In Defense of the Panster

panster post

ID 87779646 © Delstudio |

Lately, it seems like pansters have been getting a bad rap.  Since my husband had no idea what a panster is, I’m going to offer a quick definition.  A panster is a writer who writes by the seat of their pants.  They don’t plot.  They just start writing.  That aside, let’s get to my very long post.  You can tell I’m passionate about this topic. 🙂

I don’t now what it is, but it seems that over the past few months, almost every week I come across a blog post or You Tube video that basically say if an author wants to write a good story, they must plot.  Otherwise, they will have a book that isn’t worth reading because it’ll be full of plot holes, endlessly run off on a tangent that has nothing to do with a story, or won’t have a satisfactory ending.

From the first story I wrote back in the 5th grade, I didn’t plot.  I continued writing books through high school and college that I completed from start to finish without even knowing what plotting was.   I hadn’t even terms like story arc, character map, or story beats.  (I didn’t even know the term “story beat” existed until last month.)  I recently heard someone pin down every single plot point that should be in a story and felt like all the fun and enthusiasm in writing had just been drained out of me.

And I think other pansters feel the same way.  The minute you start dissecting a story is the minute all the fun goes out of writing  Now, I understand that some authors need to plot.  But not all authors need to plot.  I did a ton of reading from the 6th grade on.  I read a lot of fiction (mostly romance).  And after a while, I realized there was a formula to the stories.  Every genre has its own formula.  It’s like a math equation that you plug things into.  Once you figure out the formula, you don’t need to plot things out because the framework is in your mind.

Every Story Has a Basic Formula That is Easy for a Panster to Navigate

once upon a time

ID 21031051 © Eyewave |

Here is the basic formula to any story: Show character’s normal world.  Character has a goal that will change their normal world.  Something prevents character from getting goal (this can happen as many times as needed to make the story complete).  Then, finally, the character either gets what he wants (happy ending) or he doesn’t (sad ending).

That is it.  It’s very simple.  It’s what the writer does with the formula that makes the difference between a compelling story and a boring one.

Just throwing in “problems” doesn’t make the story interesting.  This is why (as a romance reader), I get bored with the constant misunderstandings between the hero and heroine.  If you can resolve an issue in one or two conversations, then please just do it.  Part of what motivated me to start writing romance was wanting something different from the whole “I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to be hurt by what he/she might or might not say” setup that spans an entire book.  So the characters aren’t really communicating.  They’re saying stuff, but nothing (absolutely nothing) is resolved.  They cry.  They get upset.  They agonize over not having the love of their life (who wants to be with them, but they are also too afraid to come out and say it).  To me that is generic.  Surely, there can be more exciting things that can happen to characters in a romance novel than that.

Other genres have their own generic setups that don’t do much to actually advance the plot.  Science fiction and fantasy can have fighting scenes that don’t do anything but fill up pages.  Thrillers can be filled with running scenes or a series of killings that don’t really lead to anything.  Horror can be a series of spooky things that don’t help wrap up the ending.

These are all filler scenes.  They take up pages, but they don’t advance the plot or make the character grow.   If you can throw a scene out without changing the course of the story, you should.  That scene does not need to be there.  Every scene must have a purpose.  It must either develop the character as a person or get the character closer (or further) from the goal.  It’s that easy, and yet, it’s also that difficult.

Another thing I noticed in fiction is there are a series of rises and falls in intensity during the course of the story.  You start out the story at a base level.  It’s flat.  The character’s normal world is boring because there is no story there.  Nothing has gone wrong yet.  When something goes wrong, the emotional intensity rises.  Then there is a moment of peace, which brings us back down to the base level.  Then something either goes very well or very wrong (another emotionally intense moment for the character).  Again, you go up.  Then there is a moment of peace.  Again, you go back to base level.  I like to think of this as a series of hills as we approach our ending.  The end is when all is back to the base level (except things are now better or worse than at the beginning of the book).  Real life is like this, by the way.  No one has all great days or all bad days.  The good and bad are spread throughout our lifetimes.

