Pants off to That!

 

 

I’m 110% pantser. Always have been.

I’ve published a book and am happy with it. I haven’t reached that point of cringing when I see it or think about it. I actually like it. Hope that lasts…

Anyway, yes. Pantser. Me. Pantsing. No outlines, no planning, none of that stuff.

Never. Ever. Nope. Not me.

I am pantsing my way through two novels at the moment. Which is quite different from my previous book of short fiction. I’m pleased to say it’s going well. It works for me.

Right?

It does, right? Yet… I have loads of books lounging on my laptop that have been there between two and twenty years. (You read that correctly. I’ve been writing a long time.)

 

Which brings me to my point. Finally.

Is my pantser approach what has kept those stories on my computer?

I truly do enjoy letting my characters lead the way but is it realistic to complete an entire novel without any planning?

As a grown-up person who has been on this planet a few decades or so, I know that “never say never” is not just an overused, annoying phrase. It’s true.

I’m pretty sure I’ll always be a pantser but who knows?

 

My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.

 

ThoughtBubbleAre you a pantser or a plotter? If you’re a pantser, do you get to a point where you start planning? 

Do you believe self-proclaimed plotters can “wing it” or pantsers can plan, plot, and outline successfully?

 

 

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75 thoughts on “Pants off to That!

  1. I’m a pantster…so far. I might go as far as plotting at some point but so far the stories have not demanded that I do more than take dictation from them 😉 I think I am too much of a reader to be a true plotter…I don’t like to be able to predict what’s going to happen next …

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    • Ah, yes, taking dictation. Sounds familiar. 😉 If you can pants, there is hope for me yet. A definite bonus of pantsing is not knowing what’s going to happen and being surprised. Love that.

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  2. I’m pleased you’re still happy with your book of short stories Hinting at Shadows because it’s still awesome! I hope your pants get you through the two novels that you are working on and that they don’t languish on your computer for between two and twenty years because the pants no longer fit. Have you ever considered that a little planning, or readjustment to use pant terminology, may improve the fit? Not a criticism, lovely lady, just a thought. Hmm. I could ask myself the same thing, only increase the number of years items have languished, but I think it’s more time (and quality) than anything. Best wishes for pantsying your way to completion and success.

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    • Haha! 😄 The pants will no longer fit! That’s true. I hope those pants get me through these two novels (and more). Thank you. I have tried planning, outlining, plotting…but it never works. Then, again, there are stories sitting on my computer so…? Maybe I’ll try again. Or maybe I’ll look deeper into why those books are still there because there seem to be pantsers who can finish a novel (or three). Thanks you for your support and lovely comment. 💖

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  3. The question is not does it work for you, but is that the way you most enjoy writing. I understand (not that I am much of a planner/plotter myself) that the planning helps one achieve coherence in their product. Inspirational writing (going with the muse) is thrilling and a rush and writers love that feeling. Similar questions arise in poetry – do you prefer free verse or form. I like them both, but form poetry (sonnet, villanelle, etc) helps me to hone fundamentals in my craft to make me a better writer. Planning and outlining helps to put boundaries around writing. Somewhere, there is a balance of the two that works for the writer in order to create their best work.

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    • I most enjoy pantsing for sure but, yes, it’s that coherence. “Boundaries around writing.” That. I’ll have to try again to find how much planning I can sneak into my writing process. Thanks!

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  4. Well since I always have problems with plots, I guess I’m a pantser. It’s just the opposite in my real life – I am such a planner and I HAVE to know what’s going to happen next. Maybe I’m trying to escape that in my writing life!

