Monday, January 21, 2013

Confessions of a Recovering Pantser (or, My First Contest to Give Away Free Stuff)

pantser - A novelist who writes by the 'seat of the pants', not taking time to plan the novel before beginning to write.

plotter - A novelist who outlines the story before beginning to write.


Hi, my name's Kyle and I'm a recovering pantser.

For as long as I've desired a career as a writer (say about age 11 when I discovered Stephen King) I have always sat down and wrote. No planning involved. Just scribbled until I fashioned a shell of a story that I then rewrote until all of the pieces came together into a cohesive form. (Yes, the process was exactly as exhausting as it sounds.)

Last year, I decided change. After a study of how to plot (Save the Cat and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery being the two best books I found) I devised my own system.

Step 1: Build the world

Step 2: Develop your characters (the world influences who lives the world)

-       Determine character motivations

-       Determine character arcs

Step 3: Plot using the 15-beat method (see Save the Cat)

Step 4: Once you have everything worked out, write the actual story

I discovered two things about myself:

1.    I love world building and delving into the characters' psyche.

2.   Once I had finished steps 1-4, I was TOO BORED WITH THE STORY to actually write the darned thing.

I've tried letting the outline ferment for a month or so before returning to it. That helped to freshen it a bit, but not enough to rekindle my interest in the story. When it's all said and done, I like outlining and pantsing for the same reason: the thrill of discovery as my brain reveals plot twists in the same manner they are exposed when I read a book - one page at a time. Once an outline is complete, I dislike it for the same reason I never read the same book twice: I already know what's going to happen, so I am no longer emotionally involved.

I see the logic of being a plotter. It does save time and effort, but a third revelation about myself I noticed is the few short stories I've plotted first, and then wrote were … well, er … kind of lifeless. They lacked a spark of originality.

Does this mean I'll return to my pantsing ways?



I dunno.

For now, I plan to vaguely sketch my ideas, but do the world building and discover the characters as I go along. Will that mean rewriting? Yes, but rewriting has never bothered me. I suppose that's because I discover something new each time I rewrite - hence, the story is still 'fresh'.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? The first person who leaves a detailed comment below before 11:59 p.m. on January 31, 2013 wins a free copy of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. (Contest limited to residents of the United States of America due to mailing costs - sorry.)


  1. More a plotter than a pantser. I have to have some idea of where I'm going before I start, and I usually sit on the idea of my novel for months. The whole time, the desire to see it take shape builds and builds. Writing, for me, is seeing it come alive. I may know what's going to happen, but I don't know what it's going to look like, and that's the best part for me. I've started the practice of loosley planning out what's going to happen in a single chapter to make sure the plot is constantly moving rather than stagnating.