It’s the holiday season! And I know what you’re thinking. “So he’s bringing us yet another article about pantsing?” Well, in a way, yes. But one of my fondest Christmas wishes is that—whether you lean to plotting or pantsing—this essay will seem like a present, from me to you.
I recently had an epiphany, you see. And it feels like a gift. Which made me think that this is the perfect time of the year to share it.
Allow me to start at the beginning. The very beginning.
My Pantsing Puppyhood
From the first page of fiction I wrote, I was a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, sans outline). This was long before I’d heard the term, or knew any different. It was my natural inclination. And looking back, I can see that pantsing was part of what kept me going. Or, more specifically, the surprising revelations that came early via my intuitive storytelling attempts left me wanting more. The surprises didn’t come just in the form of plot. New characters would pop up, as well as new connections between them. Visualizations of settings that expanded my story world came to mind all but fully formed.
It left me astonished. I wondered where it all came from, and still do. Whether you believe the arrival of story epiphany is at all mystical (the muse), or simply the conjuring of the subconscious becoming conscious, the phenomenon is worthy of our astonishment. Regardless of how the revelations came, the hankering I had for more is what kept me forging on to “The End” for the first time.
As writers, we all change and grow with experience, of course. And one of the changes I underwent—which I think is fairly common—is that I stopped relying on pantsing alone, and added many elements of what is commonly called plotting, but could perhaps be better described as advanced planning. This came about as a result of hard-won experience. Turns out it saves a TON of work if you have some things worked out in advance. I have experimented with, and adopted, many forms of advance work, including (but not limited to): character profiles and interviews, story-structure breakdowns, and short stories and scenes that explore backstory (that aren’t intended for the manuscript). I’ve even done a complete scene chart. On a spreadsheet! (Once.)
On a micro level, to this day, before each scene, I jot down the goals, motivations, and conflicts for the POV character, as well as a forecast for the crisis or segue that will end the scene. The practice has often helped keep me on course.
All of my prewriting rituals have made me more concise, focused, and aware, which has strengthened my writing. I firmly believe I am a better writer than the pantsing pup I describe above, in no small part due to the advance work I’ve adopted.
And yet… (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) [Read more…]