So, you wanna be a writer? To pants or to plot?

Have you been reading Death’s Apprentice?

If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble 🙂

Death’s Apprentice is a writing experiment I’m undertaking where, every Wednesday, I sit down and write a portion of my next novel without having plotted any part of the storyline. This is an experiment for me as I’m usually more of a plotter than a pantser.

But what is a pantser?

A pantser is someone who writes without plotting, they pretty much write by the seat of their pants. They let the situation and the characters determine what happens next.

As a plotter, writing Death’s Apprentice as a pantser is really taking me out of my comfort zone and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

As a plotter, I usually have a fairly good idea of my characters because I write quite detailed biographies for each one. I also pretty much know how my story will end, I just don’t necessarily know all the plot points of how I’m going to get there. Think of it as a bus journey; I know where the destination is, I just don’t necessarily know all of the stops on the way.

A true plotter would probably have mapped out all the stops. I plot as I’m going. This gives my brain time to think and gives me space to breathe. This is how I work but you will find what works for you the more you write and experiment.

What are the advantages of plotting?

You know your characters. You know what drives them; their flaws and their ambitions, their thoughts and desires. It should make writing them slightly easier as you know what they want and what they would do in any given situation.

You know, when you begin writing, the destination you’re heading for. This can give you more confidence as you write.

It keeps your writing on track and you will be less likely to ramble. You will be more likely to stick to the point. This can mean less editing (although that’s not always the case).

What are the disadvantages of plotting?

Sometimes, sticking rigidly to a plot can make your writing boring.

There are no surprises for you to deal with as you write.

Your writing process may lack spontaneity.

It can make the author less open to changing a part of the storyline if something better presents itself.

It can stifle your creativity and make the process boring.

So, what can you do?

Personally, my approach is to plan but remain open to new ideas. I’ve learnt to be flexible and that’s why I plot as I go along.

I make sure I have detailed biographies of my characters and this is one thing I don’t rush. Knowing your characters before you begin to write helps a lot. It gives me confidence as I write and, I think, it makes the characters richer as you bring them to life on the page.

I have a bare skeleton of where I’m going. With Dragon Rider, I knew that Drake, my lead character, would have to face Death in her domain. I knew he would have a face-off with Fenrik, the being that murdered his father. I knew his need for revenge would hinder him. I knew how the book would end. I just didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.

The most important thing I’ve learnt though is to let things go when they don’t work. My original plan for Death’s domain was so boring and it didn’t make sense. I ended up cutting around 20,000 words and starting again for that section. And that’s okay.

Neither plotting nor pantsing is perfect. No one way of writing is correct and the other wrong. I believe you have to do what works for you and finding what that is will only come with experience and writing practice.

So, what have you found that works for you? Do you write detailed character biographies? Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going? Or do you, indeed, fly by the seat of your pants?


So, you wanna be a writer? Five things you need to do in Act One of your story.

Have you been reading Dragon Rider? If so, what do you think?

I love that book. It was my first novel. The first one I actually finished writing anyway. And although I can see many mistakes and things I would probably do differently, I’m still very proud of it.

So, one of the reasons I put it on my blog is so that we can tear it apart and see what we can learn from it. Today, I’m going to talk about the first act of the three-act story structure using Dragon Rider as a foundation.

If you want to read it, parts one to seven of Dragon Rider are in the first act of the novel. Don’t worry though, you can still gain loads of information from this article without reading it. So, here goes:

Five things you need to do in Act One of your story:

One – Set Up The Ordinary World

In my previous post, five reasons why the three-act structure is for you (see it here), I gave a rundown of all the parts of writing a story with three acts.

Act one is basically the beginning of the story, the part where the hero is inactive or, to use the posh word, in stasis. Stasis means a period of inactivity or equilibrium. Our hero is inactive, going about her business as she usually would until she is called into action when a triggering event happens. Basically, act one is setting the story up for the action that follows in acts two and three.

One of the first things you need to do in act one is to set up the ordinary world (as Christopher Vogler puts it), the place where the story begins. The ordinary world is the place where our hero is inactive. It has to be different from the special world the hero crosses into. It has to be in contrast to that special world. This allows for character and story development.

So in Dragon Rider, Drake is in Devilsgate rounding up criminals for the bounty money. He’s surviving day-to-day just waiting for the opportunity to get his revenge on the man who murdered his father. He’s working on his own.

Two – There has to be a Call to Adventure

The hero has to be presented with a challenge, a quest, a reason why she must act. This is a trigger point and there’s usually a trigger point towards the end of act one that throws the hero into act two. The trigger point moves the story along.

woman standing on road
Photo by Pedro Sandrini on

This is often accompanied by the hero’s refusal of the call to adventure. The refusal can be an internal one where the hero expresses reluctance to go on the quest because of fear. Sometimes the refusal doesn’t come from the hero herself but can be expressed by another character.

