I want to talk a bit about writing styles. Specifically, pantsing. Now, I used this verb two blogs ago, and my hubby pointed out that he had no idea what it was. I doubt I made up the term, but it’s essentially a verb for “writing by the seat of your pants” or more simply, not outlining.
I don’t think anyone, even those who “pants”, has no idea at all where their story is going. You have to have some level of direction or there will be zero cohesion in your plot. So this blog is about all the gray areas in between outlining and pantsing.
To be completely honest, I have no idea what a complete outline looks like. I have never written a story, not even a short story, like that. Does it have an entry for every chapter? Every scene? Does it have topics for each conversation? Does it detail what kind of character growth occurs in that particular chapter/scene? I can’t personally imagine trying to write a story after drafting up something that detailed. There would be absolutely no fun in it for me. I love discovering as my character discovers, as my reader discovers. The journey is the purpose of storytelling, right? Why would I want to know every stop of the journey before I get started?
However, I don’t go into writing a first draft completely unguided. I usually have the paragraph-length summary of the plot good to go. what’s my setting, who are my main characters, what do they want, what is the “climax” of the plot. That’s usually all I have besides any world-building and research I need to do before starting. However, once I put fingers to the keyboard, scenes start forming in my head. Maybe just the scene I’m about to write, maybe the next few, maybe random scenes most of the way through the book. And I take these moments of clarity and jot them down in my planning document. But even if these little bubbles of plot and “more detailed outlining” manifest themselves, you’re still going to have gaps between them that you must fill through pantsing.
Those gaps can be very difficult to fill. They lead to conversations that may need to be trimmed down later, but may also lead to valuable character development that you may not have otherwise thought of. I consider this the characters teaching me about themselves organically, instead of the outliner’s meticulous planning of their characters (or so I think).
That’s not to say that outlining is bad. I’d assume that it vastly cuts down on editing time. When a pantser finishes a first draft, they now have a meandering story that may need some shortcuts, or some restructuring. And that’s just part of the writing process.
Right now, I’m 12k into my new novel. I’m about to hit the first major plot point – a valuable piece of information will be revealed that drives the remainder of the plot. The kind of stuff that book jackets are made of, you know the deal. I’ve already had to meander my way between plot bubbles, and I’ve had a hell of a time doing it. But I want to trust my characters to guide me through. I want them to tell me about themselves so their voices will come through clearly by the end. I don’t mind having to clean up the first half of a manuscript if it means the manuscript’s completed.
So my question for you writers: Do you outline? Do you pants? If you pants, how do you get from one plot bubble to the next?
Thanks for reading <3