Knowing Writing: Plotter vs Pantsers

I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

Those are from the words of Stephen King, the often titled the King of Horror, and he deserved that title even if his last name wasn’t “king”. However, that may not work for everyone. At ThrillerFest 2019, we here at Bookstr were able to sit down and listened to various authors debate this question. The question, in short, is this: Are you a plotter, or a pantser?

Before we run down a series of quotes and top this article off with a “just write” ending, let’s back up and define our terms.


Plotter vs Pantser

Image Via Krystal Higgins


A plotter is someone who plots their story beforehand. J. K. Rowling is a prime example of a plotter.

A pantser is someone who writes their story “by the seat of their pants”. This means that, well, they make the story up as they go along. Stephen King is a prime example of a pantser.



Are you a Pantser?


Pantsers wing it

Those are from the words of Camille Minichino, at least that was the name we called her during ThrillerFest. She’s gone by many names, including Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, or Jean Flowers. Either way she’s written over twenty novels and many, many more short stories to boot, so it’s safe to say she knows what’s talking about.


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According to Camille, pantsers are often “very bored” and like to “take the journey with the characters.” Does this sound like you? Then maybe you’re a pantser.


Tom Rosenstiel

Image Via Politico


I’ve learned the hard way to get a really book down fast

Those words come from Tom Rosenstiel. Author, journalist, researcher and media critic, he’s “one of the nation’s most recognized thinkers of the future of media.” He’s also written two novels and nine books in total. In fact, his third novel, Oppo, is set for a December release.



Tom notes that making himself to write the book fast “[forces] myself to be more shark-like” in the editing process. He said that he finds that posted notes he has are “useless” and while he has an outline, he doesn’t tend to stick to it.


Bryan Gruley

Image Via Lesa’s Book CRITIQUES


Making it up is really fun

That’s from Bryan Gruley, who was nominated for the “first novel” Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for Starvation Lake, notes that. On that book, Bryan notes that, “I tried to outline my first book” but it didn’t work.

Interesting! Even through he’s by nature a list-maker, he finds that outlines are “confining.” He just writes and keeps writing, not bothering rewriting what he wrote the day before. For the record, he writes two hours a day, five-hundred words a day.


Are you a PLOTTER?


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Image Via Shawn’s Blog of Doom


Now if you’re a plotter, or think you might be, then you’re not alone. Not only were many of the authors at this conference plotters, but some of the best quotes came from them, including this one:

It’s not like I’m going to discover new words by writing


James Hankins

Image Via Amazon


James Hankins, a former screenwriter then lawyer and now author, is a self-described plotter and proud of it. He likes plotting because he “hates wasting time” and would like you to know that, “I don’t have a terror of the blank page as much as a poorly written page from the day before.”



Makes sense. Critics don’t write scathing reviews about blank pages, they tear into poorly written pages.


Wendy Walker
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Joining James on the plotters side of things is Wendy Walker. When James put the in the coffin and said he hates “pantsing” because “It’s not like i’m going to discover new words by writing” (sorry, love that quote) she smiled and declared, “We have the same brain!”

Wendy Walker is a a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now pumps out thriller. Guess what she is? Well, considering this is the plotting section, she’s, of course, a plotter! Taking a page from the screenwriting gurus of our time, Wendy writes a six-to-seven page outline to help her with her book. Some of it is even on index cards. “Without them I’m scared,” she confesses. It helps her organize her thoughts.


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Image Via SW Lauden


This is J.H. Bográn and he is an international author of novels, short stories, and scripts for film and TV. He’s also a plotter, and he structures his novels on a spreadsheet template chapter by chapter. This allows him to jump around. If he feels like it, he can jump straight to the torture scene.

This caused quite a bit of laughter, considering that he’s the Resource Development Manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras.

Bográn also notes that he’s has an interesting routine. Since he runs a restaurant, he tends to sit in front of a computer all day. Thus, by the end of the day, he’s really tired of staring at the screen. . Thus he writes the first draft of his novel using pen and pencil and a notebook.  He considers his typed draft to be his second draft. Let’s hope what happens to Paul Sheldon in Misery doesn’t happen to him.



Are you both a Pantser and a plotter?


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Image Via Cathy Day


So what is the take-away here? If you’re a pantser just write, and if you’re a plotter you should write your first draft by hand? What if you’re neither? What if you’re both?

If you’re both, then you are what we in the business call a “hybrid,” and, in fact, most writes are. The whole plotter vs pantser thing isn’t a binary one or the other, but rather, in the words of James Hankins, “[i]t’s a spectrum.” Pretty powerful considering he’s the guy who said he doesn’t write by the seat of his pants because” “It’s not like I’m going to discover new words by writing”.

Camille Minichino notes that she’s written five series already and thus knows the characters by now. Why plot a novel? But even through she’s a pantser, she notes that, “doesn’t mean you don’t know the ending or the major plot points.”

Bryan Gruley notes that even though he doesn’t know the ending, he “sees chapters ahead, just not the whole book.”


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“How do you set up a dinner party?” Camille asks, “How do you approach it?”

When you have an answer to that question, then just apply that method to writing a book.

Do what the story requires.

Tom BLANK gives us this quote, and it’s right. Just sit down and write the story, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, write and type, write and type. And if you’re waiting for inspiration, well, in the words of Bryan BLANK:

You can’t wait around for inspiration. You gotta hunt it down with a club

So have fun, or as Brogan says, “Sit at the typewriter and bleed,” and remember the words of Stephen King:

To write is human, to edit is divine.




Featured Images Via Hollywood Reporter, Liberal Dictionary, and Parade


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The 2019 ITW Thriller Award Winners Have Been Announced

International Thriller Writers (ITW) is proud to announce the most thrilling authors of 2019. The winners of this year’s ITW Thriller Awards are:

Jennifer Hillier — JAR OF HEARTS (Minotaur Books)

C. J. Tudor — THE CHALK MAN (Crown)

Jane Harper — THE LOST MAN (Pan Macmillan Australia)


Images Via Amazon and Penguin Random House

Helen Smith — “Nana” in KILLER WOMEN: CRIME CLUB ANTHOLOGY #2 (Killer Women Ltd.)

Alan Orloff — PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT (Kindle Press)

Teri Bailey Black — GIRL AT THE GRAVE (Tor Teen)


Images Via Amazon

Also receiving special recognition:

John Sandford, ThrillerMaster
In recognition of his legendary career and outstanding contributions to the thriller genre.

Harlan Coben, Silver Bullet Award

“Mystery Mike” Bursaw, ThrillerFan Award

Margaret Marbury, Thriller Legend Award


John Sandford, Harlan Coben, Margaret Marbury, Mystery Mike Bursaw | Images Via Amazon, Penguin Random House, The Strand


There’s only one event where you can find New York Times best-selling authors lurking around every single corner, literary agents actually appearing in broad daylight and fans openly plotting and conspiring with the most feared and revered names of the thriller genre. We hope that you join us in 2020 for ThrillerFest XV, the International Thriller Writers’ fifteenth annual celebration of all things Thriller, the largest event of its kind in the world.  The highlight of the festival is the gala ITW Thriller Awards Banquet during which a fresh batch of authors will be announced as the chosen heroes of


This Author’s Story of Dealing With Sexism Will Surprise You

You seem so nice.

This is something people often say to bestselling thriller writer Lisa Unger upon meeting her. It seems strange that people should be surprised, considering her books are no more violent than the usual psychological thriller. They’re not gory, they’re not showy. So why do some feel so baffled that she is writing violence that is none too different to that of her male counterparts?

You already know the answer, as does Lisa Unger. In fact, when asked about why she writes about violence against women in her books, she responded, “I’ll stop writing about it when it stops happening.”


'In The Blood' Cover
Image Via Our Book Reviews Online

Lisa Unger has made a name for herself as a prolific author, with her most famous novel being In the Blood, a book which Kirkus Reviews called a “scary winner from an accomplished pro”, and which went on to be a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Mystery & Thriller 2014, and winner of the Silver Falchion Award for Best Novel in the Crime Thriller category.

Despite this, Ms. Unger has had her own encounters with sexism constantly.


Lisa Unger and Karin Slaughter at ThrillerFest
Lisa Unger and Karis Slaughter at Thrillerfest 2019 |  Image Courtesy of Shawn Douglas Cunningham


At ThrillerFest XIV, Unger shared a personal story with moderator Karin Slaughter and the audience, regarding an incident that took place while Unger worked an event with author James Hall.

A little background: James Hall is an American author and professor from Florida. Author of eighteen novels, four books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and a collection of essays, James Hall is not only a successful writer, but a good man. The same could not be said about a particular fan of his, however.

At a book signing with James Hall, Ms. Unger was working as a moderator when a male member of the audience dismissed her, saying “I don’t read books by women”.

A year later, Ms. Unger was at her own signing at the same bookstore when she spied a man in the audience staring her down. They made eye contact, and he seemed to look right through her.

Staring at you

Image Via Quora

Ms. Unger noticed that the man had a large bag at his side…


A bag on the floor

Image Via Amtrack

When the show was over, the man was still there, still staring at her. His eyes were fixed on her.

Creepy much? Ms. Unger, who was understandably disturbed by the man’s presence, said she felt particularly uncomfortable because “women feel vulnerable in a way men do not”.

You are creepy as shit
Image Via Imgur

As the event came to an end, the man’s eyes stayed fixed on her. While everyone else shuffled out, he remained.

You can image the fear when Unger felt when she found herself alone with this man. The man rose, picking up his bag and approached her.

It was then that the man revealed that he was the audience member from the year before and, since then, had read all her books. The bag was full of each and every book she had every written. 

