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Are You Really A Pantser? (1 Viewer)

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I'm asking this question because I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm really a pantser. As far as I know, from what I've heard published authors say, a pantser is a writer that goes with the scene step by step and allows things to develop naturally without pre-planning. I've always taken myself for a pantser because I don't make notes on anything to do with the story structure, character or character development. Here's the thing though: What constitutes 'notes'? Do those notes have to be written down in order for them to be seen as legitimate notes? Do narrative beats have to be bullet-pointed in order for them to be seen as a pre-planned structure?

I'll describe how I create stories: First of all, I do not see real people in my inner cinemascape. I see well drawn anime/graphic novel characters. I watch their behaviour and translate it into words. Oddly, I don't see scenery in the same way. I see that in real world terms. I think that's largely to do with the fact I was a walker and a hiker and loved escaping to some secluded location away from the hustle and bustle of life. I'm a loner more than anything else which is likely why a lot of my main characters are too.

The thing is though, I have an incredibly vivid imagination and can move myself to tears thinking about some scenes. I'm literally there. One of the fun things about writing for me is to sit there with my eyes closed and take a stroll through the environments I've created. I do this all the time, and its also the way I can tell if I've not fully realised a location. It's like I'm looking at an incomplete painting. Isn't that 'note taking' though? Am I not making 'mental notes'? I'd say I was.

This habit runs through my whole process. I fast forward from beginning to end. Yarrod (on 10x speed) fights in a bar, gets taken by the Stormstalker, wakes in the desert, sprints through the desert, collapses, ends up in Fiddlestick's wigwam, mickey mouses his way through the dialogue, etc. And then I hit slow motion in my head. I still haven't written anything down at this point. It's all contained in my head. That slow motion is what happens next beyond what I've already written. Sometimes I can slow-mo through the scene and other times I can only see a single static image, but that single static image tends to be a point in the near future. I've done this throughout The Sixth Chamber and now I have far more of the story in my head than what's actually on the page. So much so that I'm actually at a point where I'm fast forwarding through book 2, which is the story of Fiddlesticks.

I can fast forward, hit a brick wall, fast rewind, pick another direction and fast forward again, until I feel I have a coherent sequence of events. The bottom line is, I know what I'm writing next and I know where what I'm writing next is taking me.

So ... am I a pantser or a planner?
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
It doesn't matter. As long as a writer's method gets him/her/them to the conclusion of the story there's no need to try and define them as a planner or a 'pantser' (an entirely ignorant term BTW). Some previous members here (God bless their pedantic souls) have argued to the point of vitriol that there are no such thing as true organic writers (IMO a much better term than 'pantser'), that it is impossible to write without some form of planning, even if that plan only exists for the current sentence being written. It's an easily defensible position, but an inherently inane one. All writing methods exist somewhere on a continuum between starting with, "It was a dark and stormy night..." and seeing where that takes you, to laying out the story scene by scene, or even paragraph by paragraph.

One writer I read about started her novels as classic outlines. She would write an outline for the entire book and then go back and rewrite it, fleshing it out and adding detail and dialogue as she went. She would repeat this process numerous times, each pass getting more and more in-depth until, in the end, she had a complete novel.

Stephen King is held up as an example of being a completely organic writer. He has famously said that he sees his novels as archeology projects where his ideas are like little bits of exposed stone which he starts to dig up as he writes exposing more and more of the story as he goes along (which, interestingly enough, is exactly the plot of his novel Tommyknockers). That's a great sound bite for an interview, or to drop into his book on the writing craft, but it's in no way totally accurate. King has a number of people who do research for him, and you don't do research if you don't have some idea of where the output of that research is going to be used.

I consider myself an organic writer, but I sometimes create cloud diagrams to help me get a book rolling, and I always have a sense of what direction I'm going. While doing the actual writing, however, strange things happen, a character will pop up, or a bit of spontaneous dialogue might come off the ends of my fingers which takes the scene -- and perhaps the book in a different direction than I previously thought. Does that make me a planner or a pantser (stops briefly to clean fingers)? But, however I do it, the book moves forward and I don't waste valuable writing time and energy trying to pigeonhole myself, and I strongly suggest newer writers worry more about finding their way, than naming that path.
 