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  5. I’m always hovering from one to the other, sometimes more of a planner, sometimes run by ye olde pants routine. There’s always some type of planning but it varies because I want to see what my mind does with more or less planning and different methods. Super pantsing is poetry and most of what you read in my collections is either a proofread first draft (meaning I took out the typos and period) or a second run through. With short stories I work pretty much the same way half of the time and the other half I vary it. For the novels I’m pretty discipline because numbers have a meaning (all books in the Human Cycle have 44 chapters, the coming YA novel has 17 chapters as a tribute to mom’s bday but with epilogue and prologue that gets to technically 19 chapters, which is a number that will have a lot of meaning in the future.) But part of my desire to plan better is because I want to bring more stories to life and finish them because it frees up brain space to create more things. And yes, that’s a thing. If I don’t finish a story, I keep mulling it over. I also plan because when I work on several projects I need to keep them separate somehow 🙂 Here’s to some planning to get more books from ya even though I still haven’t started your book… which should change in 3-4 weeks 😉 Cheers

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    • Ah! Yes! That’s one of my problems. When I don’t finish a story, it doesn’t go away. It kinda hangs out there in my head, taking up space and driving me mad. And I’m always working on several projects so that’s where planning would help. Except I’m not planning. It’s a cycle… I pants flash fiction every time I write it (like your poetry) without a problem. That’s why I was curious about doing the same with an entire novel. It seems some people can do it but I’ll just have to keep trying and see what happens. Thanks. 🙂

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  6. I’m not an experienced novelist, but that won’t prevent me from weighing in on a subject I know nothing about. 😉

    With the kids’ writing group I facilitate, I see both kinds of writers: those who create an actual outline beforehand, and those who wing it. Both have been successful, and both write good stories.

    I wonder if forcing pantsers to write an outline only causes frustration? And I wonder if forcing “plotters” to wing it would cause their heads to explode?

    Maybe I’ll ask the kids to do just that in one of our sessions, as an experiment. Let’s see what happens…

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    • Funny, not having seen most of the fabulous films you review never stops me from commenting on your blog. 🙂 You are ALWAYS welcome to weigh in on any topic here. I love your insights.

      It makes sense you’d see both kinds of writers. You definitely should try that for a session. Just to see the outcome. And, maybe, a few of them will realize they like this new way better. Or not. Either way, it will bring them some awareness about their writing style. That must be so interesting to see the different approaches and results. Let me know if you try this and how it goes.

      Yes. This is what I mean. Forcing pantsers to outline or plotters to wing it… I’m not sure that would lead anywhere good (in the long term). I think you’re right that it would lead to frustration and heads exploding. No one wants that.

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  7. I let myself go more of the pantser route on one of my two WIPs and blame that decision for how long it took me to complete that initial draft. It has been much easier this time working toward a known story line even if I still will have to rewrite huge portions of it.

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      • Ah. Yes. Well… I’m not sure what to say. It’s just one of the reasons I don’t plot. I think writers need to be flexible, regardless of what camp they see themselves in. 🙂 I hope this new direction works out in the rewrite.

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  8. I love how you question yourself, Sarah. Always with a sense of humor. And yes, you need to find a way to finish those books! Your writing is fabulous and needs to be shared.

    I pantsered my first book too, 110%. I had no idea at all where the story was going, and I loved letting the characters roam willy-nilly. It felt like magic. Then I ended up having to edit it for two solid years (full-time) including cutting 60,000 words. UGH. It was torture. Never again, I said.

    Now I outline. But loosely! My characters still lead the way and they are very true to themselves. In fact, they often make me go back to the outline and change it. The difference, I think, is that they know the goal, and I know how I’m going to mess them up. It’s still mostly up to them to figure out how to get to the end. (If that makes any sense). Happy Writing.

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    • I always question myself. 😉 As far as humor…I’m not sure all would agree on that. Thank you for the lovely comment. I will definitely work on getting it off my laptop and into the world. I do want to share it but I need to finish it!

