Monday, July 07, 2014

Serial Novel Changed My Pantser Mindset

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-plus years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with four children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at, on Facebook (, Twitter (@roniekendig), Goodreads (, and Pinterest (!

Ronie's newest thriller is Operation Zulu: Redemption, a serialized novel.  New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee writes: "Operation Zulu is everything you know to expect from master storyteller Ronie Kendig: High-octane action, unforgettable characters and an all-out riveting read. Prepare to be up all night."

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Plotter or pantser? Are you rolling your eyes yet? It’s one of the oldest questions put to authors in interviews. For years, I’d loudly and proudly proclaim, “I’m a panster! Plotting straightjackets my creativity!”

 To a certain extent, it certainly did. In fact, when I first learned I had to write an outline to put into a proposal, I about had a meltdown. But my mentor/advocate, John Olson, told me to write one out, then throw it away and write the story! In other words—get a general sense of direction about where you’re heading, then let the story loose on the page. Let those characters show you what they’ve got and why that plot point you had in the master plan simply won’t work.

 That’s how I wrote, and to an extent, still write. Until my agent called me last summer about a unique opportunity last summer—my publisher wanted me to write a serialized novel because they knew I could write fast and clean. The concept was daring, brilliant, and fun—a 208k word novel broken into thirteen “episodes” (it eventually became 208k words delivered in 5 parts) much the way a television series occurs. I loved the idea and jumped in with both feet!! (Shameless plug: the Teaser, Overkill - The Beginning, just released digitally--and it's FREE!!)

 Admittedly, I pouted a little when I found out my publisher required a detailed outline of each “episode” (remember—there were originally 13)—which was necessary since I would be writing fifteen-thousand-word episodes each week. So with the leaping came the daunting realization that not only would I have to detail out the overall story, character arcs, and subplots, but each episode also needed to have a self-contained minor plots, much like a TV drama.

 Though it strained my natural inclinations to go into such great depth in an outline, I promised myself the room to veer off or change parts as I got deeper into the story—and I warned my editor I might have to do that but promised no major plot changes. I was nervous about being tied to the outline, worried that I’d get in there and realize this character would never do that! Or realize that in all my planning/plotting, I’d missed some crucial element that would destroy the story.

 But in we went, deep into the breakneck pace. However, immersed in throes of the actual writing, I found great comfort in the outline, which told me where I needed to go. What hints needed to be built up. What I needed to be layering into the story—especially since I also had no time for editing other than a read-through of the episode. Did I find myself fixing some points I’d missed? Yes. Absolutely. But they were minor and didn’t create upheaval.

 This intense regimen was brutal time wise, but it taught me a lot about myself, as well as the whole
plotting vs pantser debate. While I absolutely adore the pantser approach and find great joy in the discovery that happens in the initial writing, I found that plotting when the pace is rigorous and time limited, that it can be a real life saver. There is no way I could’ve completed the 208K word serialization project in three months without having that detailed outline. Or maybe I could’ve finished it, but it wouldn’t have been worth reading!

Now, I quite proudly say that I’m both a plotter and a panster. . .depending on the story and the timeframe.  The point is not to reignite the Plotter vs. Panster debate but rather to say: be open to exploring new methods. Be willing to try new things that will not only help you figure out what does and doesn’t work for you, but will make you more confident in those methods. There is always room to grow and you’ll learn about yourself in the process.

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OPERATION ZULU: REDEMPTIONBrand-new 5-part Serial Novel! 

They never should’ve existed.  Now they don’t. 

 In the aftermath of their first highly successful op, the first all-female special ops team, known as Zulu, discovered that innocent civilians—women and children—died at their hands. Zulu was set up to take the devastating fall.  Fearing for their lives, Zulu vanished. With new identities and spread across the globe, they lived in relative but isolated peace—yet still haunted by the past. Terrified of being discovered. 

Five years after that horrific night, they’ve begun to hope they might be safe and the tragedy forgotten.  Until two of them are murdered.

Download the FREE TEASER--RIGHT NOW!! Beginning 7/18, each part will release weekly. Start the adventure today!! 


Ron Estrada said...

I set an aggressive goal for myself this year. I want to complete my first drafts in 2 months. I have one hour to write each night, so I needed to make sure I wrote about 1500 words at each sitting. I'd already been heading toward full-fledged plotting, so I had sixty scenes laid out on my Scrivener cards. I found out I could easily hit my mark. Just knowing what I'd be writing beforehand and having knowledge of what was coming made it much easier to get the words down. And my writing feels much more natural. I finally see a definite voice (it helps that this one is YA and I can release my inner teen). The book I just completed took about five months and I only loosely plotted that. It was a struggle throughout it slowed me down, spending my first thirty minutes just trying to figure out what came next. To me, plotting gave me the freedom to write the scene, taking away the concerns of writing myself into a corner. Thanks for the post Ronie!

Ane Mulligan said...

When I know what and why I'm writing in a scene, it flows, but when I don't, it's a snail's pace. I still allow the characters to lead me places I hadn't planned, but I have to have a plan to start out. Does that make sense?

Ronie Kendig said...

Absolutely it does!! And it works for you--that's what makes it important. :-D

Ronie Kendig said...

So glad you found what works for you, Ron!! It does make you more confident when you know that!

Susan P said...

I loved how you were "stretched" and blossomed in writing like a plotter! God certainly does help us grow. Thank you for sharing with us. Operation Zulu is fantastic and I'm not so patiently waiting for the next episode!!

Brittany said...

Great post! Funny how something you were dreading ended up being just what you needed in this particular situation!

Necee L said...

So interesting how it all came together...You are a great writer! Thanks for all the hard work...

Richard Mabry said...

Ronie, I can truthfully say that the most difficult writing I've done is preparing a synopsis to be submitted with a proposal. And I agree with John Olson's advice--I get an idea of where things are going, but the end result generally has a lot of twists and turns not in the original roadmap.
Congratulations on this latest work.

Ian Acheson said...

Great post, Ronie and wonderful you are able to now move between the 2 methods. One day I hope you might share in some detail how you tackled developing the outline. Did you use a particular approach like Randy's Snowflake or your own? Perhaps it might become the "Rapid-Fire Fiction" method to outlining - an e-book that sells lots of copies and has you travelling the world speaking at Writers Conferences! Bless,

SusieMay said...

I love this idea!! And can't wait to read it!!! Well done, Ronie. :)

Heidi McCahan said...

That is an impressive achievement ... congrats on completing a daunting task. I'm so curious about this serial novel trend and looking forward to reading yours.