CatOfNoir

Senior Member
Most of my stories are flash fiction, so I don't map out details very often. I might write down a one sentence outline if I have got a bunch of different stories I want to work on though, but I don't think that's means I'm planning. It's more so I don't forget what the ideas are later down the line if I can't get to them somewhat soon. Even with the short stories I've written, which tend to be from 2000-5000 words, I don't plot things out, but I do often sit there while writing and try to figure out how the scenes should pan out a lot of the times.
 

Non Serviam

WF Veterans
I'm sort of kind of. I write a careful outline with detailed notes on each character, and then I organise the outline into scenes, then I put the scenes in sequence with a note on what each scene accomplishes and how it moves the plot forward. Then I start to write and I find myself deviating wildly from the outline.

But if I don't have an outline then I either can't seem to start, or else if I do start, I write scenes that are totally unconnected with each other and I can't see how to join them up. Seems like I can't produce a readable work without a thorough outline to ignore.
 

KatPC

Senior Member
@TheMightyAz it's an interesting question and reading your thread made me wonder that maybe you are a plotter who doesn't like framework, but thinks of himself as a pantser to keep the edge of creativity burning as the main focus and strength in your writing. The point being (like @Terry D said) I don't think it matters, if a mental picture or plotting is your method, and it works for you and you think yourself as a pantser, then it shouldn't matter.

In all my creations I build up a story in my mind when I am at work. Like yourself, scenes, dialogues, emotions plays out in the mind, and when I get home, and can start to type, all these becomes 'ideas' and certain 'directions' I should take. When I come to write it can generally follow that path, or I let the words take me to another, and the next day, next morning, I pick up the story and let the mind wonder again, from the last part and another, different story forms. People can say this is sort of pantsing but I don't really care. The most important part of creating, for me, is to know what I want it to sound and feel like, and where the words takes the story doesn't really concern me too much, as long as the 'feel' of the story rings closely to my intent.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Doesn't matter at all, what is the point of this thread? Just write however you want to write.
It absolutely matters, even if just from the standpoint of being curious about how other writers get from A to Z. It also matters because less experienced writers are often doing the same things as more experienced writers, but don't know it, and worry if they could have a better process. Once they realize that most other writers operate in the same swirl of chaos, they can exhale and proceed with more confidence.

Additionally, a process like Terry described in his second paragraph is a popular methodology being marketed by one educator as "The Snowflake Method". No, not a snowflake as in people who melt under criticism, but considering the fractal nature of an actual snowflake's appearance ... meaning to start with basic ideas and gradually expand them into more and more detail.

So those are three of several possible answers your question, which I really didn't consider to be a question, but a rudely dismissive comment aimed at the OP. Take care you don't accidentally get a reputation for such responses.

@TheMightyAz
You've probably seen me discuss this before, but I turned from a pantser (sorry Terry) to "mostly" a plotter when I got stuck halfway through my first novel and wrote an outline to provide the ideas and material to bring it home. From then on I've had some sort of synopsis for everything but my Heinlein sequel last year. Still, I had the broad strokes of what I wanted to accomplish as I started each of the four acts.

No matter how much detail or dedication I have to my beginning synopsis, just like @Non Serviam commented, characters grow and new ideas come forth as my story progresses ... in every novel I've written. I only managed to stick close to my original idea for story detail and characters in my novella, as 20K words didn't give me that much opportunity to diverge. :)

A minor character in my first novel took over the last act, and therefore became one of the two main protagonists in the sequel, as she will also be in the next volume. A similar thing happened in my latest novel, when what was supposed to be a throwaway character for one chapter suddenly rose to importance for the rest of the story, and will maintain that stature in the sequel to that book. That happens for me when action and dialogue for a character unexpectedly becomes as much fun to write as the MC's.

