For Authors

Can You Use AI To Become a “Plotter”?

By: Ginger on March 22, 2024

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on March 22, 2024


Some authors like to plot out their novels before they start writing, and others like to fly by the seat of their pants, letting the characters direct the story as they go. However, it’s not always so black and white, with some author’s taking a more hybrid approach, and others switching from plotter to pantser depending on the project.

Yet for authors who aren’t opposed to using AI for a bit of assistance in their planning process, it’s never been easier to be a plotter. As Ginger lays out in today’s blog (with some great examples), AI can not only help guide you through the plotting process of whatever genre or style of book you are writing, but it can even do so using the story structure you want your book to follow. So whether you’re using ChatGPT, Claude, Gemini, or something else, plotting has never been easier!

Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought about the craft of writing. 

Some authors are plotters. Plotters are writers who plan out their stories extensively before they begin writing. They typically outline the plot, develop detailed character backgrounds, and often have a clear idea of how the story will unfold from beginning to end.

Pantsers, on the other hand, are writers who “fly by the seat of their pants.” They prefer to write with minimal planning and allow the story to evolve organically as they write. They often rely on intuition and creativity to guide the direction of the narrative.

You’ve probably heard all this before, of course. It’s a perennial topic of discussion in writing circles, with most of us falling into one camp or another (for years I was #TeamPantser.) But is it true that plotters are more successful than pantsers?

It’s not a strict rule in the writing world, but there are many who argue that writers who plot out their books tend to be more successful than authors who fly by the seat of their pants. There’s even some evidence to support that claim.

But can those of us who write by the seat of our pants learn to become plotters? With the power of Artificial Intelligence, perhaps we don’t need to – because now AI can help us plot our books. It’s something I’ve been experimenting with recently, and I’m really excited by the results.

Plotters versus Pantsers

While there are certainly successful authors who identify as pantsers, such as Stephen King and Gillian Flynn, they often possess a natural storytelling ability and a deep understanding of narrative craft that allows them to succeed despite their lack of planning.

“I don’t outline,” Gillian Flynn explained in an interview. “I kind of think I know where I’m going and I never end up there. I feel like I write about three books for every one that gets published because I kind of go all over the place. It’s almost like a ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure!’”

Likewise, if you’ve ever read King’s brilliant book on the craft of writing (with a pretty bang-on-the-nose title, On Writing) you’ll appreciate how he likens his writing experience to that of a paleontologist.

He gently excavates his story the same way a dinosaur expert slowly uncovers a fossil from the dirt – one fragile element at a time. It’s a journey of discovery, and where the story takes his characters is often as much a surprise to King as it is to his readers!

But that technique isn’t perfect, and even as the winner of the 2014 National Medal of Arts, Stephen King himself is the first to admit that his writing isn’t perfect. In fact in the most recent movie adaptations of his iconic novel IT, there are repeated jokes and references to the fact that King “can’t write a decent ending.”

Which is why there are many more plotters to be found in the bestseller ranks – or at least strong evidence to suggest that.

Admittedly, identifying whether a modern author is a plotter or a pantser is challenging without direct insight into their writing process (or possibly just asking them!) However, there are many bestselling authors who are known for their meticulous planning and detailed outlines, which strongly suggests that they lean more towards plotting than pantsing. 

Here are just a few modern authors often described as “plotters” based on their public statements, things they’ve said during interviews, or merely just the complexity of their books:

  • George R.R. Martin is highly regarded for his intricate plots, extensive world-building, and numerous interconnected characters – all of which suggest careful planning and forethought. If only he plotted his writing schedule as tightly. Then we might already have the next book in the series!
  • J.K. Rowling is famously known for planning out the entire story arc and character development of her books well in advance. In fact, Rowling even claimed she wrote the final chapter of the Harry Potter series back in 1990 – seven years before the release of her first book!
  • Brandon Sanderson is well known for his detailed outlines and world-building, and he often shares his meticulous planning process with other aspiring writers, emphasizing the importance of structure and plotting. When asked if he was a plotter or a pantster (well, the more poetic “outliner” or “discovery writer” he wrote: “I outline quite extensively. I’ve found that the best way to get the kinds of endings I like. I have to know where I’m going before I start.”
  • Dan Brown is known for his intricate plots and meticulous research, and he often incorporates complex puzzles and codes into his novels, requiring careful planning and foreshadowing. In the Masterclass he teaches, he even provides a step-by-step process for turning his ideas into novels, which pretty much confirms he’s a plotter.

