I did a post on workshops for pantsers, and several of the comments I got were “What’s pantsing?” I guess I’ve seen it around so much, I don’t even think twice about it.
Pantsing means that the writer doesn’t use an outline. The writer may know very little about the story when they start writing. For example, they may not have any idea how it will end until they get there, or, if you will, they write the story by the “seat of their pants.”
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a terrible name, but it’s a lot better than plunger, which is the name of a tool for a toilet, or NoP, which rhymes a little too closely with nincompoop. Organic is somewhat better, but then outliners cry, “What does that make me? Inorganic?” Then there’s the very strange term, gardener, which has the flavor of the story being put out pasture. Or mister, which is like a person feeling their way through a mist, though I kept thinking, “Why are they calling me ‘Mister’?”
Most of the time when I see a blog post defining it, it’s been more along the lines of “Plotter vs. Pantser,” with an outliner defining a pantser and then reaffirming that they are not taking this dangerous path.
It’s just a mistaken assumption that you can make it up as you go; it certainly decreases the chances that it will turn out well.
I guess to an outliner, it seems inconceivable that a story could be written without knowing what happens along the way and how it ends. One outliner I talked to admitted that the thought of writing a story without an outline terrified him. Maybe this is why it sometimes turns into a debate, with writers taking sides.
But in researching for this, I was amazed at how many posts there were that “explained” pantsers in a negative form and then pronounced that the only fix was to outline or plan — usually offering up the author’s method, which would, in their eyes, solve all the problems!
It doesn’t always work that way. Some people can slide over to the outlining side. And for some, it changes from story to story. But there’s some where if they try to do an outline, it sucks the joy of the story or can outright put a stake in it. If I try to outline, it lasts for 3 chapters, and then the story rolls over and dies.
Yup. I know people say outlines don’t rob the creativity or kill the story. Right.
I start with the idea, which isn’t a story. It’s just a place to start. The idea can be anything.
Then I start typing.
I try to focus only on the space of that scene and nothing else. I try not to think about what happens in the next scene, or any other part of the story.
I don’t think about plot points, set pieces, or story acts.
I just follow where the story goes, and the characters magically appear when needed.
Yeah, sometimes I go in the wrong direction. That usually happens because I start thinking about what needs to happen next or where the story goes, and the story lets me know right away and gets stubborn (all those things outliners keep wanting me to do).
Really, I just follow the road and see where it goes. That’s what pantsing is.