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The Fun of Pantsing

I had a vampire tale going, and much of the story revolved around a murder. Actually, four murders. I had written a mystery before that seemed to work, and I had pantsed that one, too. You know, make it up as you go along. No outline. No plotting far ahead. For me, part of the fun of pantsing comes from the process.

Process? What process? I thought you said you were a pantser.

Well, something happens, and I’m gonna call it my process. It starts with an idea, of course, and this one began with the notion of murdering vampires. Since they are “the undead,” how do you do that? Well, I wanted to find out. And I decided to call them unmurders.

You heard that right. I was writing an unmurder mystery.

Before beginning the actual storytelling, my, ahem, process involves amassing pages and pages of single-spaced notes of scenes, of things that need to happen, the nature of my protagonists, the antagonistic characters, the jeopardy and peril I’ll cause for my characters, the ending, etc. For this book, the amassing part of the process stretched over a year as I had lots of editing and book-design work going on at the same time–but I was finally free to write.

When I knew what needed to happen, the next part of the pantsing process was to write the scenes in order to learn how they happened. Away I went . . .

But then came an uh-oh moment.

Not enough gas in the tank.

Welp, I was at about 35,000 words and the number and nature of the future events that I had imagined (not outlined, just listed as future events) felt a little on the lean side. I did a quick investigation of how many words went into each of the major scenes that had already been written, applied an average word count to the events that were to come, and it sure looked like I would run out of story before I had a novel, word-count wise.

What to do? I was having too much fun with the story to abandon it. It was time to kick my pantser muse back into action.

For me, this is another time when pantsing is fun because it’s, well, creative. I needed to add length to the story with a logical, meaningful way to extend it, not pad existing scenes. And to increase the pressure on my characters with more and more going wrong.

So what I did was . . .

That word-count shortcoming led to more of the fun part—research. Thanks to the instant nature of the internet, I was soon able to find out the law on certain crimes dealing with corpses and about legal procedures in California, where this story takes place. Quickly I had the mechanisms in mind and I could go ahead and cause trouble for my characters with authenticity. In this case, since I was dealing with the undead, the legal definition of what constitutes “death” mattered, a lot. It turned out there are two distinctively different definitions of death in California, and that fit right in with my story complications and promised a fun trial scene.

Soon I was back at the keyboard and, happily, in a few days my research had delivered the solution. All that had come before could pretty much stay as it was with little rewriting needed. By adding the new twist and the ripples of complication it generated, the WIP was 10,000 words richer, and the story turned out just fine, length-wise, thanks to that addition.

How about you? Are you a pantser? Plotter? Combo? What’s your process?

Happy writing.


About Ray Rhamey [1]

Ray Rhamey [2] is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com [2], offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com [3].