I am a proud pantser

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , ,

For those of you who are not immersed in the writing world – or even for those of you who are, but have no idea what I’m talking about here – let me just start off by saying this isn’t exactly what it sounds like, IYKWIM. 😉

There are two generally accepted types of writers: plotters and pantsers.

Plotters love organization. They live for outlines. They like to beat their WIP into submission before they even get started on it. This often means they spend hours, days, maybe even WEEKS thinking through their story and working out the kinks. Once that’s all done, they just have to sit down and bang out the words, already knowing where they’re going and how it’s all going to end.

Pantsers are the opposite. They fly by the seat of their pants (hence the name). Organization? Bah! Outlines? Yeah, right! A plan of action? A series of established events? Actually knowing the ending? Where’s the fun in that? These guys literally sit down and start writing. Usually they have a vague idea of where it’s going to end up, but they let their muse lead them down a winding path full of false starts, tangential plots, and random side characters.

Both have their pros and cons. Plotters tend to have a more focused and polished story by the time they’re finished, but that much organization can also cramp creativity. Pantsers get to explore more of their story in a way that’s less formatted (which means more creativity), but unless they’re Freaking Amazing, it requires a lot of editing on the back end.

From the title, I’m sure you’ve realized which category I fall into.

I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while because I wanted to explain why I’m a pantser and why it works for me. I’ve been hemming and hawing and putting it off (much like procrastinators and pantsers tend to do). But I came across a blog post by L.G. Kelso titled “Accept your writing style,” and it sort of kicked me into gear and helped me to figure out a bit more about myself and the way in which I write. Go check it out. It’s a great read.

But, basically, she recommends everyone accept their writing style for what it is. One strategy isn’t better than the other. It’s like doing the breast stroke or the back stroke when all you want to do is get to the other end of the pool. Will they both get you there? Yeah. Is one harder than the other? It depends on who you ask.

Besides, you’ll find that a lot of people aren’t strictly one or the other. Those that draw up outlines tend to deviate from them here and there. Those that throw caution to the wind and just dive head first often know which major events they want to occur before going in. If they’re like me, they may write a one page summary of the book just to make sure they don’t forget where they want to end up.

With that being said, I’m a proud pantser.

Why? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I don’t know where this stems from or when I decided this is how I would write books. It’s just always been that way. And that’s cool with me. I do some organizing. Mostly after the fact, when I begin my editing process. But mostly I just sit down and write.

In L1, I began the story with a clear image in my head: a girl lying on the floor, just regaining consciousness, looking up at four people standing over her. She didn’t know who she was or where she came from. That’s still my opening scene, and the story just evolved from there.

I actually wrote L1 in about two months. The story just spoke to me. I followed it wherever it led me, and it came out so strong. That’s not to say that it didn’t and still doesn’t have problems, but allowing myself to just write and not worry about all the technicalities really let the story breathe. It definitely took me in a direction much different than I thought it would. I love being surprised by my own plot twists!

But there were downfalls to writing it like that too. It was actually quite a solid story – and I chalk that up to it being so vivid in my mind – but I’m finding that I don’t actually like the main conflict of the story. I don’t like some of the fundamental parts of the book. That’s a big OH NO! that I’m dealing with right now, and I think it comes down to the fact that I pantsed my way through it. (Ooh, look! A new verb!) I was more concerned about getting from that opening scene to the ending scene, than actually fleshing out a story with that little thing we like to call structure. Is that a bad thing? Yeah, ‘course it is. Can’t have a novel without structure. But is it fixable? Definitely. (But it doesn’t mean I have to LIKE fixing it! *grumble grumble*)

I’m in a similar situation with W1 right now. I knew the beginning and I knew the end. Vividly. The scenes were practically written inside my head already. I even know how I want W2 to begin. But how do I connect point A and point B? If you’re a pantser, you just start writing and see where it takes you. W1 is much, much messier than L1 was. I’m already dreading the editing process. It needs a major overhaul. I need, like, a hack saw and a hazmat suit. But the cool thing is that I know what I like and what I don’t like because I’ve already written it. Words on a page are better than a blank page any day.

