Why outliners can’t tell pantsers how to write
I’ve gotten a lot pickier in buying writing craft books in the last two years. Now, when I buy one, I look through the table of contents, and even some of the pages. If the writer promises he or she will teach techniques for both outlining and pantsing (writing without an outline), it’s an automatic rejection.
I found that a lot of them don’t have any clue as to how pantsers write.
This post was inspired by a different topic entirely, omniscient viewpoint. Several weeks back, a writer posted a blog on omni, and it was clear that she didn’t understand the viewpoint—but spent time explaining how to do it, incorrectly.
There are a lot of posts like that. The writer sees omni, tries to understand by framing it from their knowledge of third person. Third person is from the character’s viewpoint, so therefore, omni head hops, or is multiple viewpoints.
But omni is ONE viewpoint, that of all seeing narrator. Think storyteller or film director, who is controlling what the reader knows and doesn’t know.
That’s the same problem with pantsing a book.
Outlining starts out with figuring out the parts of the book—the major events in the story, how it ends, who did it, and whatever. Some are incredibly in-depth, while others are much less so, but they do contain some element of defining the road map for the story.
Pantsing is the discovery of what happens in the book as we write. Some writers may figure out what the ending is or do a character background, or anything in between. Some, like me, may not know what’s going to happen in the next scene until they get there.
That’s a pretty big difference!
Outliners look at how we write from the perspective of outlining, scratch their heads, and then apply what they know to it. Like omniscient viewpoint, they draw the wrong conclusion because of how they’re framing their approach to understanding pantsing and conclude that techniques like plot points and three act structure would really make sense for us to use.
I had to start thinking a lot about that because I went through a lot of those writing workshops that were going for $20-$30. If I started asking questions framed from the pantser perspective, the instructor didn’t know what to do with it. She’d start tap dancing—talk around it with lots of words, trying to sound authoritative, and never actually answer the question.
Yet, when I’ve run into pantsers who knew what they were doing, the answers were pretty straightforward—and better still, didn’t leave me scratching me head, wondering how I was going to apply it.
The problem is that pantser writer has to be on guard for this kind of stuff because everyone assumes you’re outlining when you’re not. In looking at all that I’ve seen over the years, I’m amazed at how little is out there for the way we write.
Coming in August, just in time for Nano: