I’ve been a Pantser for as long as I can remember. When I have an idea for a new story, I just sit down and write. Sometimes I know a little about the world I’m creating or the main character or the plot. But not often. I just figure it out as I go.
By the time I’m finished the first chapter, I’ve usually got a handle on the main characters. By the time I’ve hit the first conflict, I’ve generally figured out how the book will end. By the time I’m a third of the way through, I need to stop and write a brief outline for the rest of the book.
I’ve tried outlining before I start. I’ve tried creating files on characters and settings and plot points. But it just doesn’t work for me. It robs me of inspiration and makes me feel empty inside. So I long ago resigned myself to being a Pantser.
There’s plenty of us around. All of us writing by the seat of our pants and discovering the plot twists and turns as they happen. It’s exciting, really.
Most of the time.
Sometimes it’s frustrating.
I recently had the opportunity to have the first three chapters of my WIP (Work in Progress) read by a published author whom I greatly respect. She offered to read my pages and send me some notes with her thoughts and feedback. Of course, I took her up on the offer. (Who wouldn’t?)
After a couple of weeks, I got her feedback. I read it several times. I went away and thought about it. Then I read it again.
I’m incredibly grateful to her for taking the time out of her schedule to read my still-in-its-early-stages draft and send me her thoughts. Incredibly grateful.
Especially because she complimented me on the scene I felt was strongest.
And also because she pointed out the flaws that I secretly feared (but knew) were on the page.
Her feedback went something like this:
- I like the world you’ve created.
- The sidekick character is terrific.
- The protagonist is too bland.
- It’s a very long run-up before it gets interesting. [Jo’s favourite scene] is terrific and unusual. I don’t think the stuff up to then earns its place and it’s very explainy.
Now, I already pretty much knew that the first couple of chapters would be shortened and turned into a single chapter during revisions. So no problem there. As a pantser, the first couple of chapters of a first draft are really more about me getting into the story than anything else.
But the point about my protagonist being bland… Well.
Well, I really knew that already.
I started thinking more about him, and about how to bring his personality on to the page in a bigger way,. And I had a sudden realisation. An epiphany, if you will. I knew nothing about my protagonist.
Apparently he sprung into being, fully formed, at about the same time he developed magic powers. I had no clue who he was, deep down, what his values were, or what motivated him. So I’ve put my writing on pause to concentrate on developing my protagonist. And that, in turn, has led me to finally decide on the setting for my story.
Right now, I’m researching a setting, exploring the backstory of my main character, and immersing myself more fully into the world of my imagination. I’ve got notes galore on things I’ll have to change during revisions (which I’m really looking forward to). But first, I need to finish the research and write the remainder of my first draft.
Like I said, sometimes it’s frustrating to be a pantser. It’s crazy to write 60% of a novel without knowing where it’s set, or having any idea of the main character’s motivations.
But on the other hand…
I kind of like this kind of crazy.
Do you plot your novels first, or are you a member of Pantsers Anonymous? Have you been in a similar situation?