When a Plotter and a Panster Co-Author a Novel

Hi, SEers! Welcome to a Mae Day on SE. It’s also a Staci Troilo day because she and I wrote The Haunting of Chatham Hollow together, and that’s what I’d like to discuss today—writing with a co-author. It’s definitely a rewarding experience. 

But what happens when one of you is a plotter and the other is a pantser? If you’re thinking Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple, it’s not that extreme, but there are adjustments to be made on both ends.

Before I start, I’d like to mention SE members, John Howell and Gwen Plano who co-authored The Contract: between Heaven and Earth wrote an excellent four part series on co-authoriship, which will give you another perspective on the process. You can find their posts here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Staci and I have been online friends for a long time. We also critique for each other, so it seemed a natural progression that the idea of writing a novel together would surface. 

The first order of business was coming up with a bare-bones idea.

Lovely old gate into countryside field rustic old fashioned feeling, open book in foreground with path coming out of book leading to gate
All photos from Deposit Photos

We tossed around a few, then settled on one we both liked. Our brainstorming session was done over the phone with ideas for the major characters, basic premise, and opening scenes. The next day I had a few pages of handwritten rambling notes. I opened my email to find a scene-by-scene outline in a Word document neatly detailing everything we had discussed. 

Did I mention Staci is a plotter?

Did I mention I’m a pantser? 

I still have those original set of notes with Staci’s path laid out like a clean and precise trail leading to a final destination. Now imagine detours corkscrewing in multiple directions with more forking from them and you’ve added the influence of a pantser/planster.

But we made it work.

The Haunting of Chatham Hollow has dual timelines—one set in the present, and one set during the 19thCentury—which helped us work out writing responsibilities. When you’re co-authoring a novel, there are a few approaches:

Authors write alternating chapters.

Author #1 writes a scene, author #2 reviews, tweaks, then writes the next scene which author #1 reviews and tweaks, followed by writing the next scene, and so on through the novel.

I’m sure there are other methods as well. Staci and I decided we would each take a timeline. I would write the chapters set in the past and she would write those in the present. I enjoy the language, dialogue, and social nuances of earlier eras whereas Staci has a flair for contemporary voice and settings, so it was an ideal solution.

What followed were numerous email exchanges and phone calls, along with sharing chapters as we wrote them. We stuck with our main characters mostly as outlined, but after a few chapters, the plot went off the rails

Thus began the pantsing. 

Landscape image of empty road in English countryside with stormy sky overhead concept coming out of pages in open book

We each added secondary characters who ended up factoring into key parts of the story (even plotters like Staci veer from an outline when characters and/or plot dictate). Because we wanted our sections to gel—an occurrence in the past would prompt an action in the present, she was often waiting for me to write the action before she could address the consequences. We also had to be careful of setting details as we were both using the same town, one structure in particular. If I put a doorway in a certain corner of a room, it needed to remain there in the present unless structural renovations had occurred. 

Despite the different ways in which we worked, The Haunting of Chatham Hollow was an easy book to write. We were both thoroughly invested in the story. Discussions and ideas flowed easily between us with plenty exchanges of notes. Yes, she wore off on me. After phone discussions, I would type up detailed notes on the changes we agreed on.

My advice:
If you’re thinking of co-authoring a book, pick someone you enjoy working with. Not all personalities mesh and blend, and while you might think a plotter and a pantser can’t work together, Staci and I have proven that wrong. Despite our differing approaches, our friendship and respect for each other’s writing abilities, made the plot-pants-thing a minor speedbump before we were off and running.

Pick someone whose writing level is a match for yours. If you’re a brand-new author, publishing your first book, you might want to release a few more before attempting to co-write a novel. Even for seasoned writers, there is a learning curve involved.

Pick a plot you’re both passionate about. Your love of the story will shine through in the work.

Be willing to talk through hurdles and changes. Remember you’re involved in a joint project and should arrive at any detours together.

Obviously, you’ll be critiquing your co-author’s contributions to the novel, but it doesn’t hurt to have a trusted third party willing to provide feedback on sections as they progress (thank you, Joan Hall!).  

I enjoyed the co-authoring experience immensely. It’s something I always wanted to try and would certainly do again with Staci. I suspected from the start we would work well together despite our different approaches—plotter vs. pantser—to writing.

What are your thoughts on working with a co-author? Have you ever tried? Is it something you would consider doing in the future? What do you consider the benefits of writing a novel with another author and how would you approach it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ready, set, go! 

bio box for author, Mae Clair

129 thoughts on “When a Plotter and a Panster Co-Author a Novel

  1. So glad the experience went basically without a hitch. You both are luckier than most. The writing flowed, where in other co-authored books, you could see the difference immediately.

    Although I did not co-author a book with another writer, I was part of an anthology that had to use the same town, and characters as a fund raiser. Definitely not as challenging, but there are items that need to be addressed. You can’t walk down Main Street and wave to a barber that doesn’t exist. Character names and mannerisms need to be the same with everyone.

    Who knows what will happen in the future.


  2. Hats off to you both, Mae and Staci. I am immeasurably admiring of people who can collaborate to write a book chapter by chapter. I co-write with Michael and my mom, but I still control the book. They give input into the ideas and storyline but I write it. I know I couldn’t do something like this, I can’t even work well in teams at work. It would completely do my head in.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Mae! You and Staci seem to have found a perfect partnership, and I’m looking forward to reading this book. (It’s resting peacefully on my Kindle, awaiting my attention.) Sorry I’m late replying but the weekend was another Mad House around here. I can’t wait to get things sorted out enough that I can return to writing. As for a partnership with anyone, I’m definitely not at a place where I could be counted on to do my part. But I can see where that could be a fun thing to try at another point in time. Thanks for laying out the process so clearly! And hope you’re having a great Labor Day with family and friends! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Penderpal! So great to have you drop by and check out the post. Staci and I had a blast writing this book, though I think we each worried at the start about holding up our respective ends. We didn’t want to let each other down. Even though I knew that would never happen, it’s something to consider when you approach a co-author situation. I had a class act partner, and it all worked well. Such an AWESOME experience.

      I hope things settle down for you soon. Maybe down the road, co-authoring will be something you’ll approach too–that’s assuming you’re able to tackle your present writing projects which I know are screaming at you, LOL.

      Hope you’re having a great Labor Day weekend, too! HUGS! 🤗 ♥️

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi, back atcha, Penderpal of mine! Been a long time since we’ve chatted books, but I’ve been taking note of your reviews and have been meaning to email you to catch up a bit. The days are just so crammed right now, but I expect it to ease soon. (It HAS to, right?) And I do think I’m making some progress in chasing off the Long Covid, so we’ll definitely chat.

        I’m not at all surprised that you and Staci meshed so well on this project, and I’m so eager to read it. Also really glad it was an “awesome” experience for you, too. That’s great! Pretty quiet around here today, for a Labor Day Monday, but that’s okay. I got caught up on quite a few things. Hope yours has been fun! (And your book is up NEXT on my Kindle! Yippeee!) 😀 ❤

        Liked by 2 people

      • I hope you enjoy Chatham, Marcia. I also help you can kick Long Covid in the tail-end. I’ve heard of a lot of people suffering with that.

        I haven’t been doing much online, but I have been reading up a storm in the evenings. This new job is great but it’s a lot to absorb, so reading is my downtime to unwind after all the noise of the day. Eventually, I want to get back to sharing those reviews on my blog!

        We had a VERY rainy Labor Day. Buckets and buckets. The deluge actually kept me up last night, and it’s still pouring today. I think it finally moves out of here by Tuesday afternoon, though no true complaints as we desperately need the rain!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Long Covid is terrible. My son seems to have lingering issues. Prayers for a fast and complete recovery, Marcia. And thanks for the kind wishes regarding Chatham Hollow (I hope you enjoy it) and our partnership (I couldn’t have asked for a better co-author)!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for sharing a bit about the process, your experience and a few tips, Mae. I can’t imagine coauthoring a book, but that feeling is driven by years of collaborating on business writing projects. As you pointed out, plans can change.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I find this idea utterly fascinating, Mae. That a pantser and a plotter could create together is something I wouldn’t have even considered. That you and Staci were able to make it work says a lot about your abilities as writers. Kudos to you both. I’m a plotter, though I allow my characters swerve-room. If the story is better suit by changing lanes, I do so. And with an outline, I am able to go back and drop in needed crumbs to make that change feel natural. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s exactly how I approach things, too. I think of my outline as a map from point A to point B. I may take detours along the way to make the trip more enjoyable or to get somewhere easier, but I always end up back on track.

      I don’t know if the plotter/pantser combo was a bad fit or a brilliant one. I think our personalities, friendship, and mutual respect did more for us than our methods. I really couldn’t ask for an easier or better partner. Mae is the perfect co-author for me. If you ever try it, make sure you find the right collaborator. It makes all the difference. Thanks, Beem.

      Liked by 3 people

    • It’s really odd, Beem. When Staci and I first discussed working together and brainstormed, I never even considered our differing approaches to writing. I just KNEW we’d work well together. It wasn’t until after that first outline that I realized something was different LOL. But I think we balanced each other out. It was a great experience with a great partner.