What am I trying to say here? Basically, I’m trying to say that I agree with L.G. Kelso up there. Figure out your writing style and accept it. Do what works for you, no matter what other people say. One style is not better than the other.

But also know when you need to adapt. I think I’m reaching that point now. I love writing when even I’m surprised at where the story is going. It makes your character’s reactions more realistic and really brings them to life. But, man, that editing process will kick you while you’re down. It’s hard, and it often results in multiple drafts. That’s not very efficient.

So I guess this is me raising a plotter flag alongside my pantser flag. I need to find a happy medium. I need to learn to outline so I don’t have as many plot holes when I go to edit. (Especially since the W series is a time-travel story, and OH MY GOD IT’S SO HARD TO KEEP THINGS STRAIGHT.) I’m not giving up my pantser flag, because I’m proud of it and it’s sparkly and green. But I am going to learn to adjust to both methods and make them both work for me.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? Why? Have you ever tried writing using the other method? Did it work?

  1. That’s what I’ve been working on with this novel, Karen–adding some plotting to my pantser ways! My first-ever hero’s journey map helped with my first draft, but now I’m back to pantsing my way through a rewrite, updating and changing things and letting my character grow. Mucking about in language and side notes that may get cut. I should probably map out the story as written and study it before going much farther.

  2. Julie Glover says:

    Love this post! We can learn something from the other style, but essentially what works for you, works for you.

    I’m a plantser, as one writer so aptly named it. I started as a total pantser. But after learning more about story structure, I decided to at least know what the major turning points and transitions were. I now have not only that one-page summary, but a decent outline (or note cards) to guide me.

    What I must do, though, is write in sequence. I tried one novel of writing scenes as they came to me, then filling in the gaps, and I nearly tore out my hair over that one. (See this bald spot?) I know writers, though, who successfully do just that–write a future scene or even the ending and then go back.

    • Karen Rought says:

      I definitely have to write in sequence too. I never understood how people could hop back and forth like that! I did it once with W1 when I knew what one chapter was going to be like but not the one before it. It felt strange. But I definitely couldn’t write completely out of order and then go back and put them all in place.

  3. Chris says:

    Great post, Karen! I’m more pantser than planner myself. However, I’m kind of a mix. I like to sit down for a good hour or so and figure out character names, description, setting, and the main conflict before mashing on the keys. I think it helps to get a solid view on what the story is, and where it might go. Of course, than can drastically change during the weeks of pantsing. The story may not resemble what it did when I planned it. But that’s part of the fun of being a pantser!

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s definitely where the fun lies. I want to do something similar to that from now on – just sit down and work out the major details so I don’t hit as many bumps. Glad to know its working for you.

  4. i do think you have to embrace your own writing style and not compare yourself to anyone else, thinking you’re a failure if you can’t do it their way. i’m definitely a hybrid of some type and it depends heavily on what kind of story i’m writing. for my current wip, a contemporary ya, i did like having a vague idea of the main plot points i wanted to hit – where the story arc was going, etc, but i didn’t need to flush it out in a detailed outline before i started writing. if i wanted to veer off track from the plan, i gave myself full permission to do so – the story was firmly in the driver’s seat. when i wrote my middle grade mystery, it was necessary to have a more detailed outline to keep up with the clues and red herrings, etc. i’d actually never written in so structured a manner before. it was very odd for me, but rather nice, too.

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s a really good point and something I tend to struggle with. I like planting clues and tidbits of information early on in the stories – foreshadowing – but when you’re in a full-on pantser mode, that can be difficult. It makes editing extremely difficult and time consuming and frustrating. It’s one of the reasons why I would like to become more of a hybrid author. Thanks for your input!

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