Stuck? Try pantsing it.

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”  Stephen King

Generally, writers fall within a spectrum of styles.  On one end is the “plotter” and on the other end is the “pantser.”  The plotter is a meticulous planner, from plot points and twists to comprehensive character creation to world building.  For the plotter, it is easier to write a scene that has already been decided upon for purposes of moving the story in the direction in which the writer intends it to go.

A pantser “flies by the seat” of his or her pants.  A pantser may decide to write a story with as little to go on as a character and a goal or challenge.  Ray Bradbury suggested “find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”  I can’t imagine a more apt description of the pantsing process.

Many writers, however, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  For example, a writer may need to establish major plot points and some major characters before writing but once they begin, they pants the trajectory between points A and B, B and C, C and D.

Personally, I am 100% a pantser.  If I take the time to write out plot points, my inner critic will destroy every idea, and all possible permutations, with an efficiency that is (almost) as admirable as it is tragic.  Every attempt at plotting leaves me shaken and sad. I will have decided that my ideas are trite, my plot twists are contrived, and my characters are wooden and/or unbelievable.  The overall conclusion is that I suck and it is soul crushing.  I know this sounds hyperbolic but it’s completely true.  In fact, it was my attempts to plot over the years that prevented me from every actually writing.

If, however, I decide on a character who has a problem to resolve or life changing event to survive, and nothing more, I can pretty much run wild in the story telling department.  I silence the inner critic by saying, “shut up, I’ll fix it in the next draft.”  And it actually works.

As a pantser, I enjoy being surprised every time I sit down to write.  I, like the potential reader, have no idea what is going to happen next.  I’ll start a scene with my main character answering the telephone and I’ll end the scene (completely unplanned) with her sister agreeing to come see her.  For me, this makes writing fun, which is what it is supposed to be in the first place, right?

Of course, I am not suggesting that one method is better than the other.  I am just sharing that one method is better for me.  If, however, you are a person who has wanted to write a novel or short story and has tried to plot it out and in so doing, killed your motivation, then try pantsing.  Decide what your hero wants and follow him or her.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

5 thoughts on “Stuck? Try pantsing it.

  1. I’m mainly a plotter with a little bit of pantser mixed in. I like starting with at least a general outline, but I don’t make myself stick to it if it’s not working. I love to plan things in general, so the outlining part is fun for me. 🙂 It helps if I know my characters really well beforehand. If I know what they would most likely do with what I throw at them, I have a better chance of getting it right with my outline.

    I tried fully pantsing a novel for Camp last year and it wasn’t pretty. I might try it again in July though!

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    1. You know it’s funny because I was going to write something about how I think the inclination to plot or plan probably reflects our personalities in general, but it didn’t seem to fit. I say that because I am a pantser and in real life, I am impulsive, I like to be kept on my toes, I hate routine, and I don’t plan for anything if I don’t have to.

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      1. I’d be super interested to see how you fare when you come to revisions — if you’ll continue pantsing it, or find that you need to plan more! And that’s really interesting, regarding how it associates with our personalities. I guess that makes sense — I like structure and routine, but can’t do it the same way for more than a few days. So it’s sort of unstructured structure? Like me 😀

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      2. Well, I think revisions are different from the initial writing process. I was only speaking to the first draft; you know, getting the story told in the first place.

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