From Pantser to Planner

Drawing of a house. Caption reads: "Finding my characters a home."

From Pantser to Planner by Iris Carden

There’s two kinds of writers: those who plan, and plot out the story before writing; and those who write by the seat of their pants.

Until recently, I’ve been a pantser. My novels and novellas grew organically as I wrote. If things went off the rails, I could always go back to previous chapters, find where it started to go wrong, and redirect it.

Then I started this blog, and shared a chapter a week of what I was writing. In doing that, I gave myself a limitation I hadn’t had previously. I couldn’t revise the previous chapters until the story was told. I couldn’t do the constant minor revisions of previous chapters, as I wrote new ones. I was also writing other stories, poetry, and other things, between writing chapters, which could break my sense of continuity.

It didn’t take long of doing this for me to learn the value of having a written plan. I started writing down the plan part-way through writing The Venomous Void. With tweaking the previous chapters being off the table while writing the alpha version of the book, I learned that the way to modify the story as I went was to tweak the plan for upcoming chapters. The basic structure didn’t change, but details could change, the order of events could be shuffled from one chapter to another, as long as those chapters hadn’t been published on the blog yet.

I think I refined that process more in Colony, often shifting things from one planned chapter to another in the upcoming chapters, to try to tell the story in a more coherent manner, adding notes about the characters as I went.

Another thing I’d realised as I’d wrote Colony was I needed an idea in my mind of the house Angela’s parents lived in. There’s a saying that you “write what you know,” and I really didn’t know that much about rich people’s houses. My solution was to start looking at real estate ads. I found them the perfect house. While I didn’t describe the house in much detail in the book, I could keep in mind the floor plan, how spacious it was, what resources in land there was, and I could work from there. Of course I gave it extra things: I made the stable a disused one that could be a store room, added the fruit trees and vegetable gardens and the bunker that were necessary for the story.

For Family Lies, which has an even wealthier protagonist, I’ve found an even more expensive house. With both Emily and her mother disabled, I felt a house which gave them each a sitting room, as well as ensuite added to their bedrooms was important. Again, I’ll change some details to make the house suitable for them, because they will need a lift for the house, and the pool lifts to get in and out of the pool for hydrotherapy.

I’ll probably never afford to live in amazing houses like these, but my characters can.

The house in Colony was important, but the one in Family Lies will be even more important, because almost everything will happen in the house and grounds. That’s because house and grounds make up almost all of Emily and her mother’s worlds. The house also reflects Emily’s vast wealth. I’m not telling you yet how she acquired that wealth, even though I’ve already told you she’s started out with nothing. (I’m keeping a lot of secrets from you here. Don’t feel bad. I’m keeping a lot of secrets from Emily as well.)

For this story, I needed a protagonist who was vulnerable in some ways, but incredibly strong in others. My previous rheumatologist (who died last year in the floods, while travelling between patient clinics) had often urged me to write about a character with lupus. He thought that would help raise community awareness of lupus. (He didn’t know how few people read my work.) Honouring his request, I’m giving Emily lupus, along with a couple of my other health issues. I’m quite cruel to my characters sometimes.

To soften the blow, I’m also giving her an extremely competent live-in nurse, who gives as good as she gets with a less-than co-operative patient. I’m also giving her a competent solicitor (lawyer for American readers), a very efficient housekeeper, a helpful gardener you haven’t met yet, and three daughters who love her very much.

Links for the projects mentioned in this post follow:

Chapters of Family Lies

Note, this is the first draft. What eventually is published as a book (if it is published as a book), will be edited, rewritten, and re-edited, and may not have much in common with this first draft.

Please note: these chapters are the very raw first draft, what appears in the final book may be different. The working title has changed from Survival to Colony, as has the draft cover art, and they may or may not change again before I finish writing the book..

Chapters of the Venomous Void to date:

Now the story is complete, I will edit it and get it ready to publish it as a book. Look out for it soon at your favourite online bookshop.

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Everything on this site is the product of human, not artificial, intelligence.


By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


  1. Love the insights here, Iris!💞💞💞 I’ve mostly done short works so far, and always pantser. I started a longer work last year and got stalled because I had no vision of certain parts of it…didn’t know my main character, what drove him, or how the story was going to get from the beginning which came easily to the end that I could see. Slowly learning how to plan without actually writing the story or having it end up like an outline…jumping from idea to idea without much meat. I guess learning how to be a planner will be a goal for 2023 for me! 💞

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps there is no end. There’s a saying, and I’m sure I haven’t got it completely right, “If you realise today you know less than you thought you did yesterday, you know more today.”

        Liked by 1 person

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