Together, these authors represent some of the most successful writers of the modern age, and it’s fair to argue that plotting, rather than pantsing, probably contributed to that success. 

I would certainly believe it based on my own experiences with writing and self-publishing. While I’ve written by the seat of my pants on more than one occasion, I’ve definitely found value in plotting out stories before I begin writing them. If nothing else, it means I pretty much know what I have to write before I sit down in front of a keyboard – and plotting has helped me avoid “writing myself into a corner” on more than one occasion.

So while every author approaches their craft differently, and I’d never want to claim that plotting is “better” than pantsing, I’ve certainly come to the conclusion that it’s better for me – and I think it’s something even dyed-in-the-wool pantsers should consider trying.

Why Plotting works better than Pantsing

Off the top of my head, here are some of the reasons why I think plotting beats pantsting when it comes to writing: 

  • Structure and Cohesion: Plotters tend to have a more structured and cohesive story because they have already outlined the plot and character arcs. This can result in a more tightly woven narrative that engages readers from start to finish – and allow you to insert foreshadowing and easter eggs that really pay off later in the series. A great example of this from television was the show Futurama, which revealed in Season 4 that cute alien Nibbler was responsible for locking the main character Fry into a cryogenic chamber in the pilot episode. While that might sound like retroactive continuity from the writers, eagle-eyed viewers replayed the first episode and saw Nibbler’s shadow in the opening scenes; revealing that the writers had plotted out this reveal four years earlier! 
  • Consistency: Plotters are better equipped to maintain consistency throughout their story, including in character development, plot twists, and themes. Consistency is crucial for reader immersion and satisfaction. It’s why the original two Star Wars trilogies worked so well, all based on George Lucas’ original vision. The sequel trilogy, however, was written by different writers with no clear outline for the story arc – and was universally derided as a result. Actor Mark Hamill even complained that he didn’t understand the behavior or motivations of the version of Luke Skywalker he was supposed to be playing.
  • Efficiency: Planning allows plotters to write more efficiently because they have a roadmap to follow. This can lead to faster writing and potentially more prolific output, which can be advantageous in the competitive publishing industry. Agatha Christie, the renowned mystery writer, was known for meticulously plotting her intricate whodunits, resulting in numerous bestsellers and enduring popularity. Some might argue that this leads to formulaic stories – but after selling a billion copies of her books (yes, billion with a “b”) it’s also fair to argue that readers actually love formulaic books!
  • Appeal to Publishers: I’m committed to self-publishing, but if you’re not, it’s worth remembering that publishers often prefer manuscripts from authors who have a clear plan and vision for their stories. A well-developed plot and strong structure can make a manuscript more marketable and appealing to publishers, increasing the likelihood of it being picked up for publication. Some big name writers scored lucrative contracts before they even wrote their books, and this only ever happened because they were able to provide a solid, engaging plot plan prior to signing on the dotted line.

So, there are some solid reasons why successful writers often plot out their books – but how can you do that if you’re not naturally inclined to be a plotter?

Using AI to help you plot

One recent tool I’ve found immensely useful when planning books is Artificial Intelligence – tools like ChatGPt or Google Gemini. I’ve used them to outline plot plans which I can then fill in based on the ideas I’ve had for a story.

The best part about using tools like ChatGPT to do this is the ability to customize your plot structure depending on what you think will work best. I wrote extensively about different story structures in this blog post (and a follow up here.) If you request ChatGPT come up with a story outline for you based on one of these structures, it can be immensely powerful.