      It sounds like you have a good approach to writing. I’m becoming more of a planster as I progress…a little plotting at the beginning then a LOT of swerve-room! 🤣

      Liked by 3 people

  6. When BookBub told me that a book was available by TWO of the authors I rate very highly, I bought a copy there and then, Really looking forward to reading it – though it might not be for a couple of weeks yet. I’ll be looking for the joins but I’m certain, having read this and knowing your individual talents, I’ll not be able to find any! It sounds as if you have a big hit on your hands!. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You suprised me, Mae – I never would have pegged you for a panster. I knew Staci created extensive outlines, so I figured she was the plotter. I can see how the two of you worked well together co-authoring a book, and you gave excellent advice about what to consider before going into it. I can’t imagine co-authoring with anyone – I write so slow it would drive a co-author crazy!

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL! I’m normally a slow writer too, Teri. It’s surprising what a deadline can do to you though. I learned that when I was writing for Kensington.

      Yes, I am a panster. Each and every book. I think I have become a planster over time, but definitely not a plotter. I keep hoping one of these days, but so far that mindset has eluded me!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I wouldn’t say “extensive,” Teri. But I do like a roadmap. I enjoy the occasional detour, but having a destination in mind is necessary for my process. Mae works best with more freedom. I think we enhanced each other’s strengths. I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I have tried co-authoring only twice, despite having been a writer and editor for many years. One collaboration was simple as I had already edited a series story by my co-author, we had worked together here and there over the years on short tales for magazines, it was seamless. Upon the other occasion, it was fraught with argument and stress, I swore never to do it again. Lol- the only thing I remember thinking good is that she was a far better typist than I who must correct every second word typed. In saying that I would recommend the interaction, even the challenging times yield something unexpected.
    I like the unexpected.
    Best of luck with the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ray, those two experiences are definitely polar opposites! I think you need a third go round to see where which way the scales tip, LOL.
      I don’t many writers who have co-authored, so it’s interesting to hear all the varying experiences from those who have.

      A series I follow is penned by two NYT best-selling authors who have been working together for decades. Their next release is book 22, so those guys (Preston and Child) have clearly found how to make it work!

      Thanks for sharing and for the well wishes!

      Liked by 2 people

      • My two attempts at co-authoring were opposites, true, but each good in differing ways. The first; a bonding; leading to a cohesive whole, benefiting Rob Anderson’s Story, I think. It sold well. The second; Blitzkrieg, mayhem but even mayhem can be creative. I suspect that the conflict seeded many original ideas. Ms. Rutherford took many of our ideas and created a spectacular novel from the ashes of our anger and ire (one of my favorite novels of the last ten years). Bits of those many, angry, wine-fueled, exchanges were included in my novel that appeared a little later.
        So, I agree, and one day, Lol- if I live long enough, I will try collaborating again. ……….maybe.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I like that you had great takeaways from each experience, Ray. That makes it all worth it. And if you DO give the third round a try, I expect you’ll have a good takeaway from that one, too. No experience as an author is ever wasted!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post, I love learning about co-authoring and how it works. I’m half way through your book, and can say the planner/panster worked very well together 🙂 I hope there are more collaborations together.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi, Mae,

    I tried to leave this comment on your blog post, but it wouldn’t allow me to login using any of the methods it has options for. Something isn’t working there. Loved your article, and here’s my comment:

    I’ve always admired people who could co-author books and I’ve wondered how they do it. Thanks so much for sharing yours and Staci’s journey, Mae. It’s refreshing to read how you, a pantser, and Staci, an outliner, co-wrote a cohesive novel despite your different crafting styles. Outlining totally bogs me down. I admire those who can do it. I just grabbed The Haunting of Chatham Hollow and can’t wait to read it.

    Blessings, Patty

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Patty. Thanks for picking up our book. It’s true, I’m an outliner. And there’s no twelve-step program to cure me of it. But even though Mae and I approach projects from totally different places, it all gelled in the end. I believe it’s because we’re respectful of each other as artists and genuinely adore each other as people. When you have that kind of relationship, you can work wonders. She’s a great partner.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Patty! I’m so sorry you had trouble leaving a comment, but thank you for your persistence. I had long thought what a great experience it would be to co-author a novel, but until I met Staci, I couldn’t imagine undertaking the challenge. Despite our different approaches to writing, I knew she and I would work well together.

      I actually wish I could plot, but I rarely get further than the basic premise when I too get bogged down. I know some of Staci’s style rubbed off on me, and I think a little of mine rubbed off on her as well.

