Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

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Mira
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Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Mira » November 26th, 2011, 12:35 pm

Hi guys,

After a bunch of stuff, I'm finally ready to roll up my sleeves and write. The problem that daunts me: I'm a pantser. I wish, wish, wish I wasn't. I wish I was a plotter. But I'm not.

But being a pantser is hard. It requires so much trust that i'll get there eventually - I'm having some trouble starting because it's just hard to work up the trust.

Does anyone have any advice for a pantser? Ways to make it easier, or if you're a panser, how you keep yourself going in the dark?

I'm also open to tips and tricks from plotters, too!

Much appreciated!

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Sommer Leigh » November 26th, 2011, 12:52 pm

Consider trying to be somewhere in the middle between pantser and plotter. My first novel was pantsed because that's how I thought I wrote, but I had to rewrite it almost completely three times because I lost focus too often in the story and the novel wasn't something I was ever willing to show anyone despite the three rewrites.

It took some time and practice, but I eventually found a way to plot out where the story is going without making myself crazy. I'm definitely a writer that figures out a lot of the details along the way, but that I could figure out the handful of important moments without too much bloodshed. Story Structure -- Demystified by Larry Brooks completely changed the way I approached my projects. I can't recommend this book enough, it's perfect for a pantser because it lets you manage those big moments in the story that hold everything else together while letting the other parts come together in a way that pantsers like. It's not very long but it's packed full with the fantastic tools. I think that being a pantser is great - I was one and in some ways I still am, but I understand the necessity of plotting to a degree so you don't wander off path and waste your time.

That's my two cents. I think middle of the road is the perfect place to write. Everyone has their own way, but I think there are aspects of both pantsing and plotting that are worthwhile additions to our writing toolbox.

Good luck! I can't wait to see what everyone else has to say!
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Quill » November 26th, 2011, 1:12 pm

Even if you are a pantser, as I was for my recently completed project, it is a good idea to know where the story will start and will end. If you know the endpoint, no amount of pantsing in between can get you lost. Even if the endpoint changes in the process, it helps to have a goal line for the story. Can you see your ending, however hazily?

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by polymath » November 26th, 2011, 3:03 pm

I read, evaluated, and responded to a hundred manuscripts in the past six months. Every one was once-and-done pantser written. Obvious to me that that's their processes. Every one's shortcoming was organization, particularly underrealized theme. I couldn't figure out a central them for any one. Many generic themes to choose from. Just not any one focused or realized theme as central.

Most pantser manuscripts, samples, excerpts, whatever, I've read tend to be offered as final revisions but read to me like prewriting. Capturing inspirations, exploring insprirations, developing inspirations. But barely, if at all, realizing the intents and meanings the inspirations offer sufficiently to express them effectively for audience accessibility.

I've studied long and hard the processes of experienced, successful, published writers. They tend to hold their processes close to their chests, dropping dribs and drabs occasionally, though there are tells I've learned to recognize. Fascinatingly, the processes their writing tells reveal to me are variations of universally espoused, basic writing principles and theories capable of appealing to readers.

Prewtiting is to me a private process for capturing an inspiration. Draft writing, rewriting, and revision for audience accessibilty is accomplished writers' subsequent process. And there's a recursive trail-and-error process running back and forth through the parts and wholes.

My wisdom words for any writer are: develop processes for moving past prewriting into fully realized, audience accessible, appealing narratives. During a prewriting stage or process, don't try to get it all the way there at once. Free write heuristically, trial and error with wanton abandon, then go back and prospect for organizational features that stand out. And don't let anyone read it with an expectation it's done. Ask those readers to focus on organization, structure, and content. And voice, or expression. Ask them to pick out a theme that stands out to them.
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Collectonian » November 27th, 2011, 1:54 am

I am a pantser. I don't outline, pre-plan, etc. The closest I come to "pre-planning" is that my stories always start with my having a scene in my head that, as it marinates, becomes more scenes. Then I decide to start writing the story, and most of the scenes work their way in, but not always. I deal with any disconnects or conflicts in details in the editing process.

Once I've started writing, I will usually start a second document where in I write down details of characters as they are revealed to me in the story and quick descriptions, as a way to help me stay on track. Sometimes I'll also do some other info documents while writing the story, though not usually. This year, for example, my NaNo novel is set in Texas and has the characters traveling quite a bit throughout the state. I was having a lot of trouble with distances, locations, etc so I made a custom google map where I marked the locations I knew in advance. Then when I was ready to write a bit that needed a new section, I could consult my map to figure out where it would go. Since I could put my own labels, I could mark which chapter referenced that area for later referencing.

