How to Write a Book – Pantsers vs Outliners

So how does one go about writing a book?

Oh geez – what a loaded question…

Like many things in life – there are no right or wrong ways to write a book. There’s only your way of writing. (Note: ok to be fair – correct grammar technically falls under “right way” and there’s no negotiating on that one)

Authors – for the most part – can be divided into two teams: outliners and pantsers.

Outliners is a pretty straightforward name – they outline their story before they write – but what the hell are pantsers? Well, they fly by the seat of their pants and literally wing it. In the end, the name is also just as straightforward.

You can usually tell which authors fall into which category.

Orson Scott Card is technically an outliner. Ender’s Game is a brilliant novel with a very exact plot. You can tell that Card literally sat down and plotted every scene, every twist, and every action. HOWEVER, the end result is that the characters can be a tad wooden. I know I know, the book is perfection – what could be wrong with it? But compared to other books – the interactions between the characters don’t always happen organically, they happen because we need to get to the next game.

Abner helping model my German copy of Ender’s Game

Here Abner is helping model my German copy of Ender’s Game…

Moving on…

George R. R. Martin is one hell of a pantser. He prefers the term gardener – but it’s the same principle, people. A Song of Ice and Fire tells the story of Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryen and what I am assuming will be their eventual fight for the Iron Throne. What we have is an epic tale that will (supposedly) fill 9 books with 24 different character POVs (points of view) – at the moment – and the man takes about 6-10 years per book (It’s been 7 years since A Dance with Dragons was published and no one is anticipating that The Winds of Winter will be coming out anytime soon.

He considers himself a gardener, carefully tending to his world and allowing the characters to reveal themselves organically. And wow do his characters shine! They are truly amazing….but god damn does the plot suffer (WHY THE FUCK IS DANY STILL IN MEREEN!!??!?!?!?!?!!).

Of course, both writers are great – or else no one would read them – but there are definitely pros and cons to be a pantser or an outliner.

So at this point, you’re probably wondering what I am…..

Did I mention that there’s a third group? They do both.

And so do I.

I actually started as a pantser – just writing my stories on whatever whim I felt for the day, the month, the year, whatever. Hell, I am a pantser when it comes to this blog. I usually have some idea of what I’m going to write about for the week but I definitely wing it.

In earlier drafts of my novel, I literally tried to emulate Martin’s style of several POVs – it didn’t work. When I tried to justify it by saying that Martin did it, my Beta (a professional editor) told me one vital piece of information: George R. R. Martin is already established = he can break the rules. You’re gonna see phrase a lot in my future advice.

But what are those rules? Oh, honey, there will be many more blog posts on that topic and we’ll get to them. But know there are quite of few do’s and don’t’s and I will try to cover all that I have learned.

Anyway…..the problem was that my plot was lacking. I had compelling characters but where the hell was the story going? I decided to swallow my pride, read lots and lots of books on writing, and then started to outline. Man, did that make a difference! I didn’t have to write my book all over again, I realized that a lot of the bare bones were already there – I was able to streamline the story more (after another set of beta, the story grew even tighter).

I try not to outline too much because when it comes to writing the scenes and chapters, I like to let my characters fix their problems by themselves – let the situation unfold organically. Does it work? At least for me, it does. Outlining helps me where to hit certain beats of the story and pantsing lets my characters figure out how they get to each beat.

But everyone is different – it’s not for me to tell you what is right or wrong. You have to figure out what works best for you.


So what am I suggesting you do to get started? Start writing. Write anything, everything, ALL THE WORDS! Don’t worry about it being good. The first draft WILL be shit. But the more you write – to easier it will get and the better you will become.

But if you want to get more technical (and still have fun learning about writing), I high recommend the series by James N. Frey: How to Write a Damn Good Novel.


The man is both hilarious as well as insightful. But the fun doesn’t end there! I have also read: How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, AND The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth (for those Joseph Campbell fans).

For those of you who are more visual learners…did you know that Brandon Sanderson gave a writing course at Brigham Young University….and the whole thing is on YouTube?! Yes, it is about 13 hours long and yes, I have watched them all. Now you can, too!  CLICK THE LINK!

Phew! That’s just the basics, folks! I didn’t expect to write so much in one go (I am a blog pantser – but ya’ll knew that by now). But I think these are great tools to get started. Otherwise READ!!!!!


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