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A Guest Post By Jennifer Blanchard
Since the very beginning of StoryFix, Larry has written about a term he calls “Pantsing,” which is when you write a story by the “seat of your pants.” Doing so, without doing any planning ahead of time, will almost always result in a full-draft rewrite (likely multiple draft rewrites).
But you’ll be a lot closer to knowing what your story is about.
Larry is obviously a huge advocate for story planning—as am I—but I’ve actually received emails from frustrated writers who are upset that Pantsing isn’t taken more seriously.
So I wanted to make a case for Pantsing having a valid place in the storytelling process.
Because that’s the thing about Pantsing. While it might not give you the draft of a story you can use (as will outlining; Larry also stresses that pantsing and outlining have the exact same goals), it will give you clarity on what your story is truly about.
And that, in and of itself, via either method, is gold.
Here are the benefits of Pantsing:
• Story Discovery—when you’re in Pantsing mode, you can go crazy writing whatever comes to you with regard to your story. You can write the details that inspire you most about this story idea; you can write dialogue for an important scene, to see how it could play out; you can write entire paragraphs describing everything from people to locations.
The Story Discovery Phase of writing a story really requires you to dive in and figure out what story wants to be told, who these characters are, and what their story really is. All of which are absolutely things you need to know if you want the draft to work as well as it possibly can.
It’s likely that by the time you enter the Planning Phase of your story, you won’t even recognize your initial idea seed. And that’s OK.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how discovering what your story is really about is kind of like excavating the ground looking for fossils. He says:
“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous; a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, a short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain the same.”
• Getting to Know Your Characters—Pantsing is a great way to get to know your cast of characters. And since you’re still in the Story Discovery Phase, you can go crazy writing your characters’ backstories; learning more about who they are and what they want; and digging deep into what their motives are in this story.
• Having A Writing Adventure—writing a novel is an adventure in itself, but Pantsing is truly an adventure, because you have no idea where you’re going. You’re just sitting down and typing whatever comes to your mind. The direction of your story is not yet defined, and anything is possible. This can be a lot of fun, if you let it.
The problem, however, is that too many writers don’t realize Pantsing is just a PHASE in the process of writing a story—but it’s not the only phase.
You really can’t just Pants your novel and expect it to work. That will, in nearly every case, never happen.
The only thing that works is having a plan, knowing your structure, and being able to clearly articulate a beginning, middle and end.
In that context, a “pantsed” story that succeeds in identifying a powerful core story is a plan, the goal having been arrived at using means other than outlining or using yellow sticky notes.
A Balance of Both
Like I said, Pantsing does have its place in the draft-writing process. But it’s only the first phase in the process, if you choose to not begin the story via an outline.
If you want to write a novel that you can publish, you have to push yourself to move past the Pantsing Phase (aka: the Story Development Phase) and into the next two phases: Planning Phase and Doing the Writing Phase. At that point there is no difference whatsoever between what the pantser is doing and the planner is doing, because when you reach those second and third phases the “core story” has been identified, using either process.
(You can learn more about the 3 Phases of Writing A First Draft here.)
You’ve gotta have a balance of Pantsing and Planning (and Doing the Writing), if you want to end up with a novel that’s worth putting out into the world.
The reason I often spend more time in the Planning Phase than I do in the Story Development or Doing the Writing Phases is because I have no desire to write more than one draft before finding what my story is about. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. If I have to write more than one full-draft, I usually scrap the story.
But when I plan everything out ahead of time, and then write the draft, I have a lot of stuff I can actually use when I’m finished. And that allows me to avoid a full-draft rewrite.
Writing a novel that works isn’t science; there’s no specific success formula you can use or replicate. But there are principles in play, and a three-step process that will help you turn out a truly badass first draft.
How does Pantsing play a part in your story-writing process?
About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and writing coach who helps emerging novelists take their stories from idea to draft, without fear, distractions or disorganization. Her Idea to Draft Story Intensive—where she helps you take your story idea and turn it into a completed first draft—is enrolling right now.