Outlining for Pantsers by Guest Blogger Cyndi Bishop

I am delighted to present a guest blogger today, my critique partner and friend Cyndi Bishop. First I’ll introduce her, then you can read her wonderful words of wisdom. Here she is:


Here’s her impressive bio:

Cyndi Bishop lives in the Seattle, WA, area with her husband and dog. She writes and maintains house full time, as well as crocheting, knitting, and watching enough movies to make her a walking IMDb. She has had several articles published by Focus on the Family, but her real focus is novels, especially in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. 

Here are Cyndi’s thoughts on Outlining for Pantsers: 

Sonja has often referred to the difference between the writers who plan, outline, and develop the entire story before even starting word one versus the writers who simply sit down and start writing with little to no plan (referred to as ‘pantsers,’ from the phrase ‘by the seat of your pants’). While she is a planner, I am a pantser.


I used to be a die-hard pantser. My old writing process involved simply pushing characters forward (without any real direction) until I could come up with a direction to point them. This resulted in everything going in repetitive circles before finally reaching the end. The result was clunky and even annoying to read.


Still, I resisted the idea of outlining. See, there’s an aspect to being a pantser (pantsing? I don’t think so) that is as addictive as brownie sundaes. When I wrote, new ideas sprang to life from nowhere – and not just at the plot level, either. A particular line of dialogue would spark a new plot point or draw out a character trait that I’d never considered before. A seemingly meaningless detail I’d thrown in for flavor in one chapter would become a hinge point for a major scene later. I delighted in watching my story take on a life of its own.


Outlining, on the other hand, felt restrictive. Like I was telling the story where it had to go ahead of time with no freedom for these little details to take life and bring new direction. I hated it.


Until I needed it.


I was stuck near the end of my novel, going in circles. I finally opened a new document and scribbled down ideas until I came up with a rough map for how to get to the final climax from where I was. And voila! I was no longer stuck. 

I’m still not interested in heavily-detailed outlining. I frequently don’t even know character backstories when I start. But now I outline. It’s not formal. It resembles listening to a ten-year-old kid describing his favorite movie. And new ideas still come to life and blossom organically through the process. But as soon as the spark dies down, I have a structure to return to. I’m a pantser who no longer gets trapped in circles.


Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, a little flexibility along the spectrum can go a long way to improve your writing. Good luck!



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