Now, when I write, I don’t think of the formula.  They are in my subconscious mind, but I don’t consciously think of them.

Right now, you may be wondering, “How on earth can anyone write without being conscious of the formula?  How can they do this without a plan ahead of time?”

Here’s how pantsers do it:


ID 39901316 © Ellobo1 |

For the most part, I write romance, so I’m going to use that as my example.

When I start, I know who my hero and heroine are.  (In romance, the hero and heroine are your main characters.)  I know they will end up happy.  I have a one idea in my head that is very simple: “This is a marriage of convenience story.” That is it.  If the main characters were secondary characters in another book, I know something about their personalities, but I don’t know them until I write in their point of view.  Pansters learn their characters as they write them.  The characters end up telling us who they are.

Okay.  So now I’m sitting at the computer with nothing written on my Word document yet.  This is what happens next….

I have the setup for the first scene in mind.  It’s like a play in the theater.  I can see the stage.  (This is setting.)  Then I put the actors (characters) on the stage and position them where they best fit.  Someone on that stage says or thinks something, and that is the first sentence.  From there, the main character tells me what to write.  They lead the way.  All I do is follow.   Then the story takes on a life of its own, and I start recording what I see in my mind.

I let the reins loose on my creativity and let the characters do whatever they want.  Sometimes what they say or do in the course of the story doesn’t make sense to me.  But I go ahead and keep it in to see if anything comes of it.  (I can always remove it later in edits.  I don’t edit until I’m done with the story, and for the most part, my first drafts are pretty clean with no rewrites required.)   Most of the time, when a character is leading me off in a direction I didn’t expect, it makes the story better because it connects with the plot.

I’ll give you an example of this.  In Eye of the Beholder, my initial idea was for Neil Craftsman to marry Mary Peters.  His brothers would think he was crazy for marrying someone who wasn’t their idea of beautiful.  That was my sole idea for the book when I started.  But at chapter 2 into the book, this other character named Dave Larson appeared in the scene, and he wanted to be the hero.  I was like, “Whoa!  What are you doing here?” But then, I thought, “Wait a minute.  This could be good.  Let’s have Neil reject Mary, so she marries Dave instead.” So I went down that rabbit trail.  That rabbit trail led me to Neil posting another ad for a wife.  That is when Cassie showed up.

If I had plotted Eye of the Beholder, I would have forced myself into a corner because Neil would have had to marry Mary.  Cassie would not exist.  And the essence of the entire story would have been ruined.   So when the story ended, Neil realized he should not have given Mary up (a sad ending for him), but everyone around Dave realizes Mary’s worth AND Mary realizes her worth, too.  Mary’s goal was to feel like she was beautiful.  (It wasn’t until she looked at herself in the mirror and actually found herself attractive that she got her happy ending.  Dave’s love and her son’s birth were just icing on the cake.  Though she never would have gotten there if it hadn’t been for Dave’s love, which is why this is a romance.) The story is much better because I let the characters lead the way.

This is what writing as a panster is like, and a lot of cool twists and turns pop up that make me glad I never plotted the thing out.

Final thoughts

So if you’re a writer who plots and you’re happy with it, by all means, do so.  The important thing is you get the story done.  But if you’re a panster, know that it’s okay to write this way and that it doesn’t mean your story is lacking something.  Being a panster works for some of us (including me).  In my opinion, it is the best way to write.  I wouldn’t want to know everything that happens in a story before I write it.  I want to enjoy the adventure of discovery and learn things about my characters I didn’t know going into the story.  I want to be surprised along the way.   I love the thrill of going through uncharted territory, and that is what every new story is to me.  So to all the pansters out there, let’s embrace our creativity, and if someone tries to tell us to plot instead, know it’s okay to say no and do what works best for us.