      Thank you so much for picking up a copy of Chatham. I’m thrilled to hear that, and hope you enjoy the story!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Co-authoring has always intrigued me, but it’s always sounded so challenging, Mae. I’m a flexible plotter, but also a bit of a control freak, so I marvel at Staci’s willingness to work with a pantser – lol. But I’m not surprised that the two of you pulled it off. Excellent tips for anyone who wants to give it a try. I’m starting your book tonight, and this was a great post to lead the way. Congrats on the successful venture!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I started reading The Haunting of Chatham Hollow last night. Already hooked, and your two writing styles work perfectly for the time frames of the story. Mae, your voice fits the past time period, and Staci’s suits the present-day storyline. I’m hoping to read the seance scene tonight. I’m guessing that’s when the plot hits the fan:) Your teamwork is making for a great story. I don’t think I’d be good at working with someone else. I’m too used to working alone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A partnership only works if you’re right for each other. We were both used to writing alone, but we were blessed to find the perfect co-author in each other. If you found the right person, I’m sure you’d love it as much as we did.

      I’m delighted you’re enjoying the novel, Judi. Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Judi, when we initially talked about how we might write the story we debated about alternating chapters and such, but almost immediately we realized that splitting the time frames was the way to go. I love setting stories in earlier centuries and Staci has such a great knack for contemporary voice. I’m glad to hear you feel the voices compliment each other.

      Co-authoring is definitely a change from writing alone, but with the right partner it’s a fun and rewarding experience. I highly recommend it.
      And I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying the book! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  13. First of all, congratulations to both you and Staci, Mae! I love that you both approached writing this story from such different angles. What a fun collaboration. Thank you for sharing the journey, and I look forward to reading it SOON!! I have never tried to collaborate with anyone yet, but my sister and I keep talking about co-authoring a book. That would be fun. Wishing you both the best!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s funny… I don’t think my sister and I COULD co-author a book. We’re great at helping each other brainstorm and proofread. It’s the stuff in the middle that I’m not sure we could navigate. I’d love to know if you and your sister ever try, and if so, how it goes.

      Thanks for the kind words. It was fun!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love the fact that both you and your sister are writers, Jan. Co-authoring with Staci was so much fun. I would bet you and your sister would find it equally fun. Staci and I had talked about co-authoring before, but I’m so glad we finally gave it a whirl. It was such a rewarding experience.

      Thank you for the well wishes on the book too. When it surfaces on your Kindle, I hope you enjoy the tale!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Wonderful post, Mae. I’m so happy for you and Staci. I’ve just begun your book, and I’m already caught. 😊 Unlike the two of you, John and I didn’t know each other before we started working together. He had, however, read each other work. The miracle that happens in a good co-authoring experience is that the writers get to know each other through their hearts. I’m forever grateful for that rare opportunity. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    • I didn’t realize you and John didn’t know each other before you collaborated. That must have been scary as well as exciting. You handled it brilliantly. There’s no sign of unfamiliarity or awkwardness in The Contract. You’re right; a great partner is a blessing.

      I’m delighted you’ve started Chatham Hollow. I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I never would have guessed you and John didn’t know each other, Gwen. You two did an excellent job with your book. Good for the two of you!
      And I’m excited you’ve started reading Chatham Hollow. I hope the story keeps you entertained. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for the mention of Gwen and my collaboration, Mae. We found that the biggest element of success is open and honest communication. There are times when co-authoring can become stressful. It is those times when the parties need to trust one another and articulate those stresses so the parties can resolve them. An excellent post, Mae, and best wishes to you and Staci on your book.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. The fact that you’re a panster and Staci is a plotter never occurred to me while critiquing the book. I had to chuckle about her sending you the outline. 🙂

    Loved the book as I read it in bits and pieces and I’m enjoying it even more now!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  18. Having read and enjoyed The Haunting of Chatham Hollow immensely, I can testify to the fact that the Staci and Mae team not only worked but excelled! I sure look forward to more co-authored books from you both … no pressure! 😁

    I’ve never co-authored a book, but it sure sounds both interesting and rewarding. Great post, Mae 💕🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • So glad you liked the story, Harmony. Thanks for saying so here.

      And it was interesting and rewarding. I think if a partnership is right, it’s great fun. I’d recommend anyone who knows that “right” author give it a try. I know I’m glad I did. (But then again, I definitely had the right partner for me and my style.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Harmony, thank you so much (and for the fabulous review you left, too!). I’m so glad you enjoyed the book.
      Writing with Staci was definitely a rewarding experience, but she was the ideal co-author for me. I think that makes all the difference. I hope you’re able to try co-authoring one day. It was a blast!

      Liked by 2 people

  19. This discussion is very interesting, and now i have to read The Haunting of Chatham Hollow especially under this aspect. Sorry, i am a little bit behind my scheduling, Mae! But I’ve had my nose in the pages before. lol Congratulations to the great experiences, and thank you for sharing them with us. In my branch i am always a little bit afraid of teamwork. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Pingback: When a Plotter and a Panster Co-Author a Novel | Legends of Windemere

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