Golden Keyes Parsons

Golden Keyes Parsons writes historical fiction for Thomas Nelson Publishing, and is also a popular retreat/conference speaker. Her highly acclaimed Darkness to Light Series chronicled the journey of her French Huguenot ancestors in 17th century France. Her newest novel, His Steadfast Love, a Civil War novel set in Texas, just released November 2011. Golden lives in Waco, TX, with her husband, Blaine, where they enjoy their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and are avid sports fan of their alma mater, Baylor University. Visit her website at

For Writers Only

From Pansters To Plotter
Confessions Of A Johnny-Come-Lately Author

I have a confession to make. Whenever I’m asked to write a column, a blog, or speak about writing, I never know what to say. My thoughts usually go like this: “What do I know about the writing process?”

I came to a writing career later in life. I didn’t take courses on creative writing in college. Except for a nonfiction magazine article here and there and a story in a compilation now and then, I’d never considered a writing career. Writing was natural to me because I grew up in a family of newspaper editors and authors. Mountains of manuscripts were stacked throughout our house. I can still hear the click-click-click of my father’s two-fingered speed pecking on the keys of the old Underwood typewriter. What I learned about writing, I learned through being around it.

When I started writing fiction, I really knew nothing about the “rules.” I didn’t know that the hero and heroine were supposed to meet in the first chapter. I knew nothing about plot structure, character development, or scene flow—and I certainly didn’t know what HEA or POV meant. I simply had a story to tell, and I told it in my first novel, In the Shadow of the Sun King, which was based on my French Huguenot ancestors in seventeenth-century France. I envisioned a three-book series.

I procured an agent, who sold the series to a large publishing house. I became a published author. The first novel went pretty well, but with the second and third novels, we hit some bumps in the process. I ended up doing three major rewrites on the third book, which concluded the series. None of my first three books did I outline. My editor said that I was an organic writer, but I didn’t even know what that meant. Since then I’ve learned that it means I write by the seat of my pants. But after having to do so many rewrites on the third book to deepen characters, get the spiritual arc correct, and create more tension, I decided that perhaps I’d better look at trying to outline my next book. I was learning.

I studied different plotting methods and decided to outline my Civil War novel, His Steadfast Love, according to the Hero’s Journey. I studied blockbuster movies that followed this structure. I purchased 3x5 cards, and using a purple pen, I recorded on the corresponding cards what needed to happen at certain points in the book, i.e. leaving the ordinary world, answering the call to adventure, and so on. Then I started filling in the story—in pencil, for the story moved and breathed as I wrote, but the mechanics of plotting story was becoming more clear to me. I taped each chapter to the wall around my office.

It was difficult for me to discipline myself to plot out the entire story before actually writing it, but I kept going. And I got it done. There it was—the skeleton of my book hanging on the wall of my office. As I filled in the flesh and blood of the story, I referred again and again to the cards on the wall, tweaking and refining as I progressed.

When I finally hit the SEND button to submit the manuscript for His Steadfast Love, it was with some trepidation, but after my editor read it, she proclaimed that it was my best book. We had very little editing to do on the plot, so I suppose my efforts and angst at moving from a panster to a plotter were worth it.

Not everyone needs to follow this method, but all authors need to continually work on perfecting our craft. We need to grow and mature in our writing no matter our age or temperament or writing method. It’s never too late to learn.


His Steadfast Love