After reading the question Is it OK to invent as I write, or should I plan the entire story first? I was wondering if anyone was able to give a list of definite authors/works (fiction) that are Pantsers and those that plan their work prior to beginning to write.

Reason I ask is I'd like to read a couple to get a feel for how their novels flow.

  • Are you interested only in strictly written media? For example on SFF.SE I found How much of Deep Space Nine's arc was planned in advance? but even on that site it's sometimes difficult to find information/interviews about this topic as can be seen for example here.
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:01
  • 3
    Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown and Stephen King are identified as panthers. Rowling and Grisham are plotters. goodreads.com/blog/show/…
    – SFWriter
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:27
  • There is no real answer, but I would suggest knowing the problem and solution, and planning them out. You don't want your story to go to quick or too slowly. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 0:04
  • Honestly don't mind but prefer written media.
    – John Cogan
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Of course, there's no one definitive answer, but if you'd like to see a good side-by-side comparison, compare Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (Pantser) with Chamber of Secrets or any of the other middle Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling (Plotter). I suggest these two because they are both modern British children's fantasy novels about magical teenagers at boarding school, so you can really isolate the differences based on writing approach. Jones' books are more creative and anarchic, at their best they are absolutely magical (so to speak) and weightless. But they tend to fall apart at the end, with weak, hurried endings and lots of deux ex machina and hand-waving. Her series also suffer from a lack of focus and continuity.

Rowling's books are tightly plotted and purposeful, with mostly satisfying twists and turns. The Harry Potter series as a whole has a sustained plotline and successful larger character arcs. The endings usually seem earned, and everything fits together, for the most part, like a well-oiled machine. On the other hand, while they were lauded as fresh and original by people who don't often read children's fantasies, people who know the genre noted a lot of cliches and tropes. Rowling herself has admitted that her preconceptions sometimes prevented her from making the right character choices. And in the cases where the planning didn't quite work out, it is much more noticeable and less forgivable.

Personally, while I like both, if I had to choose just one, I would go with Jones --I find more that's new and unexpected to discover in her work. On the other hand, she has far more duds than Rowling --the quality of her writing fluctuates wildly, whereas Rowling is a reliable good read. For two other examples drawn from my own writing heroes, Haruki Murakami is another admitted Pantser, whereas Samuel Delany, is actually a Plotter, although his work doesn't always seem like it. They both tend to write with a dreamlike, surreal, unexpected quality, but you can still apprehend some of the difference in approach in the final work.

  • Interested you use Agatha Christie as a example of an archetypal planner. I recently read an anecdote (can't find a reference just now) that she claimed she wrote up until the last chapter and only then decided who had been the murderer, based on who seemed least likely. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 18:01
  • @Bob - LOL I did worry a little about that --the others all are on record as to their approach, but I was just assuming on Christie. I'll edit her out of the answer and replace her with someone else. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:49
  • I assume you can successfully mix the plotter/panster style by planning the story arc (Beginning, climatic middle parts and final ending) and then in between all of that, write by your pants but aiming for the planned outcomes...?
    – John Cogan
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:19
  • 1
    @JohnCogan They aren't exclusive categories, most successful writers are a mix of both. The people mentioned above are notable for being on record as far to one end of the spectrum or the other. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:20

@ChrisSunami answer does allude to Rowling having planned things out, but there are other instances where Rowling did wing it. Generally, when you plan out a novel or series of serialized stories, you want to write so that certain plot points are hit at certain points in the story, so you can set them up. However, the actual story itself may not be as fleshed out at that point as compared to the final novel. Rowling did not write all Harry Potter books and then released them one at a time. She released book one, then worked on book two, ect. Her early books do seem a little more self contained than her later books, and how much was revisiting clever ideas that had already been introduced or how much was left up and one of the criticisms of book seven was it used plot points that should have been brought up earlier or were contradicted earlier (such as Wands having some kind of loyalty OR characters able to see through the invisibility cloak, which we learned only in this book should not have happened.).

Another case was the second season of the 1994 cartoon Gargoyles, which took two unplanned events and used them to rewrite the entire remainder of the seasons episodes. In the first case, the writers were very impressed by the performance of a Voice Actor who was hired for a single one off villain that was killed at the end of his introductory episode (which also took place 1000 years before the series present timeline). In order to bring him back, much of the first half of Season two was written to lay the plot points regarding his resurrection (and create what is possibly the best framing device for a clip show ever) The second was another voice actor flubbing her dialog due to her accent (she said "You Serve the Human" when the original line was "You serve the humans."). The writers chose to use the flubbed line because it opened the door for the episodes villain (who was the "You" being discussed) to have a bigger role than just being the introduction to antagonistic race he was a member of. It also served to flesh out his connection to already established human characters, none of who were featured in this episode.

In both cases, the crew was flexible enough to let dialog and the acting inform to better introduce future planned storytelling or even in the case of the former, influence the entire following season. In both cases, they used these unexpected coincidences to tie up a variety of loose ends they really did not have plans for.

  • +1 and - (even for pantsers) - it makes sense too that when one manuscript is largely done and the author is working on the next (or on another) that some details may be best suggested/hinted at in the first manuscript and these could be tucked in before publication.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:19

I don't have a definitive list, but to such I list, I would add the following:

I have read--I think in the foreword of the edition that I read--that On the Road by Jack Kerouac was written on the fly, in that the guy taped a bunch of paper together and typed the entire manuscript on a single scroll of paper, and that he wrote the manuscript, start to finish, in a matter of days.

In contrast, anything by K.M. Weiland is meticulously planned, and you can read about her planning process in her nonfiction book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.

I've also read in several places that Charles Dickens was famous for making it up as he went along, especially in his works that were serialized, such as Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers.

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