Pantsing

I figured out which novel I’m going to write. Now I need to figure out how to give myself the best way to move forward on it.

I read Linda Maye Adams’ Pantser’s Guide to Writing last night. It’s a very quick read and left me with things to think about. She also recommended Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing Into the Dark, which I’ve already read and Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules. I picked up the latter book and will be reading it soon.

I’m not certain whether I’m a pantser or a planner. For those not familiar with the terms, a “pantser” or discovery writer writes by the seat of their pants with no outline or any idea where the story will go or how it will end. Planners are the opposite. They structure and plan the story before starting the writing. Steve is a complete outliner and has been for as long as I’ve known him.

I love planning. I love writing outlines. I love doing character sheets and world-building. I love building maps and creating art around my stories. This is why I love working on RPG supplements.

But once I’ve finished the planning, my brain thinks I’m done. I’ve had my fun and writing it would just be drudgery. So when I took the short story a week challenge I swore that I would do all of them “writing into the dark” or pantsing. I wanted to give myself a chance to learn this technique.

I found out that pantsing gives me better stories with unexpected endings. On the other hand, a few times I reverted to outlining because it was the only way to get a story done in time when the muse refused to show up. Outlining is quicker for me, but the story often isn’t as good and isn’t as much fun to write.

I prefer pantsing short fiction. Dean and Linda’s method of recursive editing as one writes works for me. It’s how I worked when I wrote professionally for FedEx and as a freelancer. It feels right. My typical process is to write a scene (usually with a lot of dialogue) then layer in description and emotion in the next few passes. Then move on to the next scene.

I worry that novels are a different beast than short stories. For one thing, they are so much longer. Dean says that you don’t need to write a novel straight through in order. You can write scenes as they come to you. That’s good because I often get ends before middles in short stories. But it’s hard to picture how to do this for novels.

During NaNoWriMo, I wrote entire novels but they were not very good. On the other hand, I didn’t use recursive editing and I produced them in 30 days, which is not enough time for me to do good work. My brain needs down time to come up with the next scene. So the problems with NaNoWriMo novels may have been the structure of NaNoWriMo itself.

I don’t know if pantsing will work for me, but I intend to try it. At least I won’t get bored.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I hope you are also trying new methods and that they are successful or at least interesting. Be well, friends.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the shoutout and the book purchase! If Dean’s still offering it, you might want to try the Writing Into the Dark course. A friend took that and found it very good–it’s for someone who is thinking about trying out the process, not for someone who already is doing it. There’s also another book–sorry, I cannot find it on my ereader and it had such a common title–that suggested a cross-between outlining and pantsing. He suggested right before you do the scene, write a short paragraph of what was in the scene without going into specific details. That way, you’re only focusing on thinking about what should be in the scene and not the whole story.

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  2. Thanks for the advice! I took Dean’s Writing Into the Dark a little more than a year ago, which is when I vowed to write the short stories into the dark. It’s a good idea to go back to it now that I’m thinking about novels rather than short stories. I’ll think about your friend’s idea, though it doesn’t sound that different from my layering technique of writing all the dialogue before layering everything else into the scene.

    With short stories I frequently make several stabs at the beginning of the story before settling in with the POV. That seems more intimidating with a novel, but it just may be because I’m easily intimidated.

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