Guest Post: Joanne Guidoccio

Please welcome guest Joanne Guidoccio, asking the eternal question: plotter or pantser?

Plotter, Pantser or …?

ADifferentKindofReunion_w12053_750 (2)Hundreds of books and articles have been written about the writing process. While it’s worthwhile to read some of this literature, it’s important not to become overwhelmed by all the information and advice.

When I first started my writing practice, I assumed I would be a plotter. After all, I was a left-brainer who had spent thirty-one years teaching mathematics and business education courses to adolescents. I focused on the articles devoted to plotting and attended workshops that featured authors who extolled that particular method.

The most memorable workshop was conducted by best-selling Canadian author Terry Fallis (The Best Laid Plans). An outliner (what he likes to call himself), Terry spends two to three months preparing a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. On a PowerPoint screen, he shared a 64-page outline consisting of three pages of bullet points for each chapter. As soon as the outline is complete, he then devotes three months to writing the novel.

Glancing around the room, I could feel the awe and intimidation. The woman sitting next to me whispered, “It would take me years—maybe even decades—to write the outline and by then I would have lost interest in the project.” I could easily imagine that particular scenario.

I decided to examine the other end of the continuum: the pantsers (people who write organically or by the seat of their pants). Once they have a premise, they start writing and figure out the storyline along the way. They also let their characters misbehave whenever they want. 

Sylvester Stallone is an example of a pantser. When he arrived in Hollywood, he struggled to find acting jobs. At one point, he had only $106 in the bank, his wife was pregnant, and he couldn’t pay the rent. Frustrated, he sat down and wrote the screenplay for Rocky in 3½ days. It is important to note that only 10% of that first draft remained in the final version of the film that would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

After much experimentation, I found a process that works for me: linear pantser. Once I have a premise, I start imaging the characters and write brief sketches. Then, I plan the first three chapters and the last chapter. Once this is in place, I begin writing. Partway through the manuscript, I often hit the murky middle and need to reboot the process. At that point, I will briefly outline the remaining chapters.

Any plotter or pantser experiences to share?


Blurb – A Different Kind of Reunion

While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.

Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.

Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?


guidoccio-001A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Website: https://joanneguidoccio


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21 thoughts on “Guest Post: Joanne Guidoccio”

  1. Joanne, thanks for visiting.

    It’s so important to find what works for you. I always thought of myself as a “pantser,” and never could wrangle an outline. It always turned out to be a waste of time since I either never followed it, or wound up with the most linear, boring story.

    Now I know there are “milestones” that have to happen and my “outline” is more narrative, not bullet points. I call it “Draft Zero,” where I tell myself the basic story. Once that’s down, I can go back to layer, revise, and polish.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I pants Book 1. 18+ revisions (lost count). I pants Book 2. 8-10 revisions. I’m plotting book 3. Half-way through first draft and it’s so much tighter than the first two books; I’ve probably lopped a year off the process.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Keenan, There are definitely advantages to plotting…something I’ve discovered during my participation in NaNoWriMo. When time is limited or we don’t want to devote years to the process, plotting comes in handy. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Well put, Joanne, and welcome! Wonderful Rocky story. I think of myself as a pantser wannabe plotter. Intellectually, I understand the value of plotting, and I wish I could do it. I have derailed several books by trying to plot them. But when I let go and pants my way through it, magic happens. One time, after a bottle of wine over conversation, the book wrote itself. I was lucky then. It’s never happened again since.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I like the honesty of this article. Workshops could be intimidating, and new authors might not want to continue. I tried an outline, a very short outline, once. Waste of time. I just wrote off the cuff and my beta readers and editor helped tidy up. Sometimes I think the workshops are for the benefit of the presenter – they certainly cost enough to attend. I’m with Liz on the matter – to each his own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for dropping by. I often wonder how many attendees leave workshops feeling discouraged about their writing careers. In the end, it’s up to each individual writer to determine his/her process. Whatever keeps them engaged and committed to their manuscripts…no “right” answers here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never really tried plotting. I figured out early that once I plotted, I’d probably lose interest in doing the actual writing. What I like about just “letting ‘er rip” is that I often surprise myself. I don’t even, usually, know who dun it until about three-fourths of the way through. I figure this will surprise the reader as much as it did me. Of course, I have to go back in and plant some clues, but that’s not too difficult. I’m usually a bit sparse with descriptions in the first draft so I make a point of adding them during the second. Beta readers don’t see the project until at least the second draft is complete. One trick I use is to list things that might happen later in my notes document, and I list anything I realize needs fixing later so I can more quickly finish that first draft.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Jan, I also make a list of future events…what my screenwriter friends like to call a beat sheet. This comes in handy when I hit that “murky middle” where I struggle to continue. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a hardcore outliner because I suck at revision and hate to waste time. In fact, I teach a workshop called “Novel in 8 Weeks” where I explain my process. I tell people that if you ask 100 writers about their process, you’ll get 150 different ways of writing a novel. And I love hearing about each one! But it’s true … you’ve gotta find what works for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good to see you here, Becky. “Novel in 8 Weeks” sounds intriguing and doable. I imagine you have full classes each time. I think we’re all in agreement…no one method is better than another. What works is best. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks to all of you for the insights into the vastly different writing strategies that all have the same result — a great book. As a reader and blogger I only have to read and then condense all your wonderful work into 500 words! The reading is wonderful, the condensing is traumatic.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. No specific formula…but I do appreciate reviewers who go beyond the regurgitation of the synopsis to include details about the character and plot development. And voice is also important, especially when the reviewer includes a clever observation or personal connection to the storyline.


          1. Thanks, I try to include only a few sentences of “summary” overview. I do like to comment on narrative, humor, sense of place, and tension as well as including a few examples from the book of those if possible.


  8. Hi Joanne, fun to see you here! Sorry to be late commenting. What a great process. I envy outliners but cannot imagine how they keep the story fresh. Like you, I would be bored to tears plodding along from one bullet point to the next. I’m sure it’s only my narrow outsider’s viewpoint that makes it seem that way.

    I refer to myself as a plotster. I have a premise and I index card the highlights and the ending then as I finish each chapter, I bullet point the next so I know where I’m going in that chapter making sure I ‘m working toward the next major plot point. It gives me the freedom to explore new avenues as they come up, but keep the story on track.

    Oh, that ending thing – I’ve never yet had the correct villain at the start of the book. So far, my characters have fooled me every time.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I am a pantser! Thirty years of writing scientific papers left me with the desire to let my mind wander. I just sit down and write. Maybe a vague idea of what I want in the book but I just let it flow.

    Liked by 2 people

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