Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.


Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.


15 Responses to “Trying to Write as a Pantser”

  1. Charles Yallowitz January 16, 2017 at 6:45 am #

    I’ve always thought authors are combos of the two schools. One is more dominant than the other though. I’m looking down the barrel of a pantser project next month. Just don’t want much paper evidence of this private project. Good luck with the adventure.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 16, 2017 at 4:36 pm #

      Hit 40,000 words yesterday! I’m trying to keep myself down to 70,000 since I tend to overnight, and it’s been a blast. My next goal is to try 3rd person, since I predominantly write in 1st POV. I agree that writers tend to lean more to one side than the other, but I also think challenging yourself is important. Trying to do more of that in 2017. 🙂

  2. anthonystevens January 16, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    Most of my stories have started as lucid dream sequences. Sometimes almost intact tales and other times, just a name or phrase will trigger me to write it down.
    I’ve mostly been a pantser, but my current project is so incredibly ambitious, it just won’t work. I’ve got to keep track of several dozen major characters and another dozen sub-plots.
    Good post! Thanks for sharing.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 16, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

      I can see that! One of my previous projects was plotted and rewritten three times and STILL needs a lot of work. It’s just too expansive to mess around in it. But this current pantser project will need a lot of editing, too, so I suppose it just depends on how much rewriting/editing you want to do. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for sharing your experiences in plotting and pantsing.

  3. Don Massenzio January 16, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Whether you’re a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’, you’ll enjoy reading Shannon Thompson’s post from her blog

  4. Brandon L. Rucker January 16, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Reblogged this on Rucker | Writer.

  5. Susannah Ailene Martin January 16, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

    I had a boss who was a pantser. He thought everyone should be a pantser. I didn’t agree…

    • Shannon A Thompson January 16, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

      I definitely agree with you.
      There’s no “one way” for everyone.

  6. EdwardianPiano January 17, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    Well I didn’t know there was a name for it! So now I know what type of writer I am. I have never written any other way- i write what I dream/see- always. I have never plotted and in fact the times I tried nothing would come. The stories tell me, not me them. I like writing this way too- it’s kind of exciting watching what unfolds and there are always surprises!

    • Shannon A Thompson January 20, 2017 at 3:03 pm #

      Awesome! I always laugh because my autocorrect changes “pantser” to “panther”, so I’ve accidentally told others I’m a panther right now. 🙂

  7. Frank January 20, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    I’ll bet when you are finished, you will look back and say it’s your favorite book!

    • Shannon A Thompson January 20, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      So far, you are totally right, Frank! It’s been one of my absolute favs.

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