Similar things happen in the plot. I'll have a goal for a chapter, and possibly even details for how that goal will be achieved. Then I may have a better idea on the spot, and it replaces a previous idea in my head or synopsis. That's as it should be. No advance plotting can account for things I learn about the characters and the story as they develop through writing them. A writer who stubbornly adheres to a predefined outline is likely missing some great opportunities to improve the product.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
@TheMightyAz it's an interesting question and reading your thread made me wonder that maybe you are a plotter who doesn't like framework, but thinks of himself as a pantser to keep the edge of creativity burning as the main focus and strength in your writing. The point being (like @Terry D said) I don't think it matters, if a mental picture or plotting is your method, and it works for you and you think yourself as a pantser, then it shouldn't matter.

In all my creations I build up a story in my mind when I am at work. Like yourself, scenes, dialogues, emotions plays out in the mind, and when I get home, and can start to type, all these becomes 'ideas' and certain 'directions' I should take. When I come to write it can generally follow that path, or I let the words take me to another, and the next day, next morning, I pick up the story and let the mind wonder again, from the last part and another, different story forms. People can say this is sort of pantsing but I don't really care. The most important part of creating, for me, is to know what I want it to sound and feel like, and where the words takes the story doesn't really concern me too much, as long as the 'feel' of the story rings closely to my intent.
I don't really 'care' which I am. It was just something I was considering.
 

KeganThompson

Staff member
Board Moderator
I'd say you are still a 'panster/discovery' writer. Everyone plots/ plans to some degree, it just depends on how much that shifts you closer to one side of the spectrum. When it comes to longer stories/ ideas I'm better at knowing the beginning but then later on my ideas become less 'concrete' I am working on writing down ideas, and scenes I'd like to add/have so my brain doesn't get muddled. I need to have a better understanding of where I'm going and why to keep me on track. But I am likely to change a lot of things as I go so i'd still say I'm a pantser. An author on youtube I watched says she knows her beginning and her main beats/ plot points. She has a small list of what she wants to have but she is generally considered a pantser because she doesn't do a full layout of characters and plot/scenes.

You say you have more planned in your head than on the paper currently, how much changes from your OG ideas when you start writing? Do you tend to follow pretty well what's going on in your head or do you deviate a lot when you actually start writing? Sounds like you generally keep to what's in your head based on your post but just curious because I tend to deviate a lot.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I usually need an ending in my mind that I am sure will work to make it worth it to start writing. Usually I’ve thought about the idea for ages before I’m sure I have the passion to get me through the tough middle.

A few years ago I told myself to sit and write whatever came out of me at the moment that might amuse my then 9 year old daughter. I wrote all evening and forgot completely about it. I found the story later and was curious where this unknown work came from and didn’t remember writing it until about 2 pages in to reading. I’m going to use it in my current WIP. I think it was good stuff, has good flow and is interesting.

I think pure pantzing is pretty rare for me.
 

madon

Member
I've seen this discussed recently. I've never heard of pantsing before about a week ago. I hate the term, honestly. It's neither one nor the other in reality. No one is a planner or a pantser, but rather varying degrees of both. So, I guess that would make all writers planners AND pantsers. Instead of trying to label your style of writing, just find what works for you and do that. How do the kids say it? "You do you, boo." :cool:
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I've seen this discussed recently. I've never heard of pantsing before about a week ago. I hate the term, honestly. It's neither one nor the other in reality. No one is a planner or a pantser, but rather varying degrees of both. So, I guess that would make all writers planners AND pantsers. Instead of trying to label your style of writing, just find what works for you and do that. How do the kids say it? "You do you, boo." :cool:
There IS real "seat of your pants" writing, especially for shorter works, or parts of a longer work. It's not uncommon for me to begin a scene, and what I type is complete surprise to me. And for the 650-word Literary Maneuver's competition on this site, I never know what's going to be in words 600-650 when I type word 1.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
No true writer is all-pantster or all-plotter.
It is the story that determines if we plot or panst.
Real writers can write either way. They are simply different techniques.
To subscribe entirely to either style is foolish and arbitrary.

