At some point, every writer has to decide what sort of writer they are.
Far as I can tell, writers come in two varieties:
- Pants-seat writers; and
How we write our stories can depend a lot on our personalities and what’s comfortable to us. Before we begin each project, we have to pick how we’re going to write it – either by the seat of our pants, just letting the story lead us along as we sit behind the keyboard and listen to the characters and transcribe the events in our heads, or we plan and/or outline the story’s course so we have a track to follow.
Neither is correct or incorrect. Both work for different people.
I told the few who came around on Friday about putting an old project to bed and getting started on something else. I’ll fiddle around with the broken one in my spare time. But to move onto a new project, I need to decide what sort of writer I am: Pantser or Planner.
I’ve worked both ways to be honest. And I think there might be a third category which I’ll talk about in a little bit.
The Traveling Pants
When I wrote my first online serial (I thought I was writing a novel), I did it strictly by the seat of my pants. Here’s how that worked.
I wanted to write a series of short vignettes in which I distinguish three or more speakers without speaker tags if possible. (You know, that little “so-and-so said” or “thus-and-such asked” at the end of a spoken line in a novel.) I thought making the voices unique and divergent enough from each other would be great practice for me.
I posted three installments for my deviantART page. My wife thought they were brilliant. She wanted me to continue. After seven segments, I asked if I could stop. She insisted I keep at it, press on. Back and forth, ‘round and ‘round. Before I knew it I had a full-blown story on my hands with 47 installments and about 94K words.
I did it all by the seat of my pants. I never used an outline or a plan of any sort. I just sat and wrote, a lot of it off the top of my head.
Sometimes I sat for weeks, wracking my brain for a new direction or twist or problem resolution. Eventually, something would break loose and I’d write like crazy again until the next problem hit me.
Pure, unadulterated, Pantsing.
It could be considered a successful venture. Most who read my serial had nice things to say. A few didn’t. But when I finished it, I set out to write the sequel and wasn’t about to do it by the seat of my pants again.
Planned into a Corner
I was determined to avoid the old-fashioned, Roman-numeral list outlines of my grade school and high school days. Toward the end of the first serial, though, I stumbled on something which worked for me.
My new method seemed exceedingly simple. It also struck me as incredibly effective. I just needed a separate document for a guidepost.
Stuff I needed to cover for the current installment got listed in the separate text document.
(Rough Draft was awesome for this; it’s a word processor that has a “pad” feature built in. The pad is a separate text document which is associated with the main document, and opens automatically with the main doc. It lets you add notes document you’re working on. I used the “pad” to guide me as I wrote the last nine chapters or so. The pad’s a separate pane beside the word processor so I could refer to it as I wrote. Sweet.)
I’d race along and cover all the points in my “outline” and go back to tweak word count later. It kept me on track and gave my story focus.
I figured if it worked for a chapter or two, it would work for longer pieces too. So I set out to write my sequel this way. Using Liquid Story Binder XE, I mapped out as much of the story as I could . Then I roughed out each point as I reached it in the story. Not exactly a numbered list outline, but pretty darned structured.
I promptly hit a wall at about 40K words and got such a bout of writer’s block I didn’t work on the story again. Ever. It’s been two years since I’ve written a line in it now.
So, I’m a Pantser, right? All that structure killed my creativity and I just can’t write that way. Right?
The Happy Medium
I finally figured out the problem. Or, I think I’ve figured out the problem.
I’m not a Pantser. No way. That’s too undisciplined and scary for me. I can wander so far off track (done that), or leave important story structure elements out, or drift aimlessly. Worse still, I could abandon the project in frustration and stagnate … again.
No thanks; been there, done that, wrote the book. Sort of.
I needed a looser structure; one which sets the path for the book and the major elements needed without listing every single thing to cover. I’m free to work with the prose and the characters, and even twist the plot a bit. But I still have a loose framework to guide my way.
I could write draft after draft after draft and not be happy with my story. I got lucky and did some things right in the original story structure by instinct, but sometimes instincts are slow, or are off a little , or just misleading. I needed a sure-fire way to develop the story, every time. I needed to do it without putting myself into such a tight box I couldn’t create. It also couldn’t be so loose I’d lose myself along the way.
I need to be somewhere between a Panster and a Planner. And, I needed a story structure method. I didn’t know I needed it, though. That’s the third writer category I mentioned before: the Structurer, or something.
But that’s a post for another day.
Get Ready — Get Set —
I think now I’m ready. I think now I have the ideal situation for me. I need a synopsis. Not too detailed, though. Just enough to provide me that direction I need to be creative and untethered.
I won’t have to do multiple drafts to get the story elements in place. Which means I can focus on writing.
It will be interesting to see if it works.
Wish me luck.
What kind of writer are you? If you’re not a writer, do you tackle projects with a firm, rigid plan in mind, a loose set of guidelines just to keep things on track, or do you just fly by the seat of your pants?
Happy Memorial Day, y’all.
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