TUESDAYS WITH STARLA KAYE: Plotter or Panster? With Guest Blogger Laurie Sanders

Today I’m welcoming the multi-talented Laurie Sanders to my new guest author blog spotlight. Laurie is the editor/publisher of Black Velvet Seductions, one of my publishers. Beyond all of the time involved with her business, she does writing workshops, and she also writes as Alyssa Aaron for her publishing house.

Many writers are asked if they are a Plotter or a Panster. Laurie not only reveals to us which is her writing style but also explains the terms for those of you who have no idea what they mean in terms of a writer.

Plotter Vs. Panster

Whether I am a plotter or a panster is a question I am often asked both by readers and by authors who take my writing workshops. Though there is kind of a psychological dividing line between the plotter and the panster I don’t think the divide is that wide, here’s why.

First of all, whether you are a plotter (you write down your plot points and how your character gets between plot points in the story in advance of writing the story) or you are a panster (someone who flies by the seat of their pants…who may not know the plot points in their story let alone write them down) you still need to have the same components in a story.

The principle difference between plotters and pansters seems to be whether the plot points are written down and how thorough the plot points in the story are explored (in the written documents used for this purpose – outline, storyboard, etc.) ahead of the actual writing of the book.

Though I am definitely more of a panster than a plotter the beauty of plotting a story out ahead of time…perhaps of color coding different parts of the story with different colors of markers or post it notes so that the different story arcs are clear and concise appeals to me in a very logical,  visual, sane way. It makes sense the same way that using a graph to show the trend in book sales makes sense to me. An outline, story board, or other plotting tool does the same job that a graph does. It makes visual the complexities in the story or in the information being graphed so that it is easier to understand. This makes sense to me in a fundamental way. I love graphs! I love color coding things to make them visual.

Yet, I am still a panster. The reason why is that when it comes to writing fiction, as soon as I explore an idea to the point that I know what the characters will do and why they will do it and what the outcome will be I’ve explored that part of the story to the point that it is no longer interesting to me. Once I know what will happen, I don’t really need to write anymore to discover what will happen.

For this reason I am not a plotter…at least not in the sense that I do not write down plot points, color code story arcs, or use a story board to lay out a story. Instead, I do all of these things mentally. When I work mentally pushing mental pieces of the story this way and that to arrange and rearrange them I can play with all the potential ways that the character MIGHT react. Usually I think I know how he or she will react by the time I am approaching a scene, but there is still the potential for the characters to do something unexpected that I didn’t foresee. There is still the opportunity for them to surprise me. I am a panster because I enjoy writing a story almost like a reader…writing each page to see what happens next.

The reason that I think the divide between plotters and pansters is not very wide is that whether you write the plot points down or whether you leave them fluid and open to change until the moment they are written on paper the plot still needs to work. The character still needs to have good, believable motivation for whatever he or she decides to do. Whether you plot or whether you fly by the seat of your pants doesn’t change what needs to be in the story…it only really changes how you as an author go about making sense of it in your own head so you can transfer the experience to the reader.

Plotters arrange the pieces of their stories by writing them down. Pansters arrange the pieces of their stories mentally, by thinking about them and making mental adjustments.  We’re still doing the same work.

Now that we know how she works let’s get to know more about Laurie on a personal basis. What are you hobbies or other interests that get you away from the stress of writing, editing, or running your business?

I have several hobbies and interests that get me away from the stress of writing/publishing/editing.

I have been quilting for over twenty years and still enjoy it a great deal. I find it fascinating to play with shapes, color, and texture. I create a lot of quilts for children as most of the quilts I make are given to organizations who distribute them to the needy, mostly in third world countries. Many of the organizations I work with deal either exclusively or primarily with children. I like making quilts for kids because I like working with bright colors and novelty fabrics. I also make quilts for friends and family members as gifts and I enjoy that a great deal as well. I find that when I am working on a quilt for someone I think about them a lot and there is a feeling of closeness with them even though they aren’t there in the sewing room with me.

In addition to quilting I also enjoy flower gardening and collecting recipes.

Laurie, what made you decide to try and be a published author?

Years ago, when I was in 9th grade we had a student teacher in our business class. Mr. Burdick always included two or three essay questions on his tests. Though most of the class groaned in protest I always loved writing the answers to essay questions. I liked the challenge of trying to weave a bit of humor into my answers on dull subjects. Mr. Burdick seemed to enjoy my efforts and would frequently write encouraging comments which made me feel competent in my writing ability. At about the same time I read my first Harlequin Romance which I really enjoyed. Somehow in my adolescent mind the encouragement on my verbose essay questions and my enjoyment of the romance genre morphed together and I got it into my head that I could write romance novels. I started writing a novel soon after. Of course, writing has a steep learning curve and there were a lot of things I needed to learn before my work was up to publishable standard.

How long have you been writing? And what is your main writing genre?

I’ve been writing a long time. I started writing romance novels when I was in 9th grade. I was published first in short confession stories for True Confessions Magazine. I’ve also written some non-fiction pieces. Now I consider my primary genre as erotic romance. That’s what I most enjoy writing.

How and why did you decide to use a pen name?

Whether to use a pen name was something I tossed around a great deal during the creation of His Perfect Submissive and also during the launching of Black Velvet Seductions. When you create a corporation or a legal business entity of any type you need to use your legal name for the paperwork so using a pen name for the formation of Black Velvet Seductions was not an option. For that reason everything that I do with the company, editing, financial documents, workshops I teach, etc. are all done under my real name, Laurie Sanders.

Even though I do a lot of my work under my real name I decided that I wanted a separation between real me and my fictional work…mostly because I wanted the ability to share or not share what I write with the various people in my life. I decided to use the pen name Alyssa Aaron for my fictional work.

Of course, when you write books titled His Perfect Submissive there isn’t a lot of middle ground. If you tell someone you wrote a book the first thing they ask is the title…and when you say that the title is His Perfect Submissive the eyebrows raise and the questions begin.

Over the years since Black Velvet Seductions launched and since His Perfect Submissive was published I’ve become pretty comfortable with the questions. I am proud of what I write.

I write about romantic love which has a sexual component. Sometimes a power exchange component…sometimes other fetish components. I try to show the beauty and commitment of those kinds of relationships. I use a pen name so that I can tell people or not tell people what I write. But generally, I tell the truth when I am asked what I do. All the important people in my life know what I write. Some have read the book. Others have not. And I am fine with that.


Now to the nitty-gritty of Laurie’s book, His Perfect Submissive, written as Alyssa Aaron…

Genre: Erotic Romance (D/s, domestic discipline)

ISBN: 0-9774682-0-8

Length: 304 paperback pages

Publisher: Black Velvet Seductions

Buy link: http://www.blackvelvetseductions.com/His%20Perfect%20Submissive.html

Book trailer link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNeUDV_6cZM

Tell us what you believe is unique about His Perfect Submissive.

Ultimately His Perfect Submissive is a story about learning to trust…not just someone else…but one’s self as well. In His Perfect Submissive Kara is put in the position of having to face her worst nightmare in order to save her brother and ultimately her mother who is in poor health and who would not survive her brother’s trial and subsequent incarceration.

Kara was kidnapped and raped when she was a child. She never received counseling, her family never really recovered from her ordeal, and as a result the ordeal and avoiding the memories, avoiding the panic attacks that still come when a man is too close or she catches an unexpected whiff of familiar aftershave has remained as the primary force in Kara’s life.

When Slade offers her one chance to save her brother (marry him and become his submissive) she thinks that the hardest thing will be having sex with Slade…especially kinky sex. What she learns though is that Slade won’t let her hide from him, or from the ordeals of the past. When she can no longer hide from the past and she must confront it she begins to heal. She finds that as scary as trust is, she also likes the feeling. She likes the power she gains over her past as she follows Slade’s lead.

Was there anything that surprised you while writing this book?

There were a lot of things that surprised me while I was writing this book. I do not plot my books ahead of time. Usually I know a few scenes within the book and everything between those scenes I make up as I write it.

I was surprised at how quickly Kara found peace in surrendering to Slade. She’s spent twenty years trying to hide from her past…and with him she cannot hide because he won’t allow it. As I was writing the book I knew that he wouldn’t allow her to hide…but I didn’t know how she would react to that until I got to that point in the story.

