Monday, July 26, 2010

The method of a pantser....

What is a pantser? A term used among writers to define someone that does not plot their novel. We write by the "seat of our pants". I am one of those. I don't plot. At least, I do not outline my stories. So, I don't plan. I sit down at the computer and just write.

But that is a lie. I do have a plan. It may seem vague, but it works for me

I don't sit down to write until I know how the story should begin. I have an idea what the ending should be. So I create the characters to help me get to the end. But how do I keep the story from becoming random and rambling?

I work best using word goals. When I work on a novel, I set the word count for a minimum of 50,000 words. Now I break down the 50,000 words into five sections.

1 - 10,000 words: Introduction. I introduce all the characters, hint at the goal, and end with the first major set back.

10,000 - 20,000 words: The first set back, clarifies the goal. Reaction to the first set back. Set my characters down the path again. The second set back.

20,000 - 30,000 words: Throw as much as I can toward the characters. Introduce a red herring, if I want to. This is the part of the book, you should either make the reader question the goal, or make it stronger.

30,000 - 40,000 words. Set up and end with the beginning of the final conflict.

40,000 - 50,000 words: Final conflict, resolution, and dessert if you are so inclined.

A graph that shows were I got the inspiration for my plotting method.

These are guidelines only. My current WIP started with these same goals, but as I got close where I had planned to lay in the final conflict, I realized I need to add some more foreshadowing and smaller conflicts. It is now close to 80,000 and I am working on the last conflict.

While I am writing, I concentrate on the section I am working on. But I always have the final goal in mind. So my mind works like this.

I know A and E.
I write A to get to B, keeping E in mind.
I write B to get to C, still have E in mind.
I write C to get to D, E is closer for me as a writer, but I push it away from the characters.
I write D to get to E, E and the end

Can you understand my madness?

Because sometimes I don't.

Next time, I will talk about how to create characters on the fly. Thank you years of playing role playing games.


  1. Great post! I spotted a bit of it on Goodreads, and had to pop over to read the rest of it on your blog. Thanks for explaining the term "pantser" which I had seen in the blogosphere, but didn't quite get the origin of.

    I have written novels both ways. I have 2 manuscripts that were completely outlined before I started them -- although I deviated from the outline and sometimes surprised myself.

    My current WIP is a pantser job, and I totally understand your explanation of getting from A to E. Right now, I think I'm at C -- and my vision of E is fairly strong, but D is a little fuzzy and I'm wondering if I have to squeeze in another letter before E. (D.1?)

  2. Okay, that is far too organized and logical for me. :D You're right, but I don't follow by word count myself. I think I do subconsciously though, because I always end up in about the right place.

  3. wow how interesting! i am a pantser, too, but your version sounds so detailed! i literally just write until it comes to an end. i have no idea what happens in between.


  4. When I hear "pantster" I think of writing in a linear fashion from beginning to end, not knowing what that end will be. I'm pretty sure there are many who identify as pantsters who would kick you from the guild for this! I've had DMs objecting to #storycraft topics such as structure, re-writing and, on two notable occasions, any kind of editing at all, on the grounds that it excludes "pantsters".
    I have a theory that scene writing cannot be achieved in any way BUT "pantster"ing, in that we give over to our imaginations and write down what we visualize. Everything else to do with writing is done with at least some conscious use of the analysis part of our brains. Thus, everyone is a pantster for some of their writing but only those who write nothing but scenes (as most of us did when we were children) are "true" pantsters.