What a weird word, huh? Especially to those of you who are not in the writing world. But even for those of you who are writers, this word may not look familiar. It is what happens when a pantser begins to bring plotting into their process or vice a versa.
Hold on a minute…what is a pantser? What is a plotter? I’m lost… Let me help.
Pantser: A pantser is someone who “writes by the seat of their pants”
There is no planning, there is no outlining, they just sit and write and let the story come as it may.
Plotter/Outliner/Planner: Someone who, to the opposite extreme, plans out the entire novel, sometimes down to the most minute detail. Plotters can have pages upon pages of notes, diagrams, charts, and whatnot before they ever write one word of the manuscript.
Pantsing tends to be more work on the back end, giving you a pretty rough first draft. While plotting is a heavier work load on the front side, giving way to a more polished first draft. I’ve heard it said that for a pantser, the first draft is just a very detailed plotting session. Take from that what you will.
So, what are you? What am I?
It is said that what you are in life (a list maker, a scheduler, etc) you tend to be in your writing. That is soooo not true of me. The idea of going to the grocery store without a list makes me anxious. Not having my day planned and a “TO DO” list in hand would probably give me a panic attack.
But I was a total pantser when it came to my novels. I would just sit and write with very little idea about where I was going and how things would turn out. Vague ideas, I tell you…very vague. I loved letting the story unfold and surprise me this way…setting the characters in motion and having them take over the story in a way. Once you have established their character, the way they will react/interact is pretty set. You can’t have them do something or react somewhat outside of the character you’ve established, right? So, through the twists and turns of the plot, you can let your characters lead you where they will go. Pantsing is exciting and exhilarating.
As I have learned more and honed my craft, I have begun to see the wisdom in taking time to plot some. Not a whole lot, but sketching out my characters. This deepens the character, and thus the readers experience with them. And as I began to do some plotting with characters, I found that the novels went deeper and flowed out of me faster. The most recent novella I wrote, was completed in 3 days. And that’s not 3 long, arduous, 10-K-craziness kind of days…I put in probably 5 hours each of those days.
What does that process look like?
First, you have to pull out your hero and heroine, your POV characters. Then you do character profile sheets on them and some preliminary daydreaming. Then, I get down to business. I love Susan May Warren’s The Story Equation. This is how I begin to really drill down and deepen my characters. I have to find their Dark Moment Story (you just have to read Warren’s book).
Then you can take that, and sketch out a basic plot outline, which is discussed in her book. I do one of these skeleton outlines for each of the POV characters. (More character development.)
Now I’m ready to dive in and begin writing. Unless I’m still feeling stuck. Then I might go to the Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method and go through the first 4 steps. This will help wrap my mind around what the novel is really about.
At this point, I have deeply developed characters. I have the whole iceberg, so to speak. Am I going to put everything on the page – no. The reader will only see the tip of the iceberg…what’s above the surface. But I truly need to know the entire structure in order to make that piece the reader interacts with feel three dimensional.
And with my characters firmly in my mind, I can let my pantsing take off. Since I know them well, I can give them more freedom to “take over” the novel and go places I never could have imagined.