I was surprised to learn that Slade’s father had a gambling problem. I didn’t know that till I was writing a scene and Slade remembered his fourth birthday party which didn’t happen because the family was evicted.

There are many places where I was surprised in the book. I LIKE being surprised by a book I am writing. It’s what keeps me writing. The feeling I have when I am writing is very similar to the experience readers have when reading a book. As a reader, if I am reading a book and have to put it down to fix dinner I am eager to get back to the book, to find out what happened. The feeling is very similar for me as a writer. There is the same eagerness to get back to the story, to find out what happens.

Did you have a favorite character in this book?

I like all of the characters in this book and it would be hard for me to pick a favorite. Kara is so wounded…and yet though she is wounded she also possesses a certain internal strength. It’s not the kind of strength that has heroines sailing over fences after bad guys…but it makes her do the hard things that she needs to do to save her family and later to begin to heal.

I absolutely adore Slade’s brand of tender strength. I love that he is wealthy, good looking, he doesn’t have to pair up with someone who is utterly wounded by her past. When he found out the truth the easy thing to do…the thing I expect most people would have done is to back pedal out of the relationship…but Slade doesn’t do that. Instead he’s there…strong, stable, and dependable. He curtails some of his dominance in order to use it to help Kara heal.

Did you have a favorite scene?

I have a lot of favorite scenes but the one that has been with me the longest is the scene in which Kara has a panic attack (which I’m sure the reader sees coming.) The way that Slade takes care of her afterward made me fall for him even more.

Did you have a scene that was particularly hard to write?

There are a lot of scenes that were hard to write in this book. The heroine was kidnapped and raped when she was seven. She hasn’t recovered from that ordeal so there is a lot of darkness and fear around her. Describing the events that happened to her and how they impacted on her was tough. It often left me feeling sick to my stomach. Yet what I didn’t want to do was soften the edges of the reality of what people who suffer similar experiences go through. I wanted to show how this event had ruined her life and destroyed her family. Those things are the reality. Most people don’t pick up the pieces and go merrily about their business after a violent attack. Most people suffer for a long time after the event. I wanted to show that in a realistic way.

Will there be any sequels to this book?

There may be other books that spin off from this book. Slade has five sisters and Kara has a brother. I do have an idea for a story which pairs Kara’s brother (whose gambling got her in this marriage under duress to begin with) with Slade’s kind of dingy younger sister.

I’m tossing around ideas for that story but haven’t yet hatched enough of the plot to move forward with the book so it won’t be the next book I write. I do however look forward to peeking back in on Slade and Kara throughout that story when I write it.



Kara was the victim of a brutal rape that occurred when she was seven. The event destroyed her family and left her fearful and distrustful of men.

When Kara’s brother embezzles $30,000 from Slade’s company, Kara goes to Slade’s office determined to talk him out of going to the police.

Slade wants a peaceful, obedient, submissive with whom to share his life and in Kara he glimpses what he wants. He seizes the opportunity and makes Kara an offer she can’t afford to refuse. The only way she can save her brother from certain prison is to accept Slade’s marriage proposal and become his submissive.

Kara faces her wedding with anxiety. She can’t tell Slade she can’t submit sexually without risking her brother’s freedom, yet she doubts she’ll be able to keep her promise to be a submissive, obedient wife.

This romance explores the role of trust in even the most mismatched of partnerships and explores the complex connections between dominance and submission while it demonstrates the power of real love to heal even the deepest wounds.



Once they had given their order and found a seat in a quiet corner Slade slipped into the role of negotiator. It was a role he played often and one he was good at.

“I suppose you’re dying to know the particulars of the plan I’ve come up with.” He offered her what he hoped was a disarming smile.

She nodded, taking a sip of her drink.

“Well, it’s unconventional but it meets my needs and,” he drew in a deep breath, “I think it meets yours too.”

Kara nodded, and a strand of dark hair fell over her shoulder. Her dark eyes were fixed on his. She looked fragile, practically swallowed by the navy blue surgical scrub pants and top she wore.