From the show Friends:
"What chords do you know?"
"All of them."
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I agree with Terry on this one (and he said it quite well!), as well as the others above me who've said: such labels . . . don't really matter.

The various approaches to writing can be fun to discuss (and/or argue about), but in the end, how one writes mostly comes down to whatever works for the individual. And what works is quite often a unique approach that defies any sort of clean definition.

It's in human nature to segment and label things, though, so that we can better understand. So it makes sense that we would do the same to different creative processes.

But I believe such distinctions are mostly artificial, and illusory.

The process of generating ideas is almost magical. To whip up characters and emotions, seemingly out of thin air! It's alchemy. Wizardry. Witchcraft.

One writer can approach it scientifically, with diagrams and charts and extensive notes. Another can seemingly throw caution to the wind, and let instinct and intuition be their guide.

I don't think it matters either way (nor any of the ways in between), because it's still the same process, just in different disguises: using one's brain to imagine, and create.

However you get there is entirely up to you, just as long as you get there in the end.
 
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Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
Commercial pilots can fly both VFR and IFR.
Pilots that can only fly VFR are called amateurs.
If it is your intention to become a professional writer, then you should be skilled in a variety of writing techniques.
Imagine if your pilot said he couldn't fly today because there were a few clouds in the sky.
"Sorry, I'm a pantser...not a plotter." He says before heading off to the bar.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
There are some advantages to planning characters I would guess. I don't know what the opinion is here. It would-be interesting to hear nonetheless.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
So does no one plan characrers? Pantsing or making it using writing up as you go has traditionally referred to plotting and not characterization although it's meaning is ambiguous. Or is this referred to as pure plotting or a mix. I'd like to read some dissenters and what they do. Plot and character are considered separate things. So are planning and the term pantsing.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
So does no one plan characrers? Pantsing or making it using writing up as you go has traditionally referred to plotting and not characterization although it's meaning is ambiguous. Or is this referred to as pure plotting or a mix. I'd like to read some dissenters and what they do. Plot and character are considered separate things. So are planning and the term pantsing.
It applies to both. Obviously most writers have a character in mind but how that character evolves is organic. I don't really know my characters until I've spent more time with them and decided upon how they're going to react to certain scenarios. I spend a lot of time considering character traits and why they're likely to have them. For me, it's not good enough to just have a character with a cat phobia, I've got to understand why they have that phobia. What's more, even when I've decided on why, I may not actually include it in the story.

Fiddlesticks is a perfect example of this. He talks in a particular way but eventually I asked myself: why? I turned out he didn't speak when he was a child. His parents were worried he would never be able to speak and pushed him to try, but all it did was make him feel inferior. This inferiority lead to him becoming isolated and seeking solitude it the wilderness (the reason he's an explorer). He did eventually learn one word, which expressed his doubts of many of the people he met in the village as he grew up: 'Fiddlesticks'. He did eventually learn to speak, but in his own way.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Hello the TheMightyaz.

I do get the cat phobia example and asking why is important to get to know the character which you pointed out. I might be using a slightly different approach. For example I have researched character moral codes. Moral codes can be researched on wikipedia. I think I will plan my character. I understand it is a bit of both. I haven't seen many discussions on character planning. Moral codes apply to psychology. I build a list of facts but understand asking why will help. Or the backstory in this instance. I have decided to wait on a discussion on character planning! I don't feel motivated to do so yet when I need to focus on sentence structure maybe the most. That will make my words flow much better. That way I can know when it is incorrect.

I do know the outline will change When I want to write this story.

When I get issues resolved I will want to start the thread. Thanks for answering and as always . I also liked the background on Fiddlesticks. That is a good example.

I appreciated you answering my questions.
 
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