For example, my favorite story structure is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, and if you ask ChatGPT to produce a bulleted outline for you to follow using that structure, it can come up with one. However, you can customize this output. In this instance, I specified that I was writing a romance novel, and this is what ChatGPT came up with:

Story Circle Romance Novel Plotting Example

  • You (1st Quadrant – Setup):
    • Who is the protagonist of your romance story?
    • What is the protagonist’s background, including their personality, strengths, weaknesses, and everyday life?
    • What does the protagonist desire or lack in their life that will drive the story forward?
  • Need (2nd Quadrant – Desire):
    • What is the protagonist’s emotional need or desire in the story?
    • What event or circumstance disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary world and prompts them to seek something more?
  • Go (3rd Quadrant – Decision):
    • What action does the protagonist take in response to the inciting incident?
    • How does the protagonist respond to the introduction of the love interest or the catalyst for romantic conflict?
  • Search (4th Quadrant – Journey):
    • What challenges or obstacles does the protagonist face in pursuing their romantic desires?
    • How does the relationship between the protagonist and the love interest develop over the course of the story?
  • Find (5th Quadrant – Discovery):
    • What does the protagonist discover or learn about themselves and their romantic feelings?
    • What significant moments or revelations occur that deepen the connection between the protagonist and the love interest?
  • Take (6th Quadrant – Choice):
    • What choices does the protagonist make based on their newfound understanding or experiences in the relationship?
    • What actions do they take to pursue or solidify their romantic connection?
  • Return (7th Quadrant – Return):
    • How does the protagonist return to their ordinary world, transformed by their romantic journey?
    • What changes have occurred within the protagonist and their relationship with the love interest?
  • Change (8th Quadrant – Change):
    • How does the protagonist and the love interest’s relationship evolve or change by the end of the story?
    • What resolution is reached regarding the protagonist’s emotional need or desire, and how does it impact their future together?

If you’ve read my blog post on the Story Circle, you can see ChatGPT regurgitated it pretty much verbatim (notice I recommend AI for plotting stories, not writing them!)

However, it did so in the form of questions that you can answer, and in a way that’s very easy to copy and paste into a Google Doc and start using to plan your story.

If you wanted to write out a science fiction story using the traditional Three-Act structure, you could do that, too – a structure that would be achingly familiar to fans of shows like Star Trek.

Three-Act Structure Science Fiction Novel Plotting Example

  • Act 1: Setup
    • Introduction of the World: What is the setting of your science fiction story? Is it set in space, on a distant planet, or in a futuristic Earth?
    • Introduction of the Protagonist: Who is the main character of your story, and what is their background? What makes them unique or interesting in this futuristic world?
    • Establishing the Conflict: What is the central conflict or problem in your story? Is it a scientific mystery, an alien invasion, a rebellion against a dystopian government, or something else?
    • Call to Adventure: What event or discovery propels the protagonist into action? What motivates them to embark on their journey or quest?
    • Introduction of Supporting Characters: Who are the key supporting characters in your story, and how do they relate to the protagonist and the central conflict?
  • Act 2: Confrontation
    • Rising Action: What obstacles or challenges does the protagonist encounter as they pursue their goal or mission? How do these challenges escalate the tension in the story?
    • Exploration of the World: How does the protagonist navigate the futuristic world you’ve created? What technologies, societies, or cultures do they encounter along the way?
    • Character Development: How does the protagonist evolve and grow throughout the story? What internal conflicts or dilemmas do they face as they confront external threats?
    • Revelations and Twists: Are there any unexpected plot twists or revelations that change the direction of the story? How do these revelations impact the protagonist’s journey?
    • Midpoint Climax: What is the major turning point or climax of the story’s second act? How does this event raise the stakes and propel the protagonist toward the final confrontation?
  • Act 3: Resolution
    • Final Confrontation: What is the ultimate challenge or obstacle that the protagonist must overcome to resolve the central conflict? How do they confront and overcome this challenge?
    • Character Growth and Transformation: How does the protagonist’s journey come full circle? What lessons have they learned, and how have they changed as a result of their experiences?
    • Resolution of Conflict: How is the central conflict resolved? Does the protagonist achieve their goal, or do they make a sacrifice for the greater good?
    • Conclusion and Closure: What is the aftermath of the story’s events? How do the characters and the world they inhabit change as a result of the protagonist’s actions?
    • Final Reflection: What is the overall message or theme of your science fiction story? How does it resonate with contemporary issues or timeless human experiences?