      So, wow. Really? Ugh. This is what I was afraid of. It might not be why those books aren’t finished but it really might. Two years AFTER you finished it? *sigh* That doesn’t sound fun. Okay, so loose outline? I think I could work with that. Maybe. I’m not sure, honestly. But you are similar to me in that your characters lead the way… That gives me hope. It’s something I love about your stories and process. It’s so important to me that I let my characters tell their story. This totally makes sense. Thank you! 💖

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  9. I’m a pantser only I’m not really. I start from a premise and I write; if I have a vague idea where the story is going beyond the first three or four chapters it is unusual. I let the characters go. After a while the strands come together or maybe fray but it feels good. But…. i have to finish it, make the whole coherent (at least to me) and that’s where I have to plot. I need to slow down and work out the final stages. I write down the ideas, the strands and then write them.
    In truth, because the way my mind works, the way it was trained as a lawyer, I tend to hold a lot in my head, a lot of strands and cross references so in a way I plot without committing to paper (or computer).
    Frankly I suspect we are all a hybrid…

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    • A vague idea is good but I do the same, letting the characters go. I love this process you’ve described where the loose strands eventually join together. How do you get that coherence? Just writing ideas + strands = ending? Perhaps you plot a bit more in your head than you think. Or not. ? I don’t plan in my head so I don’t know. I could give it a try though. (It seems, yes, that most writers are a hybrid of some sort. It’s the % that differs.)

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      • Most short fiction is straight up pantsing, but longer stuff is generally a plotter outline of the big stuff (more of a timeline of everything I’d like to see in the story) and the rest tends to be fill in the blanks with pantsing. I feel more free to explore the characters and their motivations that way w/o being completely married to an outline. I think, though, as long as a plotter is willing to veer from their carefully written plan they have less trouble when things don’t work exactly as they imagined. I think having an end goal and a few “knowns” along the way is good for pantsers too. 🙂

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      • That sounds like a good mix. I would never be able to have such a strict outline that I couldn’t pants some of it. But, yes, I think having a few knowns are probably a good thing. 😉 I like the idea of notes (as some have mentioned) or your timeline of things you’d like to have happen then pantsing the rest. Thanks, Rachael.

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  10. Oh yes, fellow pantser. I’m right beside you. I follow my characters until I get to the point where I tell them, “You’d better wrap up some loose ends or you’ll lose the reader.” And they disappear.

    I’ve come to trust that pantsing is the way for me to write first drafts. Makes for challenging rewrites, when I try to impose structure. Right now I’m experimenting with learning structure, tucking it into my subconscious, and trusting it will emerge as I write. And redrafting first drafts. Which makes for a long process.

    How did you handle the rewrite for your short stories?

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    • 😄 “Wrap up some loose ends…” I know! I’m so with you there.

      Okay, I’m stuck on that first draft. Or multiple first drafts. Pantsing doesn’t seem to help me finish them. So you pants the draft, plot the revision. Interesting. Maybe it’s not my pantsing at all, which is entirely possible. How are you learning structure? A class? A book? Let me know how that goes.

      Um. I don’t, in the technical sense, handle rewrites for my short stories. I, um, don’t rewrite. I kind of freewrite and that’s that. I polish them but, especially with flash, what you read in the finished version is usually my first draft. So you see why writing a novel is daunting.

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  11. The best stories that I’ve written have been pantsed. They are full of plot holes, but i cant deny they are my best writing and were the most fun. I just have to do a lot of editing. 😕 I never plan my short pieces either. Yet, sometimes, I’ll do a little planning, but never much. The more you enjoy writing, the more people will enjoy reading. I think i read that somewhere. ☺

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  12. I used to be a pantser, then I tried planning ahead a bit more, and boy was that book easier to write! And better. It may not work for everyone, but I’m not going back.

    Why not try doing a bit more pre-planning and just see how it works for you? You never know…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds dreamy…getting this stuff done, first of all, AND having it be good. I have tried planning. It never works. Perhaps I need a different method or, as some have said, a hybrid. So, by “planning” do you mean having a general idea where you’re going or a full outline?

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      • I plan in detail the first seven or so scenes before I start, and I know the major points for the rest of the book, the character arcs to some extent, and how the ending will tie everything together. More detail than that and I get bogged down.

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      • That’s exactly it! Bogged down. That’s what planning feels like to me. Tied to the details. Well, I’m glad you found something that works so well for you. Thanks for sharing this.

