Posted On March 10, 2017 by Print This Post

Are You an Outliner or a Pantster? by Kathy Servian

Please welcome first time RU Visiting Professor Kathy Servian.

Are you an outliner or a pantser? I started as one, but became the other out of necessity and I’d never go back.

My first novel was a fly by the seat of your pants affair. I hadn’t written fiction since school and all I had was the idea for one scene about halfway through the story. I sat down at my computer and started writing. It went pretty well for a first attempt, 90,000 words in about two and a half months. However, I ended up with a plot that didn’t follow a traditional arc and it took a year of rewrites until I just about lost the plot (pun intended) followed by working with a developmental editor for a further 6 months to knock it into shape.

When I sat down to write my second book, I took the same approach. I had a few ideas for scenes and characters and just assumed they’d come together for me like last time. They didn’t. Yes, I had a finished manuscript at the end, but it wasn’t very good. I tried and failed again more than once. It seemed that I got to around the 30,000 words mark and ran out of ideas. Disaster. Maybe I wasn’t a writer after all. I dumped those manuscripts and considered giving up.

Then two things happened, I realised that writing stories with only romance at the core wasn’t me and I read a few books and articles about the advantages of outlining.

First the romance thing. While I love a good romance as much as the next person, i realised that in my own reading, I was drifting away from straight romance and towards mystery/thrillers, historical and literary fiction. I still liked a romantic sub-plot because I believed that learning to trust and love were fundamental character changes, but I wanted more ‘guts’ to the main story. I needed my protagonists to not only find love, but to be in peril, question their own identity and have personal revelations.  I began to come up with ideas that met this criteria.

Now the outlining. Before I sat down to write Throwing Light, I wrote a full outline. I needed a road map to follow so I didn’t get stuck half-way through again. Working from an outline was a revelation. I was able to concentrate on my characters, settings and prose because I wasn’t putting all my energy into nutting out the plot by trial and error as I went along. While I stuck mostly to the outline, I gave myself licence to stray from and rework it if necessary. If the writing began to curve away from my plan, I reworked the next bit of the outline to ensure that I wouldn’t write myself into a corner. Basically, I stayed one step ahead of myself.

The end result was, in my opinion, superior to my first effort. I knew what was coming, and I was able to foreshadow and drip feed information to the reader to keep them guessing until I was ready to drop the bombshells on them.  This method just made the whole process a lot easier and quicker. I spent much less time on reviews and my developmental editor only recommended a few minor changes.

Now I’m writing my third novel and I’ve taken the idea a couple of steps further by doing an outline and working out by chapter and by word count what will happen when. I’m hoping this will keep me on track to hit all the essential plot points at the right time.

I’m not going to pretend that I invented this way of writing, but I would like to say to new writers if the genre you’re writing doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut and write what comes naturally and try outlining. It works.


Grace is trying to come to terms with her mother’s death and handle the unexpected arrival of her ex-boyfriend when a mystery document she finds in a box in the attic turns her life on its head and raises questions she is compelled to answer.

In her search for the truth, she stumbles into the middle of a missing person cold case in a small town where the inhabitants have kept a secret to protect one of their own for twenty-five years. Grace’s investigation unearths long-held rivalries and opens old wounds, causing the past to collide with the present with terrifying results.


Bio: After a twenty-plus-year career in the applied arts industry, including owning her own fashion and jewellery labels, Kathy decided to turn her creative skills to writing fiction.

Her first novel, Peak Hill, was a finalist in the Romance Writers of New Zealand Pacific Hearts Full Manuscript contest in 2016.

Kathy now squeezes full-time study for an advanced diploma in applied writing around writing novels and short stories, teaching sewing and pattern making, and being a wife and mother.

K A Servian on the web: Website  – Facebook –  Twitter


Similar Posts:

Share Button

Craft of Writing


6 Responses to “Are You an Outliner or a Pantster? by Kathy Servian”

  1. I am a pantser who is trying to adapt to plotting/planning/outlining. It is very hard to retrain myself – I don’t know how I started out as a pantser. It would have been a lot easier if I’d gone into each story with a detailed plan. Probably not as much fun, but it would have definitely been more logical.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 10, 2017, 11:23 pm
  2. I call myself a “plantser” — I like to garden while I plot!

    Seriously, I start every novel with an idea of the beginning, middle and end. About half-way through, I create an outline just to be sure I don’t leave any plot strings hanging or any characters undeveloped.

    I love to start writing and just see where the characters take me. “Plantsing” gives me the best of both worlds.

    Posted by Gifford MacShane | March 11, 2017, 3:21 pm
    • I love that term. I think I may into that camp too, except that I start with an outline and then give myself permission to change it when the characters decide to deviate and do their own thing.

      Posted by Kathy | March 12, 2017, 1:26 pm
  3. Hi Kathy,

    I’m an outliner. I write the outline and character backgrounds before I start the story. I may deviate from the outline as the story progresses, but it gives me an idea of how I want the story to unfold.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 14, 2017, 1:46 am
    • Hi Jennifer, sounds like we’re in the same camp. Although I still managed to write myself into a corner this week halfway through my latest book. Guess even the best laid plans can still go astray. Thanks for your comment.

      Posted by Kathy | March 22, 2017, 2:06 pm

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Feb 26, 2018 Hook, Line, and Thinker
  • Feb 28, 2018 Kindle Worlds, Asked and Answered
  • Mar 2, 2018 One Series and a Multitude of Lessons





Follow Us