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  • J. J. Hanna

Guided Discovery Writing: A New Happy Medium

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

And we're back to the inevitable topic, the never-ending debate, and the consistent question of NaNoWriMo: are you a planner or a pantser?

If you've hung around here long enough, you'll know that I've dabbled in both camps, spending time as both a planner and a pantser. For a while I even toyed with the idea of calling myself a plantser. (That didn't stick.)

I can now say with some confidence that I am a pantser.

Or, as a friend of mine calls it, a discovery writer.

But, being a pantser (or a discovery writer, whatever you want to call it) doesn't excuse me from understanding plot and knowing how the story should unfold.

You can do this in a number of different ways. Study the three act structure, study the five act structure, learn the 12 (or 15, depending on who you ask) beats of screen writing. For more information on this, check out this blog post about how I plot my novels (when, in fact, I do plot them).

However, most recently, I've been trying a new method I'm going to call Guided Pantsing, or Guided Discovery.

This method keeps the elements of story in mind as I discover the story. I haven't planned out ahead of time what each beat of the 12 beats will be. I don't know what the main character's debate is or how dark the dark night of the soul will be. But, I do know what order they should come in, and then as my story stalls, I know what the next step should look like. (Don't know what I'm talking about? This blog explains them well. Yes, they should go in order.)

Rather than planning it all out, I use it as a map to uncharted land.

If I were the chosen one in a fantasy novel, my mentor figure would probably tell me I need to bring hiking boots because mountains will appear in my path. The trick is, neither the mentor (the 12 beats) or I know when those mountains will show up or how they'll appear.

The idea behind this is that I know I need to head north, I just don't have any clue what I'll meet along the way.

So if you find it difficult to plan and outline your novel because you get bored with it after you've figured it all out, maybe you should try guided discovery writing. It gives you a direction and a little bit of order to the whirlwind of your discovery, but it still leaves the actual act of writing up to wherever the creative winds blow you that day.

Knowing the plot structure without knowing your novel's plot can provide many ways out of writers block without removing the intrigue from the story.

Good luck, and happy writing!


J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she creates YouTube Videos and Comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. If you have a writing question, she'd love to hear from you! She is also looking for freelancing work, so if you have editing, beta reading, or writing needs, or would simply like to chat in a consultation, please let her know. Like what you see and want to get more content like this, or have your specific questions answered? Check out how you can support her on Patreon for as little as $3 a month.


This week's YouTube video contained a few tips for time management. Check it out:

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