In Dragon Rider, Drake, our hero, is asked by an old acquaintance, Willow, to help them find a magical book for a friend. In return, that friend will protect Willow and The Lost Souls (the group of orphans she lives with) from the purge. Drake is unsure and expresses his reluctance to help but agrees to meet the friend, Funestus Black.

When Drake meets Funestus Black, he expresses his reluctance to go on the quest again. Drake finally accepts the quest when he learns that the book they need to find is also being hunted by the very man who murdered his father.

Drake has no choice but to go on the quest; it is now beyond his control.

Three – You must set up the character of the hero

 The first act must set the character of the hero up effectively. We have to see our character; the flaws, the weaknesses, her desires and what drives her. This is because our character needs to be changed by the quest she endures. We need to be able to see the difference in character at the end of the story. We need to be able to see the contrast between the character presented to us in the ordinary world to the one at the end of act three.

Of course, in tragedy, the protagonist doesn’t change at the end of the story and this is why it’s a tragedy. The main character remains unchanged but we still need to set the character up effectively so that we, as the reader, can see that they haven’t changed.

Act one must raise questions about our hero; can he put aside his pride to help? Can she learn to overcome her flaws to achieve the goal?

Four – Set up the tone of the story

Right from the get-go, the reader needs to know what type of story it is. Is the story a fantasy? Is it a comedy? Is it dark? Or is it light-hearted?

person standing near lake
Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on

The beginning of Dragon Rider is set up to be dark and mysterious. We meet our hero, Drake, skulking in the shadows, waiting to meet an informant. It begins like so;

“A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?”

It was deliberately written to be dark and tense and to show the tone of the whole of the story.

Five – It’s good to set up the theme of the story

There will be an underlying theme or message to your story. This is an idea that runs through the whole of the novel. The message could be, for example, “crime doesn’t pay,” or “love conquers all”. It gives the story cohesion.

Dragon Rider is set up from the very first page to be about revenge;

“It is said that a man with revenge in his heart should dig two graves; one for his enemy and one for himself.  Perhaps this is true, but I’m not ready to take to my grave.  Not yet.

I ask you; what do you do if there is no justice?  If the law itself is rotten and corrupt.  What then?  Should we let those who do wrong get away with it, turn the other cheek to their crimes?”

Dragon Rider is about revenge. The message of Dragon Rider? Revenge is self-destructive;

“All I know is that now I have my revenge. Fenrik is destroyed and for that I am grateful. But I will never be healed. The hatred, the need for revenge has kept me alive for far too long and now it pulses through my veins like my lifeblood.”

I hope this helps when you’re beginning to write act one of your novel.

Is there anything else you’d include?





So, you want to be a writer?

So, you want to be a writer?

Here are six tips to help you on your way!

I make jewellery but I also write too. I have four books out as I’m writing this and, as you know from previous posts (see A Writing Experiment? and New Year, New Projects) I have more in the works. Here are my top six tips to get you writing:

  1. Read. A lot!! I love reading so this isn’t a major issue for me. Reading will make you a better writer. You need to learn somewhere, right? So why not learn from those who came before you? It’s amazing what you can get from other writers. You’ll pick up writing techniques, grammar tips and vocabulary as you go. Learning by osmosis – what’s not to love?
  2. Get yourself a notebook and a pen, go somewhere quiet and write! You don’t need any expensive gadgets to start. Just time, inspiration, and a notebook and pen.
  3. Practice. And Practice. And practice… Once you begin writing, keep going. The only way to get better at anything is practice. Maybe take a writing course to hone your skills. Writing courses come in many shapes and sizes. Some are free and some are run by fabulous, well-established writers (Neil Gaiman, I’m looking at you!).
  4. Get feedback. This gives you an outsider’s perspective of your writing. People can tell you where your weak points are and when you’re doing something right. You could join a local writing group for this. I did and it improved my writing considerably.
  5. Get a thick skin. You’re not always going to write fabulous prose. Sometimes your work will be utter crap. Don’t be afraid to face that fact. And even when your work is absolutely amazing and fabulous, people will tear it apart and make you feel like dirt. Unfortunately, this is something we, as writers, have to live with. Not everyone is going to love what you write and you need to learn to live with that. Write anyway!
  6. Write! Make sure you write, even if it’s just a few words every day. Don’t just talk about it. Write it! Write your first draft even if it’s utter rubbish. Don’t worry, everyone’s first draft is crap. But as they say, you can’t edit a blank page! You can edit your writing though. And edit. And edit. Rewrites will make your writing shine!

As Charles Buckowski said:

“There is no losing in writing, it will make your toes laugh as you sleep, it will make you stride like a tiger, it will fire the eye and put you face to face with death. You will die a fighter, you will be honored in hell. The luck of the word. Go with it.”