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Updates On What I’m Doing

The Reclusive Earl (Marriage by Fate: Book 1) will be out May 7!

The Reclusive Earl final cover 2

You can pre-order your copy on these retailers:


Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble




This is the first book of a new series, but the heroine (Miss Opal Beaufort) was introduced in The Earl’s Wallflower Bride.  Most of you have read that book.  Opal was Warren Beaufort’s (Lord Steinbeck’s) sister, and she was the one who was pretending to be crazy.  Her past does play a part in this story, but I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say how. 🙂  Suffice it to say I got the pleasure of adding a little mystery/thriller element to the story.  I like playing around with that from time to time.

But it is primarily a romance.   It has a few humorous moments.  (For example, a groom hiding from his bride on their wedding night is funny to me.  But then, I have a weird sense of humor.  I know not everyone likes it, but for those of you who’ve read my other books and laughed, I think you’ll enjoy it.)

And yes, you will be given a look into Warren and Iris’ happy ending and their children in this book.  One benefit of writing in the same Regency world is that I get to bring in past characters to continue their happy ending.

Taming The Viscountess (Marriage by Bargain: Book 3) will be finished this week


Reserve your copy today!

This will be out in June (two months earlier than I had expected!)

Books in this series:

  • The Viscount’s Runaway Bride
  • The Rake’s Vow
  • Taming The Viscountess
  • If It Takes A Scandal (being written)

I’m going to miss writing this book.  It is my favorite of all the Regencies I’ve done.  (A Most Unsuitable Earl is my second favorite.  It was my favorite up until this one.)  I really love humor, and this book has a lot of good humor in it.

Right now, I’m at the end of the last chapter.  I should be in the epilogue later today.  This particular book needs one.  (The Reclusive Earl needed one, too, and I did add one.)  I don’t do epilogues unless I think the story needs some extra plot point to wrap things up. I will be doing an additional epilogue for this book and for The Reclusive Earl that will go to those of you in my private Facebook group or on my mailing list.  There has to be some perk for being willing to put up with me on a regular basis. 😉

Forced Into Marriage (Pioneer Series: Book 4) is halfway done


Click here to pre-order!

Books in the Pioneer Series:

  • Wagon Trail Bride
  • The Marriage Agreement
  • Groom For Hire
  • Forced Into Marriage (this is the last one)

My goal is to have this finished before my kids get out of school for summer, which is the second week of June.  Ideally, I’ll get the first draft done by the end of May.  *fingers crossed*  That means I might get it out in July.  At the latest, it could be August.  But at least it won’t be all the way until October, which is what I originally expected.  So that’s good.

I’m really loving this book, too.  (I love writing all of my books, really.)  Anyway, this is the one to satisfy my unhappiness at spaghetti westerns that end with the couple either dying or being separated forever.  It’s nice to put things right.  I see no reason why writers would make people care about the couple only to force them apart at the end.  It goes against everything I want to read or watch on TV.

If It Takes A Scandal (Marriage by Bargain: Book 4) is 1/4 of the way finished


Click here to pre-order!

This is the last book in the Marriage by Bargain Series.  And this time, Celia is going to do some matchmaking in order to help the hero and heroine in this book.  I don’t want to spoil Taming The Viscountess, but Celia inadvertently trapped Corin St. George (Lord Durrant), into a marriage with Candace Daniel (Lady Hedwrett).  Neither wanted to get married.  I go into detail on how the scandal erupted that forced them into a marriage.  For almost a year, they have lived separate lives.  Then, when Celia finds out, she sets up a plan that will forced them to spend three months at his country estate–with no way to get back to London.

Yes, Celia is still making up her schemes, but this time she’s doing it for good instead of evil.  I couldn’t completely knock the schemer out of her character. 😀

Let’s see…  I think I can have this out in September or October as long as nothing interferes with my writing schedule.  The further I am from finishing a book, the harder it is to estimate when it’ll be done.