Now a fan of hers, he asked her to sign them. 


brown haired woman wearing white tank top raising her two hands over the rainbow HD wallpaper

Image Via Wallpaper Flare



Featured Image Via Crimereads

Lee Child cameo in 'Jack Reacher'

Did You Notice These Authors in Their On-Screen Movie Cameos?

Just this past weekend, during the annual thriller-writers conference, Thrillerfest, authors R.L. Stine, Lee Child, David Morrell, Heather Graham, and George R.R. Martin had a chance to sit together and discuss social media, their struggles as they strived for success, some of the stranger things fans have said to them during meet-and-greets, and more.


Three of the wordsmiths even decided to delve on into the world of Hollywood and discuss the quirks, fumbles, and just all-around generalized awkwardness that can come with doing a cameo-appearance in your own book-to-film adaptation (it was exactly everything you’d expect and oh, so much more)!




Author of all things spooky, R.L. Stine, had initially wondered if he should maybe just play himself in the 2015 film adaptation of Goosebumps! However, after a bit of disagreement from his fans (and his wife), he decided a short cameo within the film would be more than enough to satiate his hunger to be on screen. In the original script, Stine (who plays the Vice Principal in the school where the film-version of Stine teaches) was set to stand on-stage and hand one of the lead children a trophy.


I told the director I needed a line and he said, ‘okay…say something!’ so I handed the kid the trophy and said, ‘Congratulations, sonny!’




Popular Thriller writer and author of the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child, said that after he’s been given a script and asked to choose which scene he’d like a cameo in, he always chooses a scene essential to the plot that he knows cannot wind up on the cutting room floor. He also went on to describe the strange sort of feeling that comes along with meeting a character of your own creaton.


The production team thought me handing him the toothbrush would be like me, the creator of this character, passing the baton onto Tom Cruise…



George R.R. Martin Cameo

Image via PJ Wetzel


The legendary creator of the entire Game of Thrones franchise, George R.R. Martin, spoke about his cameo in his 1987 television-series, Beauty and the Beast. According to Martin, he assumed the cameo would be the perfect opportunity to plug his new book whilst eating a free cheeseburger or two. However he had no idea that the scene would take hours upon hours to shoot (and cheeseburgers upon cheeseburgers eaten).


These weren’t Shake Shack, or even McDonalds…I’m talking the twenty-four pack of microwavable cheeseburgers…so if you’re going to be a featured extra make sure you’re doing something your okay with doing ninety times in a row.








Featured Image via Digital Spy


james rollins

‘Subterranean’ Author James Rollins Owes His Career to Life Coach Tony Robbins

During an interview at the annual four-day conference of bestselling thriller-authors from all across the globe, Thrillerfest, acclaimed science fiction and action author James Rollins admitted that his career may not have begun exactly as he’s stated in the past…


I reached my thirtieth birthday and thought, ‘well, if I really want to be a writer than I’d better start now,’ and that’s exactly what I did…google that story, you’ll see me tell it. I tell that story all the time…and it’s a lie!


Rollins then went on to explain that one night, around two AM, he was dolling out the payroll for the employees at his veterinary clinic, and was slightly delirious with fatigue. In the background, infomercials were playing on the television, that would alter the course of his life forever:


A booming voice asked me if I was ready to change my life…I turned toward the TV and started nodding…


As it turns out, that booming voice of God actually belonged to none other than infamous life coach, Tony Robbins


So, Rollins did what any lost soul during the late-nighties would do; he ordered all forty of Tony Robbins cassette tapes.


The first tape said to take out a sheet of paper, forget everything you know about your life, close your eyes, and write down what you want to do…I wrote ‘I want to write a novel.’


Rollins flipped the tape over and Robbins’s voice was soon urging him to take that one, first step toward achieving that dream…and that’s exactly what he did!


So yes, I owe my career to Tony Robbins.


And, thus James Rollins began etching away at what would one-day become his breakout novel, Subterranean



Image via Amazon


I’ve had no formal training in writing…I joined a a writing critique group in Sacramento and, to this day, they still read all of my work before my editor does.”


It took Rollins just eleven months to finish his first novel. He then shopped the book around; sending the manuscript to one literary agent after the next.


And, much like nearly every other successful artist in the history of time, Rollins received rejection after rejection after rejection; forty-nine literary agents turned down his work.


One agent was kind enough to take the time and leave me a handwritten note on the manuscript, however…he wrote ‘this is unpublishable’.


Still, Rollins didn’t let these rejections deter him from his goal, and, luckily enough, the fiftieth agent he sent Subterranean to said yes, and the book became a wildly popular success!


It just goes to prove that all you truly need to succeed is perseverance, a steady community of support, the belief in your work (and yourself), and the booming voice of Tony Robbins.


Don’t tell Tony Robbins that…pretty soon he’ll be asking me for royalties!


Via Tenor

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