My biggest piece of advice, however, would be not to let anyone convince you that it is somehow "wrong" or amateurish to be a pantser. If it is the way that works best for you, go for it. Work to develop strategies that help you keep the story straight, if needed, but don't try to force yourself to write in another way if it doesn't work best for you. I read lots about people saying you "have" to outline to be a "good" writer. I tried it, and never finished the book. I work best flying by the seat of my pants. I also found that most of us who do work best this way have some sort of internal connections that will usually keep the major details together without our realizing it. There are some big time authors who are "pantsers", including Ray Bradbury and Nora Roberts (love her or hater her, she has published more books and made more money than most of us could dream of LOL).

In an thread in these forums a year or so ago, someone pointed to this, which I thought was a pretty good summation of how it should be: http://jnduncan.wordpress.com/2010/10/2 ... ifference/

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by CharleeVale » November 27th, 2011, 1:05 pm

I'm a pantser.

It helped me a lot to think of my book as a three-act play as I was writing.

s I wrote I got a sense of pace and rythym, and I could tell when one 'act' came to a close. AKA the first act ends when the first big twist happens, and the second act ends when the character makes the decision to complete whatever plan has been put into motion etc.

It helped me keep a straighter train of thought rather than have a million rabbit trails oozing out from the center like some kind of broken centipede. I hope this helps!

CV

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Beethovenfan » November 27th, 2011, 5:17 pm

Definite pantser here. I work a lot like what Quill described. I have a place to start, and I try to work out someplace where it will end, and then I head for that little point of light. However, always, always always, that point of light changes directions for me. My endings always surprise the heck outa me. I never see it coming! And that's why I LOVE writing so much! But, like you say, it's also really scary.

My word of advice is to write because you enjoy it. Trust is a big issue, so just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take the plunge. See where things take you. Believe it or not, the story will come, even if you have no idea how it will get there.

And, like Sommer said, when you find yourself wandering down a new and unexpected path, sit back and evaluate it. Ask yourself if you think it will still get you to where you want to go. If not, can you think of somewhere new you would like the story to go? Try to always have an end point in mind, even if it's changing a lot. Always reread what you have written and evaluate it - make those hard decisions right there in the moment so that you don't get too lost along the way.

Hope this helps. And, welcome to the pantser club!
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by ladymarella » November 27th, 2011, 6:11 pm

I think I sit somewhere in the middle. I plot as I write. For example the plot point that once open my novel has thankfully been moved one third of the way in.
I always have an idea of what's going on, and before I write a scene I have it outlined in my head.
I am now 65,000 words in, and it is only now I am beginning to properly plot. Doing it now has been extremely helpful, but I don't know how helpful it would have been to do it earlier on.
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Rachel Ventura » November 28th, 2011, 1:46 am

You know what I find, as I really don't know where on the fence I sit (although the grass is always greener when the field isn't barren), is that it sometimes helps to try new approaches to the action of "getting things done." Meaning, if sitting down and typing/writing doesn't work for you, try speaking! I'm not saying go up to an audience and do improv, but you might want to try getting a voice recorder and dictating your story into that. There's also a software called Dragon Naturally Speaking that automatically types the words on your computer as you speak them. I haven't tried it yet (too expensive, and... lol, the rules prohibit me from recommending other methods of acquisition ;) ), but, well, I tend to talk to myself a lot :lol: almost as though I'm virtual-reality watching my story as a movie. (I think I maybe lucid dream without even realizing it, because sometimes I'll wake myself up in the middle of the night hearing myself talk. Or maybe I'm just crazy and effed-up retarded.) :twisted:

I don't like how my voice sounds when I talk, but apparently I do it a lot (just ask me, she'll tell you lots about what I say to myself), so I'm thinking of (somehow acquiring) a program like this and just talking away the story. Problem is, when I talk it's all dialogue and no description -- almost like two (or more) people talking in a movie. (Because when I'm talking I can vividly see the whole thing in front of me. I just can't describe it on paper.) If I can get into the mindset of talking out narration and scenes then I might be good to go. I mean, except for scripted movies and teleplays, conversation is basically improv and pantsy. (Holy cannoli, I think I just came up with a name for the dreaded blog. But Wicked & Pantsy might well border on copyright infringement... Not to mention just being ridiculous.) :P

Try speaking it. Try acting it out, that's what I do. (Alone again, naturally.) If you get the speaking program, maybe try getting what's called text-to-speech, so that when you speak the words, the computer can verbally read it back to you! :D

I'd swear, 99% of my ideas are fleshed out beginning-to-end in bedroom soliloquies. ;)

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Hillsy » November 28th, 2011, 7:53 am

As a pantser I also suffer from "THE FEAR". Although it's a different blend of FEAR from yours, it falls under the same paradigm of "THE FEAR". Namely: How can I evaluate the quality of my novel prior to writing it. Plotters can (Sort of. They have a framework to evaluate - then it's all in the execution). Pantsers can't as we have no idea WHAT'S GOING ON!!! ARRGHHHH!!!!

However, as warrented as THE FEAR may be, there are several things to keep in mind that'll combat it a bit.

a) No one is ever a real pantser. You will plot, you'll just do it on the fly. Maybe it'll be a few pages ahead - maybe, like a visual illusion, a whole tract of plot will suddenly coallesce out of the fug. But you'll always be thinking a bit ahead. The trick will be focusing on that bit, rather than the void afterwards.

b) Pansting has advantages for editing. Yep - panters pump out more 'stuff', largely cos we're trying to find our way around, so we explore sub-plots, or expound characters that might, or might not be crucial. All this means we have more raw material when it comes back to editing. A plotter might have to add bits and pieces here and there, pantsers just mould what they've already got because that's what they do. And sometimes it's harder to stick stuff on than to cut stuff away.

c) You'll learn to plot a bit more further down the line. Brandon Sanderson, the Mighty Brandon Sanderson, didn't move away from 100% pantsing til about his sixth or seventh (UNSOLD!) novel. Takes time to learn to do anything well. For now, just do something, then analyse what went wrong later on - and the advantage of a pantser? See point b)...you've got more 'stuff' to fix it with.

d) Never try and consciously deconstruct what you do subconsciously. Something I learned off a recent interview I heard with Steven Erikson. Yeah, THAT Steven Erikson. He was walking through his methodology and theory when writing the famous Malazan Books of the Fallen. He went through about three or four different theories about plotting (The Heroes Journey, the Three Act Theory, I can't remember them all), and they were concrete enough that he was invited to Paris to address a LITERARY writing convention about them. A fantasy writer addressing a literary convention? Oh how the snobs will love that! Still it infers he knows what the hell he;s banging on about. So I'm thinking "WOW, this guy knows his onions. I bet his brainstorming diagrams are huuuuge!", and he drops a bomb. He says "Most of what I was doing was subconscious"...........WHAT? He's just ripped through 20 mins of interview explaining in complex detail how his multi-character, multi-plotline, Mega Epic all fits neatly together, then tells me he wasn't really thining about it at the time? What am I supposed to do with that information? HELP ME!!! Anyway after I'd calmed down and put out the nascent flame I'd cultivated on my copy of "Gardens of the Moon", I realised that what he meant was: He knew the theory, he also knew what 'felt' good and right at the time - he just didn't put the two together until AFTER he'd written it! And this is where the important lesson is. Whether you plot or pants, you're doing the same SUBCONSCIOUS process. The only difference is in HOW that process plays out. In a plotters Outline, you have an intense period and get all that bit out of the way first, then tweak it consciously, then write. A pantser writes and plots at the same time, then the conscious tweaking occurs afterwards. The actually processes involved are the same!!! Not quite so scary now, is it?

Anyway....hope that allays THE FEAR a bit.... ;)

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Sanderling » November 28th, 2011, 2:38 pm

Hillsy wrote:a) No one is ever a real pantser. You will plot, you'll just do it on the fly. Maybe it'll be a few pages ahead - maybe, like a visual illusion, a whole tract of plot will suddenly coallesce out of the fug. But you'll always be thinking a bit ahead. The trick will be focusing on that bit, rather than the void afterwards.
Great advice in this thread. The above is the closest to how I've worked on past projects, though I also do like Quill says. I know my starting point, and I have a vague idea of the target end for the story. I probably don't know much more than that. But as I'm writing, I do try to see at least where I'm going for the immediate future. When I take the dogs for their walk, I'll open up communication with my muse and brainstorm with her the next scene or two, to know what happens next. Then when I return to my keyboard I'm not just writing on the fly, I know where I'm going for the next few pages.