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  13. I call myself a plantster. While I seldom know what my characters are going to say until their words appear on the computer in front of me, I do have to make little notes to myself so I don’t forget to add certain plot points I’ll eventually need to refer back to. Nothing so structured as an outline. Having to follow one of those would, indeed, make my head explode. But little post it notes, maybe. And I do keep character sheets, because I will forget by the end of the book what I named a minor character ten chapters back. Or how tall I said my heroine was. Those kinds of things, I have to be able to refer to. And I do know where the story is going to start, and where it’s going to end. It’s just all the stuff in between I make up as I go along. 😀

    I say write the way that feels good to you, Sarah. To thine own self be true. But keep an open mind for those times when trying something different might work better. Then you, too, can be a plantster! 🙂

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    • Ha! A plantser. 😄 I love it! I’m right there with you, often not knowing what my characters are going to say or do until the words appear in front of me. I love hearing that you’ve been able to do this so successfully. Notes are good. I like that. I use Scrivener for that type of stuff sometimes. I’ve tried outlining and that was…yikes. As you say, too structured. Head exploding and all that. Not pretty. Ah. So you’re a bookend pantser. (Just made that up.) I’m that way with some of my books but they wind up lacking the cohesion people are talking about here. I think, after admitting how long some of those stories have been sitting, I’ll have to try the plantser method. Thanks, Marcia. 💖

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      • Good. I hope it works for you. If not, well, nothing is etched in stone, here. Experiment until you hit what feels right to you. And if it FEELS right, you can’t go wrong. Mostly. 😀 (Notice, I leave myself a little escape hatch, there. 😀 )

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    • Thanks! I know. I love being a pantser. 🙂 Of all the “plotter” methods I’ve tried, outlining seems the most difficult. Is yours a loose outline or do you mean you just jot down things you want to make sure are included under certain topics?

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      • I’m with you on the outlining. I make a list of subject/topics I want to cover (chapter titles) then make notes under those topics of points I want to cover in those chapters. I find the list grows as the days go by because I could be doing anything when an idea hits that I have to add in to include as either another chapter or point to discuss within an existing one. Does that help? 🙂

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  14. I think pantsing would be unwise if we were never allowed to revise – but we do and a lot.
    Though I must admit I’m in a similar position with those uncompleted documents, but perhaps those were the projects we didn’t like enough to invest years of our lives in – and we can always come back to them when we change our minds.

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    • I don’t revise because I’ve never gotten that far! Argh. Or, alternatively, I revise as I write. SO bad for completing anything. And…I think I just worked out why I’ve not finished these stories. Well, one reason at least. See, I love some of these. It’s not that they aren’t good or I didn’t like them. I think about them all the time but just never seem to finish them.

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  15. I’m in the pantser crowd for drafting, but turn to revision tools that I think give me flexibility and structure both. Pantsing is where the magic happens, but revision calls for translating my vision into a structure that has clarity for the reader.

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      • I can’t recall if you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo? That proved to me that I can complete a good draft. But I’ve also come to accept that part of the process for me is the setting aside, dreaming and coming back for deeper revelations. Writing my drafts in flash fiction have really helped me in revising and rewriting, but NaNoWriMo is awesome for generating first material.

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      • Ack! No! I stay far away from “ass in chair” during the NaNo frenzy. 😉 I’ve had some people suggest it just to get unstuck but… I don’t think it’s for me. It seems to invite stress. I don’t need any more of that. Maybe I’ll try it one of these years when things aren’t so crazy around here. (She says knowingly…)

        I’ve never understood how you serial flashers can keep up a story in 99 words a week. I marvel. It’s fantastic. I’d be more willing to try that than NaNo but, still, my flashes are just that. A flash of an idea or character that hits me at the time. But, yes, I could try that.

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      • Ha, ha! My problem… as you’ve probably detected…is that I can get caught up in the what ifs to the point that I never finish. I never have writer’s block. Instead I can’t stop generating ideas and going deeper and thinking up new twists and motivations. For me, NaNoWriMo, gives me completion, the ability to take all those ideas and writings and put them in about draft. Many times, I use the flash prompt as a tool to think about a scene I have, and I’ve made discoveries that way. I’m in awe of Geoff and his story of Mary who doesn’t miss school best from week to week! Stress, ah, that’s another matter and that doesn’t change. It’s a rock we write around.