“I don’t like the idea of you borrowing against your credit cards and your 401k. It’s not sound financially. It would put you in debt and you told me last time we met that you’ve already had a hard time financially. It’s also not fair to you. Your brother should pay back the money he stole. But, even if I did agree to it, it would only take care of half the problem. You’d still have monthly payments on the balance. With payments on the 401k loan and the credit cards and payments to me I’m afraid it would only make it difficult for you. It’s not an acceptable solution.”

“Mr. Westin, things have been hard because of my mom’s medicines, they cost a lot. But I assure you that I will pay you. I’ll get another job if that’s what it takes. I’ll do what I need to in order to keep my brother out of jail.”

“Your brother should be the one who pays the money back. I know you think it’s a good thing to help him out, but rescuing him isn’t teaching him anything. It’s allowing him to continue his behavior. Even if I was willing to take payments from Ted, payments and interest on thirty thousand would be pushing it for him, especially now that he doesn’t have a job.”

The look on her face told him that her brother’s unemployed status was news to her. But he plunged on. “I’ve decided to forget about the money, but there are a couple conditions.”

“Oh Mr. Westin that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t seem fair to you.” She was looking at him, her deep brown eyes shadowed with regret.

“I’m happy with the solution,” he assured.

“Well—what are the conditions?” she asked hesitantly.

“First, that you stay out of my way and let me deal with your brother on my own terms. He won’t get around me as easily as he does you. Second, your brother goes to regular gambler’s anonymous meetings. And third, you marry me.”

Kara shook her head as if she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly. “What?”

He covered her small hand with his much larger one, ignoring her attempt to pull away. He rubbed the soft skin where her thumb joined her palm. “You heard me correctly. I want you to marry me, Kara. It’s the price for forgiving your brother’s theft and for not turning it over to the authorities.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes, Kara. I’m serious. If you agree to marry me and your brother agrees to treatment for his gambling I’ll rehire him into a position where he can’t get his hands on any money. He’ll be getting the help he needs, avoid jail, and have a job. You won’t be trying to pull everything together by yourself anymore. I’ll take care of you. I won’t be alone and that’ll make me happy.”

“Why? I don’t understand.”

“I like you, Kara. You have an aura of sweetness and innocence that lights my fire.”

“Mr. Westin!” she hissed. The way she looked around to see if anyone else had overheard and the pink that tinged her cheeks made him smile.

“Call me Slade, Kara.”

“Slade then.” He heard her deeply inhaled breath. “I don’t understand what you’d get out of this. I’m fat, I’m not rich, and I’m afraid I don’t know what to do with a fire once it’s lighted. I-uhm, I’ve never—uhm.” She blushed a deeper red and looked at the table as if she was thinking about crawling under it.

“You’re not fat. You’re beautifully proportioned, besides I like my women to have something to hold onto.” He let his eyes wander, taking in the smoothness of her skin, the squared shoulders, and the soft rise of her breasts, barely discernable beneath the scrub top she wore. I don’t care that you’re not wealthy. And I know you’ve never been with a man.” He caressed her hand again, “I knew when I looked up from the messages and saw you standing there in my office yesterday.”

“You did?” Her voice was tinged with horror. “Is it that obvious?”

“Not to everyone probably, but it was to me.” He let his eyes caress her, wishing he could pass some of the certainty he felt about the marriage on to her. “Don’t worry Kara, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about tamping my fires.”

“It’s—uhm—it’s not just not knowing—uhm—what to do.”

Given the way she was hemming and hawing and the bright red of her cheeks, he figured she was glad to be saved from further explanation by the arrival of their sandwiches. He waited for the waitress to leave before continuing. He left his sandwich untouched and plunged on. “There are a few things you need to know about me before you make your decision.”

He watched the uncertainty that flitted across her face as he searched for the right words to describe what he wanted. “I know it’s not politically correct, but what I want is an old fashioned marriage, one in which I take the lead. “It’s important that you understand that if you agree to become my wife our marriage will be built on my control and your submission to my authority. That doesn’t mean I won’t discuss things or that I won’t take your opinions into account, but it does mean I’ll make the final decisions.

