Is There a Simple, Fast Way to Plot… for Pantsers?

Can pantsers find a way to gain the benefits of outlining while still keeping the writing process open? #amwriting #writingtips

Pantsers thrive when they are left to develop the plot unhindered by straitjackets. Every pantser with a book or two under their belt knows that they have something in mind when they write. It’s not written down, and it’s not formalized, but it’s there. Because it’s in their head, their subconscious keeps updating that plot (and theme) as they go. They get a great idea, write it in and in the back of their mind, they’re already revising the remainder. It bubbles just under the surface.

That’s the ideal, anyway.

Often, though, pantsers can find themselves going in a circle, getting off track (particularly within their first million words). Lots of material ends up cut to make the novel focused because they’ve been writing to three different ideas. Once it’s drafted, that 247,000-word giant gets pared back to 100,000 words. Finely tuned, laser-focused words.

What if you could just write 100,000 words without cutting another 147,000? What if it could be done and still keep that fluid writing style with all its benefits?


Funny thing… You can keep your fluid writing style while stealing what’s best about plotting without actually outlining. I like to call it a “concept outline”.

The concept outline differs from a real outline in that it isn’t rigid, it’s easily adjusted on the fly, and it leaves all the room in the world for pantsing while the writing actually happens.

How can this be?

I’ll explain. It’s really quite simple! Take what you know and build upon it. Here’s how–

Open a Word Doc. Make four segments (I like to use horizontal lines to visually split them up). Each is for roughly 25% of the novel.

With each segment, write a few paragraphs describing the start, middle, and end of what you want to see happen in that segment. I like to include another paragraph with notes and great ideas I have while writing.

As you know, the first segment will usually end with the inciting event, the second with the turning point from reactive to proactive, and the climax and denouement occur in the last segment. At least it works that way with the usual novel structures.

OPTION: Add bullet points under each segment and write one short paragraph for each scene in that segment. You don’t have to count X number of bullets—just type them out until you’re satisfied. Maybe include the objective, hurdle, and outcome (leading to the next scene’s objective).


That’s it. It’s that simple.

By doing this, you funnel your pantsing genius into a particular path without limiting in any way how you arrive at the destination.

It’s all open for your intuition to have free rein, yet it will make it easier to stay on track and on target. Yet if some genius idea comes up, you can easily modify your concept outline on the fly or add ideas to it.

You’ll also find that it helps keep pacing/flow correct. As you write your story, you’ll see at a glance both which segment the scene will go into and what your overall concept for that segment is. It allows you to write toward that outcome. All the best advantages of outlining, yet keeping your pantsing methods alive and happy.

Pantsers, give this a try and let me know how it works out!

2 thoughts on “Is There a Simple, Fast Way to Plot… for Pantsers?

  1. Sylviah says:

    I keep telling myself I need to learn to outline, but it’s really foreign to my process! THIS, however, seems like it would be doable! Thanks, Jeremy!! 😀

    1. Jeremy Menefee says:

      Thanks for reading it! I hope it helps. Outlining has a lot of advantages, but so does writing without such limits. I think this concept outline is a simple way to get what’s good about outlining without all the limitations 🙂

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