The Outlaw’s Bride (Wyoming Series: Book 1)


This is the rewrite of The Stagecoach Bride.  I am currently in chapter 2.  Not far, I know, but the goal is to have this out next summer, so there’s no real rush on it.  In this version, I am going to have Mic marry Lillian right away.  So already, the dynamics of the whole book have changed.  However, Lillian’s ex-fiance will be coming for her.  So some things will stay the same.

The Bride Price (Misled Mail Order Brides: Book 1) will be started when I finish Taming The Viscountess


I know some of you thought I was giving up writing more historical western romances, but I had to take a break from heavily writing them for a few months because I had run out of ideas.  I had plenty ideas for Regencies, so I focused on those.  Now the pendulum is swinging the other way.  I’m getting historical western romance ideas again and drying up on Regencies.  This is why I don’t stick to only one genre, and it’s why I do more than one book at a time.  The more variety I have, the better.

Anyway, this is Sep’s story.  I know a lot of you have been itching to read his story, and I’ll finally get started on it.  The heroine in this case will be a young woman who was scarred on one side of her body from being caught in a fire when she was a child.  She’ll also have a limp due to getting her leg stuck during this fire.  Because she’s not “perfect”, she hasn’t been able to secure a marriage in her small hometown.  In desperation, she answers a mail-order bride ad.   And who better than Sep (who has scars of his own, if you recall from Shotgun Groom) is there for her to marry?

That’s the set up for the story.  There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to go far into it because until I start writing, I’m not completely sure how things will progress.

I’m planning a November release for this one, though (hopefully) it won’t take that long.

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Romance Books I’ve Done With Other Authors

I was surprised to learn some people didn’t know I had co-written The Stagecoach Bride with Stephannie Beman, so while I’m thinking about it, I thought I should mention the other romances I’ve done with other authors.

Before I do, I just want to give a quick reminder that The Stagecoach Bride will be removed from sale on Monday (April 24).  

After that, it will never be available again unless you can find a stray paperback version somewhere on the Internet.

The Stagecoach Bride ebook cover

The Stagecoach Bride is now permanently unavailable. (update made April 25, 2017)

I will be giving this a complete rewrite.  The rewrite will be called The Outlaw’s Bride.  (It will be free so no one who bought The Stagecoach Bride will feel like they’re buying two copies of the same story.  This isn’t the same story, but the characters are the same and the world is the same.)  The new version is expected to be released June-August 2018.  And yes, I will be finishing the series.

Now for the other romances I’ve done with other authors…

I did one contemporary clean romance anthology with Catherine Lynn.

Barbara Joan Russell was a pen name I came up with when I thought I would write a good number of clean (ie. no sex) romances.  Long story short, since late 2014 when I wrote the first draft, I haven’t written another clean romance since.  I like the spicy content, so I don’t think clean is for me.

Catherine Lynn, however, does have more books, which you might enjoy.  So if contemporary clean romance or cozy mystery is your thing, check her out.

Bride By Design New Ebook Cover


Barnes & Noble


Google Play


iBooks (it is there, but I don’t have the link, and I can’t figure out how to get the link.)

I did two historical western romance anthologies with Janet Syas Nitsick.

My stories in these do contain sexual content.  Janet’s do not.  She writes only clean historical western romances, and they do mention the Christian faith a lot.  If those are the kinds of romances you enjoy, you might enjoy her books.

Book 1: Bride by Arrangement

Bride by Arrangement


Barnes & Noble



Google Play


Book 2: A Groom’s Promise

a groom's promise


Barnes & Noble


iBooks (it is there, but my link doesn’t work)

Google Play



About Google Play: Someone is probably asking, “Why does she have some books on Google Play but not others?” The books I have on Google Play were put there by my wonderful publisher, Parchment & Plume.  I do not have an account there, and Stephannie Beman doesn’t have one, either.)

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