“I’ve dated spoiled, obstinate women in the past and there’s no room in my life for that. I won’t do daily battle with my wife about who is going to make which decisions, nor will I put up with sullenness and temper tantrums. I’m laying it out from the beginning. I wear the pants and I make the decisions.”

He watched her face; unable to tell what she was thinking from the closed expression she wore. He continued on, taking it as a positive sign that she hadn’t gotten up and walked out. “One of the reasons I think it could be good between us is that you don’t seem willful or spoiled. You seem submissive and I like that. A lot. But even so, I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding later. If you were to marry me and behave like some of the women I’ve dated,” he sighed, “you probably wouldn’t like the outcome much.”

She shifted uneasily in her seat and avoided his gaze. “Exactly what do you mean, by that?” she asked, her attention focused on the straw wrapper she was twisting into a tight coil.

Release date: March 2008


9 thoughts on “TUESDAYS WITH STARLA KAYE: Plotter or Panster? With Guest Blogger Laurie Sanders

  1. Tina Sorensen

    Thank you for the two perspectives on plotting and panster. I never recognized how both actually mesh together. I lean more toward the panster as well. Do you ever find yourself a bit “lost” if you step away from your story or do you have a rigid schedule? What if your writing is interrupted? Does your form of plotting keep the plot fresh or do you start over?

    1. Laurie Sanders

      Hi Tina,

      You’re welcome for the two perspectives on plotting vs. pantstering. Most people don’t see plotting and panstering as parts of the same whole. But as I said above the two approaches get you to the same point. The difference is like the difference between taking one route to your vacation destination vs. another route to the same destination. As writers I think we choose the route that works the best for us…that is most fun for us…similar to the way we drive. Some of us (like my husband) will usually opt for the highway route because it is fast and direct and gets you there with a minimum of surprises while others (like me) are happier to meander along the more scenic route being surprised and enlightened by what we see and discover along the way. Essentially we end up the same place though. 🙂

      When I am actively working on a project I try very hard to write every day. The reason why is that yes, I do feel a bit “lost” if I am away from the story for even a day. The feeling grows if I am away for two days…and grows more if I am away for three days…and so on. Stepping away isn’t always bad and my editorial duties require that I do from time to time simply to devote additional time to the edits on another author’s work or to manage the release once the edits are complete. Lately I’ve devoted a lot more time to other people’s work and to a personal interstate move than to my writing.

      The cycle of connecting with the story and disconnecting from it to perform other non-writing duties feels pretty natural at this point. I find both the connected writing phase where I am deeply connected mentally with the characters and the story and the less connected phase where I am probably thinking about the story but not actively writing it serve different yet overlapping parts of the process.

      In the connected writing phase I am very much channeling characters. I’m very enmeshed in their thoughts, feelings, experiences, wants, dreams, and goals. Not only am I enmeshed but I am trying to translate what they experience to the reader through the written word. It’s a feeling like being “in the zone.” In this space I can see the small details of the characters’ thoughts, feelings, motivations, wants, hopes, dreams. That’s a wonderful thing as it flows easily in this phase. However…though I can see the small details I cannot always see the big picture as clearly from this vantage point. For that reason the periods of disconnect are good because they allow me to see the story from a broader vantage point. It’s a little like the difference between seeing the valley below by standing on a high point and looking down vs. looking at one brick in the road through a magnifying glass. In the case of standing on a high point and looking down you can see the roads, the rivers and streams, the train tracks, and how they all intersect and connect. Looking at one brick in the road via a magnifying glass is an entirely different experience. One could sink into the color, texture, feel of the brick. They could describe whether it is hot or cool to the touch and could describe the comings and goings of the ants that live in the sand between it and its neighboring brick. 🙂 Different perspectives. Both bring something to the table.

      Hence…I like to write in a very connected write every day (not necessarily at the same time or in the same spot) way. But when life intercedes and I can’t write every day I step back, disconnect and look at the story I’ve written so far and what I’ve yet to write to see if the pieces are working well together or whether I have missed something important because I’ve been looking at it through the magnifying glass rather than from a bit of distance.

      My plots expand as I write. The two parts…the close up connected work and the disconnected times work in tandem to keep the plot fresh and expanding and to keep me connected not only with the characters and their minute by minute experiences but the bigger picture. Either part of the process can bring new pieces into the plot sometimes surprising me by something that I didn’t see coming…which is when it is really fun.