As a final example, here’s ChatGPT providing a template for plotting out a cozy mystery that follows the Save the Cat story structure:

Save the Cat Cozy Mystery Plotting Example

  • Act 1: Setup
    • Opening Image: What is the opening scene or image that sets the tone for your cozy mystery? How does it introduce the protagonist and the quaint setting of the story?
    • Theme Stated: What is the underlying theme or message of your cozy mystery? How is it hinted at or foreshadowed in the opening scenes?
    • Set-up: Who is the protagonist of your cozy mystery, and what is their background? What brings them to the charming small town or picturesque location where the story takes place?
    • Catalyst: What event or discovery disrupts the peaceful setting and propels the protagonist into action? Is it a murder, a disappearance, or another mysterious incident that requires investigation?
    • Debate: How does the protagonist initially respond to the catalyst? What internal conflict or dilemma do they face as they decide whether to get involved in solving the mystery?
  • Act 2: Confrontation
    • Break into Two: What decision does the protagonist make that sets them on the path to solving the mystery? How do they commit to uncovering the truth, despite the challenges they may face?
    • B Story: What secondary storyline or subplot develops alongside the main mystery plot? How does it provide depth to the characters and their relationships?
    • Fun and Games: What entertaining or lighthearted moments occur as the protagonist investigates the mystery? How do they interact with quirky local residents, gather clues, and uncover secrets?
    • Midpoint: What major revelation or twist occurs in the middle of the story? How does it raise the stakes and change the direction of the investigation?
    • Bad Guys Close In: How do the obstacles and suspects multiply as the protagonist gets closer to uncovering the truth? What challenges do they face as they navigate red herrings and false leads?
  • Act 3: Resolution
    • Break into Three: What new insight or clue leads the protagonist to the final confrontation with the culprit? How do they gather their allies and prepare for the showdown?
    • Finale: What dramatic confrontation takes place between the protagonist and the villain? How is the mystery finally solved, and justice served?
    • Final Image: What is the closing scene or image that leaves readers with a sense of closure and satisfaction? How does it reflect the protagonist’s growth and the resolution of the central conflict?
    • Closing Credits: Are there any loose ends or subplots that need to be tied up in the final scenes? How do the characters move forward after the mystery is solved?
    • Tag: What final twist or revelation occurs in the closing moments of the story? How does it leave readers eager for the next installment in the series?

Having ChatGPt ask questions is really helpful, as it is much easier to answer a question about the story you’re envisioning than trying to pluck each of the details of it out of your imagination.

Likewise, being able to customize the genre and type of story structure is really powerful, and helps make it much easier for pantser authors to squeeze their story ideas (and let’s face it, pantsers often start with little more than ideas) into a structure that will be satisfying for readers to experience. That should help with avoiding traditional pantser problems (like Stephen King’s reputation for “not being able to write endings.)

For me, though, the best part is that it helps me plan out the actual writing process. Often I find myself struggling to sit down and write every day because I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to write. I’ve abandoned countless stories after getting to a point at which I’m “not sure what happens next.” 

By using AI to help me plan out the structure of the story, it makes breaking a novel down into chunks much easier; and it’s always easier to write clearly defined chunks than hammer away at a keyboard trying to reach an ending that you haven’t even figured out yet.


It seems like everybody is talking about how AI will disrupt the writing industry, and Amazon and other book retailers are already struggling with a bombardment of AI-written books and stories.

However, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to fully remove the human element to good writing. Writing is, after all, our way of making sense of the human experience – and that’s the one thing AI will never be able to replicate.

But as a tool, AI can be a powerful ally for self-published authors – especially those who struggle with getting a book finished, or find themselves written into a corner or experiencing writer’s block. Using ChatGPT (or Google Gemini, or Claude, etc) to help produce a customized plotting plan is really powerful – so powerful that I think it might even convert some hardline pantsers.

But this is just my opinion. What do you think? Are AI-written plot structures useful? Have you ever used them yourself? Are you going to after reading this blog? Let me know in the comments section below!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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  • This was fascinating and timely for me! I’m literally supposed to be plotting a book today 😅 and haven’t tried to enlist the help of AI at all. So thank you for this write up! Here’s hoping it helps