It's a bit like driving a car, for me. Heading somewhere like a big city without aid of a roadmap; all you've got to follow are the road signs. You know where you want to end up, but the destination is much too far away to be able to see, or even see the route that will get you there. But neither are you looking just at the pavement in front of the bumper. You're usually looking a short distance down the road, to where you'll be in a minute or two, so that you can not only pay attention to what the car is doing where you are right now, but you're also navigating the car to where you want to be next. You're following this road while also watching for the appearance of road signs indicating you should turn here to continue toward your destination. And you trust that, in doing so, you're going to end up at that destination you can't see but know is there.
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by dios4vida » November 28th, 2011, 7:03 pm

Another pantser here. I get twitchy when I'm faced with outlines and vast character models (though I'm working on that one).

First of all, DITTO to everything that's been said so far. This thread is chock full of incredible advice. I'd say read it once, twice, then even a third time. I've done it and I'm catching more amazing details I missed before.

As for my two cents: I'd say to leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs. You might not know where you're going, but you've gotta be able to know where you've been. I start each of my novels with one, maybe two plot points at the start. I usually don't know the end, but I have something around the middleish that I shoot for. As I write, I fill in that outline. That way, while I'm daydreaming about where to do, what could happen, or pulling out that terrible L-word (logic) and trying to really make sense of everything, I can look up and see everything that's been done so far. It's amazing the little connections I'll see that I subconsciously put in there (the Steve Erikson bit was incredible, cause I read that and was like "omg that's me!") that I can then use to continue my storyline. I end each of my novels with a complete outline that I didn't have when I start, which is thrilling. It also makes editing a lot easier, being able to make sure you keep continuity and those subtle foreshadowing things.

I also highly suggest the Character Voice exercise. Margo (and James Scott Bell) taught me this one and it's invaluable. If you aren't sure where to go or how a character should act/react to something, pull out a fresh sheet of paper or a new document and let the character talk to you. This is a first-person, stream-of-consciousness thing. Don't edit. If something comes up, then write it. Let it be in the character's voice. I did this while I was trying to season up a bland character and he told me all sorts of things that I'd gotten wrong. It sounds strange (I thought so, too) but try it. It's almost scary.

I have one other thing that I do that works at a 66% success rate for me. As I'm writing, I try to think of a title for my book. Something that speaks to the deeper themes of it and reflects my protag's journey (not just any generic title). The reason I do this is because 1. Titles are important, and 2. This keeps the book's deeper, hidden undercurrents in the center of the mind. It helps to keep from meandering or having no theme like polymath was talking about. It's hard to get lost in bunny trails when the big issues you want to talk about are swimming in the forefront of your thoughts. For instance, when I started writing my second novel, I titled it No Hill Without Treasure. I had a bare reason why, but as I wrote I kept that in mind and I was able to tie in several aspects to that one phrase, as well as make treasures in everyday places - as well in treasures in everyone - a theme.

Good luck, Mira! Don't ever let fear, disappointment, rejection, or disparaging comments stop you from doing what you love. Writing is hard, but it's a journey that is so rewarding as long as you don't let anyone or anything stop you from doing it.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by MattLarkin » November 29th, 2011, 10:23 am

dios4vida wrote:Another pantser here. I get twitchy when I'm faced with outlines and vast character models (though I'm working on that one).
Well, you're not that bad. Breaking down the basic outline of the story seemed to help you work through the roadblocks you were facing.
dios4vida wrote:I have one other thing that I do that works at a 66% success rate for me. As I'm writing, I try to think of a title for my book. Something that speaks to the deeper themes of it and reflects my protag's journey (not just any generic title).
I can say I always have a title before starting (but I'm a planner). Sometimes it changes, but usually not. And it does go a long way towards focusing theme.
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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by dios4vida » November 29th, 2011, 11:44 am

MattLarkin wrote:
dios4vida wrote:Another pantser here. I get twitchy when I'm faced with outlines and vast character models (though I'm working on that one).
Well, you're not that bad. Breaking down the basic outline of the story seemed to help you work through the roadblocks you were facing.
Thanks, Matt. If you'd asked me six months ago to break down my story and characters the way you did, I wouldn't have been able to give you nearly the answers I did now. It's a mark of my progress, I guess. :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Any words of wisdom for a pantser?

Post by Mira » December 6th, 2011, 2:23 pm

These are all wonderful.

I can't thank everyone enough for the suggestions! They are already starting to help.

Thanks so much - I really appreciate you guys! :D

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