Confessions of an Incorrigible Pantser
Photo by Ben Berwers on Unsplash
Let me explain.
Sometimes I just start writing. I’ll hear a sentence in my mind and then . . .
And yes, sometimes I write in circles and never get to the point. Or I bury the lede. Or I do too much vamping or warming up. And very often I toss the whole thing.
And yes, I know, I should practice what I teach. Follow a blueprint. Make an outline. Maybe just a mind map.
But the truth is – I always have to start by writing.
When I ran workshops, I loved to use a snippet of eavesdropped conversation. And let the group go from there.
My favorite – once on a very bad date, I was hiding out in the ladies’ room when two very tall, very thin, young women came in to comb their very straight blond hair. Swedish most likely. Leather pants. One said to the other – “I’ve got to talk to Hans alone tonight.”
Then what? I said to the workshop.
One writer came back immediately. The other woman said, “Anything you want to say to Hans, you can say in front of me.”
And he took the story in a whole new direction. Pantsing.
In a class called Living Writers, the teacher asked me – What was the song you heard while you were writing your novel? How did he know I kept hearing the rhythm of Simon and Garfunkel’s “We’ve all come to look for America”? Pantsing set to music.
I love to show writers Jennie Nash’s Blueprint for a Novel. It’s brilliant and helpful and just what a writer needs to get started or to fix a novel that’s gone sideways.
I especially like the early questions. Why are you writing this book? Who are you writing for? And what’s the point?
Too often I find myself 20 or 30 or even 50 pages into a manuscript and I still have no idea what the story is about. That’s not good.
With Jennie’s Blueprint the writer would have sorted all that out before writing the book. Saved time, cut down on frustration.
Right now I’m learning how to use the Story Arc structure for Fictionary. Five points -the inciting incident, the first plot point, the middle, the second plot point, the climax. Brilliant as well. With the help of AI writers can make sure they don’t wait too long to start or rush in too soon to wrap things up.
You need a finished draft. But like the Blueprint, it may save you from writing 5 or 6 or 7 more drafts when all you need are three.
As I’m thinking through this next novel – I’ll start with the title. And probably won’t do anything until I’ve got that first sentence. And I hear the characters talking. And I can see where they live.
I probably won’t know what it’s about or who it’s for. I probably won’t know the first plot point or where I’ll put the climax.
After I flounder for a while, I’ll probably take out the Blueprint and give it a shot. Finish a draft and try the story arc.
But I’ll do an awful lot of pantsing first. Because that’s just how some of us write.
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