Scrivener and the Pseudo-pantser

I’ve always hated the old saw about how there are two kinds of writers, pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, letting the story take them on a journey of it’s own choosing. Plotters plan out their novel. The term is often synonymously with outlining, which is another reason I dislike this saying so much.

I object to the notion that it’s so black and white, that all writers must either be creative free spirits or studious planners. I also object to the notion that writing a detailed outline is the only way to plan a novel.

I have tried dozens of different approaches to writing novels and I’ve written entire novels in different approaches. I tried pantsing when I was younger and it didn’t work for me. I’d write myself into a corner within twenty pages and get stuck.

I finished my first novel with the marshal plan. Then I learned how to storyboard and things really took off for me. I’ve relied on storyboarding software like Storybook or Scrivener to help keep my stories structured and on track.

One “Plotter” stereotype that was true for me for several years was that I refused to start writing until I have the entire story in front of me. I couldn’t. I had to know every scene, every side plot and every twist or turn before I could start. Once I started, I wrote from opening to finish in one long monolithic document.

Two years of using Scrivener exclusively, I’ve been noticing a shift in how I write. It’s been a slow process.

The one drawback of Storybook, I’ve always said, is the lack of a robust internal editor. In other words, Storybook is great for planning your story, but you end up doing the actual writing in a word processor.

Scrivener has a great functional editor pane and it’s a snap to actually write in scrivener. Still I went on doing what I had grown accustomed to doing with Storybook, planning the novel in its entirety and then writing it in one long slog. For the first few scrivener based novels I would finish the novel and the export it into libreoffice to edit and format.

Then I started to study Scrivener and learned that some of it’s greatest features are only apparent in the editing stage. I started learning to use documents notes to make notes on things I wanted to re-write later. I started using meta-data to track point of view, characters in a scene, sub-plots, etc. I realized it was possible to use Scrivener to accomplish a deep re-write, the kind of rewriting that would have scared me before. I could add and delete scenes, alter characters and then go re-write every single scene with them in it.

That’s when I noticed my writing strategy had shifted. I was becoming a pseudo-pantser.

My current WIP started as a fifty thousand word science fiction novel. I realized one day that the same plot line would work as the backbone for a serial. I took the scenes I had already written and parceled them out over eight episodes. Then I’ve gone back and added in scenes and characters to make each episode it’s own story. Now I am “layering” it, adding small scenes and fleshing out side characters and subplots. It will be well over two hundred thousand words when it’s done.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

Layering is not something I would have even considered in the past. The thought of adding a new character or subplot after having written a story was absurd. How could you possibly go through a four hundred page word document and add new scenes and references to this new person wherever necessary to make their inclusion seamless? With Scrivener such work is a snap. Use meta data to track which scenes need rewritten with the new character. Click and drag to add scenes where you need them.

In the past I would have gotten so far into storyboarding an idea and thought, “do I have enough?” This was always a tricky question. Is the story fleshed out enough? Are there enough side plots and story action to make a satisfying read? I’d agonize over the answer and refuse to write until I was sure I had the story complete in my head.

Now when faced with this same dilemma I think, let’s just write it and see. There is an incredible freedom in being able to write the portion of the story I know, confident that I will be able to add to it when the rest of the story floats through my brain. When the developers at Literature and Latte claim that they built Scrivener around the creative process, rather than forcing the creative process to conform to the software, they weren’t kidding.

You can check out Scrivener for yourself here:

Arranging words in Scrivener

Regardless of whether you use Scrivener or something else, whether you define yourself as a plotter, a pantser, or something entirely different, you shouldn’t let others shame you for the way you write. There are hundreds of ways to plan and write a novel and none of them are. You should keep an open mind, there’s always new things to learn.

What is your writing process? How has it changed over time? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.


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