For those of you not familiar with the term, “pantsing” refers to writing “by the seat of your pants” or “winging it.” Some writers, like me, use a rough outline while others will not use one at all. I actually considered myself a hybrid between pantser and outliner because some of my outlines can get detailed, whereas sometimes I’ll just have a vague idea of where I’m headed but nothing is EVER in stone. EVER. If a change I come up with on the fly serves the story better, than I’m all for it.
The thing with pantsing is that there’s so much discovery. In my first drafts — especially those — I discover, literally, the story as I’m writing it. Sure, I might have a rough outline that says “Susie gets married” and “Jenni goes to the store and meets someone there” but then maybe it’ll mutate and become something different, but something similar. Usually, when I’m doing this, I’ll subconsciously (almost magically) combine things differently than the outline, but the result is usually pretty close. Other times, it’s completely different, and that’s okay. Now alot of writers need an outline. They have to have that security — and that’s okay. Hell, I feel pretty solid if I have some ideas of what I’m doing. For Broken, I’ve got a pack of notecards with possible scenes on them that aren’t even in order. They’re just ideas. I might use them, I might veer off. But I would hesitate to call it an outline. And that’s okay, because sometimes, that’s the way I like it.
My characters work best as they hit the page. I’ve done alot of prework on characters in the past, and in Survivor, that prework was invaluable. However, I consider that to be the exception. Because with all my other projects, nothing I did ahead of time stuck. Alisia in Pirouette was supposed to hate her magic and herself. Huh? She doesn’t, although she does take pains to conceal it from everyone for different reasons. I’m not entirely certain how it would have worked if I’d forced that part in.
So my characters show me who they are as we go. The reason for this post is part of a revelation about Claire. The main one touched down a few days ago and it left me stunned. But today, going about my day, the reason why — which had eluded me so far — hit me. And it made perfect sense. As if I’d friggin planned it. And that, my friends, is the power of pantsing.
I believe that the Muse (or subconscious) knows all. She may not let you in right away, or never, or she might toss up hints here and there and then lightning will strike. I learned about this in Holly Lisle’s How To Think Sideways class and I am a total believer. In one of her lessons, she talks about things that you’ll be compelled to write that you don’t understand at the time but then later, it all makes sense. It’s kind of like that. My muse knew what the deal was, and tossed me that clue, and BAM! Today it came together beautifully. I couldn’t have planned it better.
So now I know something fundamental about Claire, an elusive, enigmatic character. And I didn’t have to do up any character sheets, or questionnaires, or anything. Not that that’s wrong or bad, but as I’ve said, my process doesn’t seem to work that way. And it worked well and almost too perfectly. i can’t recommend this method enough.
If you’re an outliner, and you’re stuck, try this. If it doesn’t work, fine, but maybe you’ll discover something you never knew before. Maybe you’ll find out that this works, too. And no one says to give up outlining — but sometimes writers need to be open to new things. Hell, the idea of having a conversation with a character stuck me as odd, but now? It’s one of the first things I do when I’m stuck. Or freewriting. That’s another cool trick I discovered just by being open to new things, new ideas.
So that’s why I love pantsing. Broken is at 9k currently and there’s very little that I know for sure, but for me, that’s where the magic is. Where the story lies and where it leads. It may take some twists and turns and detours, but I’m always amazed at what I can come up with on the fly. It’s really amazing.
So, pants it. You’ll be glad you did. 😉