The Perils Of Being A Pantser

A tangle of ideas...
This is what writing looks like to a Pantser…

I’ve said this before – I am a Pantser. When I start writing I have an idea, maybe a couple of characters and an end point but not much idea of what happens in between. But off I go anyway, letting the story pull me forward, sometimes finding what the characters choose to do or not do as surprising as if someone else had written the story. It can be an exhilarating feeling, words coming from my fingers as fast as I can type them, the story pouring onto the page.

Oh, I’ve tried the whole planning thing, laying out the chapters and what I expect to have happen to each character, the whole thing building to a neat and tidy solution. But then I start to write and the characters come to me, pulling my hair back to whisper in my ear, tapping me on the shoulder during my morning walk.

‘we would never do that’

‘I’m actually interested in this other character’

‘this happened to me as well’

‘I’m not such a bad guy’

And I have to give in, knowing in my heart, or that spot under the breastbone where such feelings reside, that what they are saying is absolutely true. That they know, better than I do, it will all work out in the end.

Only thing is, writing like this makes structure a bit of an unwieldy beast. I’m wrestling with it at the moment as I make a final structural edit to No Quarter before sending it to my editor. I feel like an old time lion tamer with my chair and whip, shouting at all the paragraphs to get it together and make sense, dammit, while they roar and claw at the air, unhappy to be pushed around. But we’re getting there. I’ve had to add a few extra scenes, plus realised there was a whole section where time of day and weather were pushed aside, when they actually needed to be part of things. And as it’s the second part in a serial, more threads are coming into the weave, new characters and storylines taking their place in the story.

I confess, I do have my moments where I wish it was all laid out in front of me as orderly notes. I’ve gone as far as to write a small list of some of the main characters, just for continuity’s sake. And I have a small pile of paper with notes scribbled on, various colours of pen, which I refer to as I bring it all together. But that’s as far as the planning goes, I’m afraid.

So how does your writing garden grow? Is it orderly rows of well planned chapters, or a wilderness of tangled plotlines you struggle to pull into place?

PS I am looking forward to Eurovision tonight – how about you?!

13 thoughts on “The Perils Of Being A Pantser

    1. Yep – it’s just one of those things that’s not for me 🙂 I realise I have to plan a little, but even then it often goes out the window. I actually can’t conceive writing a book from a plan – I guess my creative mind just doesn’t work that way.

      1. Neither does mine 🙂 I sometimes have a loose outline, which is usually ignored! And that’s about the only planning I do. I have copious notes on my characters and their timelines though, because there are just so many of them! 😀

  1. Definitely a pantser here, as much as I’d love to be a planner. I’m writing down ideas and concepts for my second novel at the moment, and I’m hoping this one will be a little more ‘planned’ than the first one, but who knows where it will end up! Like you, despite all my best laid plans, I get so many really good ideas along the way that I have to listen to. It does make the novel an unwieldy beast at the end, that’s for sure, and your photo is so apt! Good luck with the edits of Novel #2!

    1. Thanks Louise – I’m starting to get it all under control, but it’s been a tough process. As you say, you have to listen to ideas that come up along the way and, with six books and a continuous story line to manage, it seems these connections pop up more and more often! Still, I hope they will make for a richer reading experience.

  2. I’m a bit of both! funnily enough I just wrote a post all about this last week. Or the week before I forget. I definitely have a methodology to get me to the final draft – an order of things I look at. I thought I was a planner when I started but actually I don’t think I am – I know who most of the characters are I know the beginning and how it ends but although I tried to write chapter outlines to be honest half of them got thrown away and I only followed a few to the letter the rest I just figured it out as I wrote. I’m still learning about the best way for me to write I guess!

    1. That’s it – I think we all take our own way to get through the story – it all depends on how our creative mind works. I’ve heard of people who plan things down to the letter and stick to it, but that just wouldn’t work for me at all, as I’ve discovered. The one thing I am doing is setting myself a deadline – I suppose that’s a holdover from my freelance work – and I find it helps. When I know I have to get my work finished by a certain date, it’s amazing how it helps it all fall into place.

  3. I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. That’s not to say that there aren’t still detours and surprises. I have a note in my timeline that is one line long that turned into 2000 words of drama. I think of that as my “they run down some stairs” (the flight from the Balrog in Fellowship of the Ring was famously described this way in the original screenplay.)

    As I’m crafting an epic saga full of twists and intrigue, I like to know where to sew clues for the reader and how to drip feed them the reveals.

    When Echoes of the Past is finished and I move on to something else I may well take a pantser approach. I certainly have in the past for a first draft. Different methods for different stories.

    1. Hi Holly, I like your thought that there are different methods for different stories. It’s a mystery to me as to where these ideas come from, so perhaps the delivery method defines whether we plan or pants our way through them, if you know what I mean! And ‘they ran down some stairs’ Talk about the understatement of the century! 🙂

  4. I’m a confirmed pantser! Those characters know their own stories better tban I do. Even if I had it all planned out, they’d soon change all that. And they’re always right! 😁 Love your use of the gnarly tree to illustrate story structure… VERY clever, and oh! So true!

    1. Thanks Ali – your comment made me laugh as that’s exactly how my stories work as well – I feel like the characters are just pulling me along, tossing ideas at me and ‘will you just write them down already!’ I like the idea of planning but have given up on it as actually happening 🙂 And the gnarly tree is just how it feels – I saw it at a country house near to me and had to take a photo xx

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