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      • That really does make sense. I need completion. It’s just… I’m not sure. I’ve always stayed far away from NaNo. But I also have WAY too many ideas. That is definitely part of my problem.

        Yeah, a few of the flashers have taken to using their 99 in a continuing story but Geoff seems to manage it every week. Incredible.

        And as for the stress… I haven’t yet figured out that one yet. I like the idea of writing around it. I basically write around everything in my life. 😉

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    • Plotter how? Like strict outline or general idea? Something in the middle?

      You’re right. And I do feel like pantsing works for me but my books are sitting here, unfinished, and they speak volumes. I know. I’m wicked funny.

      I’ve got two planned for this year and those are my focus but it would be lovely to get some of those older ones back out and finish them. Thanks, Graeme.

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      • Strict outline, ideally with a chapter plan. In practice, once you start writing, things can change. In Ravens Gathering, for instance, my original intention was for two of the characters to have a fling but, as I wrote, it became apparent that one of them wouldn’t have been able to. So you adapt, but if I know where I’m going with the story, it flows much better.
        As I’ve said, though, that’s what works for me. It’s not for everyone.

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      • Gah! O_o Strict outline? Makes me itchy just thinking about it. But at least you’re willing to adapt. That’s the thing. I really believe writers must be flexible, regardless of their method. But I do see what you’re saying. If you know exactly what is going to happen, it might be easier to have the story flow for the reader. Thanks.

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  16. A bit of both. I loved writing and using improvised material when involved in the theatre many years ago. I loved living off the wits. Yes, I did plot the novel I am now editing but I only started plotting when I felt it had really begun to take shape in my mind, however, there was always room for change and I refused to be precious or stubborn about it. The plot gave me focus and structure which I do love. So the answer is, I Iove both and use both and think that everyone is different and it is about what works for you personally, in the end.

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    • “living off the wits.” I love that!

      Yes, I need more focus but, like you, I wouldn’t be able to hold on to a plot line if I didn’t like it or felt it wasn’t working. Some writers have a story that they love and that’s it. The characters go where they’re needed to finish that story. I think pantsing does work for me but I question my judgement. 😉 I’ll try some planning. Perhaps 10% to start?

      Nice to hear you’re at the editing stage!

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  17. I seem to have found a middle ground – have an outline, but it’s very flexible and sometimes my characters go in a different direction. I’ll follow them – actually just happened a few days ago, then alter the outline if I need to.

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  18. I was a pantser for many, many years, and then I tried outlining a book. And failed. And tried again. And had partial success. It took a good 3 or 4 before a loose outline became a comfortable thing. I find that if I hope to meet any kind of deadline, I have to outline.

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    • Ooh. That’s interesting. I have tried planning but, honestly, when it didn’t work, I moved on. I didn’t want to force it. But if something feels like it *might* be working, I’d give it another try. Thanks, Crystal. 💖

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  19. I’m no longer sure what I qualify as. I used to think of myself as a panster, because everything I write is what comes out at the moment. But to keep the story straight over four books, I needed to know what happened to trigger the other events. So I have a massive amount of forethought in my brain, but none of it is written down in an outline or anything. Usually when I do try to write it down, it spiderwebs into a nasty tangle even I can barely understand. 😀

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    • Keeping track of things is different from planning. At least in my mind. I’d call you a pantser, then. You brainstorm and keep notes but that’s just necessary for a series. No one needs a spiderweb. (Well, except, you know…spiders. And Spider-Man. But NO ONE else.)

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  20. I am… I am not sure. A hybrid? I have a grand vision, a beginning, an end, and a rough idea of a middle, but the characters always change it. I tend to plot on the second draft – ridiculous I know. I’m actually trying to force myself to plot more to prevent redrafting so many times. But it doesn’t sit well with me.

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