beforehand.This helps the writer to interact with them as real human beings. Reality is potrayed in the way you make the charactes play the drama.

    Once more, the tips are helpful.

    Posted by Benson Masambah | March 4, 2014, 12:46 pm
  16. I’m glad there is a name for what this is; I also cannot do outlines, they kill me, but I do character sketches, a lot of planning on setting and pulling out plot points from that. I have a very general outline for direction. I read every plotting article I can find to get ideas to help me out.

    Posted by Stephanie Scott | March 5, 2014, 6:31 pm
  17. Great article! I’m also a pantster, and I use Scrivener for my composition. I use one project for each series, so I can keep all my characters, places, timelines, etc. together in one spot. I use the labels and keywords features, all of that, to help keep it organized. LOVE the software, and yes, definitely a must-have for me.

    Posted by Tymber Dalton | March 8, 2014, 11:40 am


  1. […] an article for Romance University, author Joya Field has more good thoughts on how pantsers can stay […]

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