  2. Starla Kaye

    Welcome, Laurie! I believe I’m generally more of a panster, although I do some basic plotting. Mainly I need to know the major turning points and conflicts involved in the story before I get too far into writing. In the past when I’ve done the complete plotting thing, I couldn’t write the story. I was done with it in my mind.

    And when I plan out too much these days, I usually find it a waste of my time. My characters seem to control where they want the storyline to go. I am often surprised by where they lead me, or by something they do. Gloriana in Their Lady Gloriana was a great example of that. I had no idea she would be so concerned about Thomas in that one incident (I don’t want to give it away here), so determined to make him feel better…only to shock him with her boldness.

    1. Laurie Sanders

      Thank you for having me here today and for all the great questions you asked. It’s always a treat to visit author blogs and to chat with the author and their readers.

      I know exactly the feeling you are describing about when you plot too much you couldn’t write the story because you were done with it in your mind. That’s exactly the feeling I have when I do formal plotting. It’s why I don’t do formal plotting even though the idea of organizing and getting all the bits in perfect alignment before writing appeals to the logical part of my brain.

      My characters continually surprise me…and I like it that way. 🙂 Just this morning I was doing my morning chores (feeding cats, scooping litter) and my mind was wandering to a book I started years ago for Silhouette’s Intimate Moments line (just the line dates it–since that line has been replaced with Silhouette’s Romantic Suspense line.) But anyway…Answering Challenge was written back before there was such a thing as erotic romance. When I discovered erotic romance I decided that’s what I wanted to write and so Answering Challenge got pushed to a back burner and His Perfect Submissive got pulled to the front burner. I’ve always wanted to go back and revise Answering Challenge for the erotic space. Just this morning a few more pieces fell into place. I got another big piece of how the D/s relationship works between these characters at the outset of their relationship. Funny…because it’s very logical…and yet I was totally missing it. 🙂 Writing is like that sometimes. 🙂

      Again, thanks for having me. I’ll stop back throughout the day to chat. 🙂

  3. Starla Kaye Post author

    Tina, I’m so glad you stopped by today! Personally, when I step away from a story too long (more than a day or two), I’m a bit lost when I sit down again to work on it. Usually I go back and reread the last chapter to get my head back into everything. I try not to do much editing at that time because it will just keep me away from actually writing longer.

    Like Laurie, when I’m seriously in the writing phase, the characters are channeling through me. I might have had a basic idea where I thought the plot needed to go, but sometimes they disagree. We work together and figure out a compromised path. This sounds creepy and a little weird, doesn’t it? That’s why only another writer really understands another writer.

    1. Laurie Sanders

      You’re definitely right about it sounding a bit creepy and weird…but it really is the way it is, at least for me. I think that because it does sound a little odd is one of the things that draws writers together. Writers understand characters that speak to them…characters that talk back to them…characters that refuse to do what they are told. 🙂 Just tell a group of writers your characters have been giving you fits and you’ll see heads nodding all around you.

  4. Carolena Torres

    Thanks for your very interesting information. I guess I am a pantser. I can sit down and write a whole page and not know how it is going to end. BUT in the wee grey hours of the morning floating from sleep I have ideas for characters, their dialog , or how to rewrite some paragraph better. So I ran upstairs to my office and do so, sometimes at 5 a.m.

    I have the perfect Beta reader now, a retired teacher who moved to the coast some years ago. She called me out of the blue and we are going over everything line by line. Whew. I am so grateful.
    Thanks again. Carolena Torres

  5. Kary Rader

    Great post, Laurie. I am such a panster. My husband thinks it’s the funniest thing when I tell him I have to keep writing to find out what happens in my own story. It’s the greatest fun ever. As always very useful information. Hugs to you.

    Starla I have seen your name in several different places. Nice to meet you here on your blog site. I’ll make it a point to visit again.

  6. Starla Kaye

    Kary, thanks for stopping by and please do check back here. I have a whole bunch of authors scheduled to share their thoughts on writing and their works. It’s fun to learn about other writers.


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