I’m an unabashed and unapologetic pantser.
A question that is eventually posed to every writer is “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” The first time I was asked this, my response involved a blank look and one of my trademark uber-intelligent responses like “huh?” or “say what?” (Or maybe it was just “excuse me?”) At any rate, I had no idea what the term “pantser” meant. Turns out, it means a writer who eschews outlines and writes “by the seat of his/her pants.”
The first novel of my Young Adult Fantasy series was written very much by the seat of my pants. The book itself was born from just a scene that I could not get out of my head: two figures on horseback, galloping out of the woods and into a meadow. For the longest time, I had no idea who these figures were, why they were galloping their horses, where they were going (or who they might be running from), or why I could not get them out of my head. Finally, they introduced themselves to me, and one became the protagonist of the first two books in the series.
When I began writing the first book, I had no idea what this protagonist was going to do, or who was going to help him or hinder him along the way. Little by little, new characters introduced themselves to me and placed themselves into the book. Slowly, I discovered the tale. Writing it was pure joy. It was the same type of joy one experiences when reading a good book. Like a reader, I had no idea what twists and turns the story would take until the words flowed out of me. I was surprised by the characters’ actions and motives. The intricacies of the subplots fascinated me. And I had no control over it whatsoever. I often likened writing that first book to being a secretary, recording the story as the characters told it. When the characters were finished, I had a great tale to edit into a novel.
Book two was not much different. When I began writing that book, I had a starting point (where book one ended), and I knew how I wanted the story to end. How the characters were going to get from point A to point B was a complete mystery. As the tale progressed, new characters introduced themselves and joined with the established characters. Together, they developed the storyline, with numerous subplots. Again, I had but to listen to them and record their words. Again, writing it was pure joy, and when the characters fell silent at the end of their saga, I had a fantastic tale to edit into book two.
I am currently working on book three. When I began, I had a starting point, where book two ended; I had a main character, one of the companions of the protagonist from the first two books; and I had more than a fair idea of what was supposed to happen. I had more notes for this book than I ever had for the first two books. I discovered that I was moving, slowly, from pantsing to plotting. I even outlined the whole thing on Excel. But then I found that plotting worked against me. I told the characters what to do, where to go, with whom to interact. They stared at me, sullen. They went off for days and sulked. I kept telling them that I am the writer, that they must do my bidding. “See?” I would say, pointing to the ten page outline. “You have to go there. It’s in the outline. You must follow the plot!” They sneered at me and went through the motions half-heartedly. There was no joy in the writing of this book.
So I tore up the outline. Now, I am relinquishing control of book three. I am giving my characters the freedom to tell their story, to develop their plot and their subplots, to reveal their quirks and their philosophies, just as I allowed them to do this for the first two books. I am trusting my characters not to lead me astray. They are rewarding me by showing passion once more. They are surprising me and delighting me and terrifying me and educating me as they tell me their tale. And when they are finished, I know I will have a story I can edit into a worthy third installment of this series. The joy has returned to the writing.
Feel free to stop back from time to time and visit with this pantser. I’ll keep the porch light on for you. If I am not here, I’m sure one of my characters will keep you entertained until my return.