Destroy the Concept of Pantsers

My vehemence may shock you, but I promise, I say it with good reason. Fate began with no plotting or character-building, and only minimal word-building that mostly came from the story that would eventually be called its sequel. I heavily identified with the pantser terminology because I felt that a story should flow (I mean, I still do), and I also felt that the only way to make the plot feel natural is to let it happen rather than stress overly on it.

Except let me tell you something. Writing Fate this way made its revisions immensely more difficult. This is in large part because, for the first year or so, I was still at that stage in my writing career where I felt inclined to begin a completely new draft every time there was a major change in the story. What happened was a relatively well-defined beginning with a murky middle and an ever-changing ending. I knew, in broad terms, what had to happen at the end, but not in what form. When I say it took me until Draft 5 of the original story to figure out what exactly was wrong with my manuscript, I hope you realize that there were vastly more half drafts involved that I basically just summed up as “Draft 1.”

Writing Fate in those early years was stressful and painful. Most first drafts probably are. I’ll let you know in the future, after I have a few more novels under my belt. I will say that when I made the change from Draft 5 to “Draft 1 – SB” (the added annotation more for my benefit than anything else, dictating the beginning of a new plot), it was certainly a change borne of intuition (read: pantsing) and in the beginning felt impossibly stupid and big. But it felt like the right thing to do, and once I sat down and actually contemplated how the story might look with this major change (read: plotting), I realized how it made sense narratively and the entire story became infinitely easier to write. Did I still feel doubt at time? Obviously. But there is something about knowing where you’re going that can make the journey feel a little less terrifying.

It is important for people to recognize, too, the dangers of being a plain plotter. I have gained a bit of experience with this in terms of one of my newer projects. Our world is big, and we have lived in it and studied it for generations…. as a collective human race. For one person to tackle not only the macro of an entire new world, while also looking on the more micro level at the characters who inhabit that world, it’s not only insanely difficult, it’s impractical. The questions one must answer to “create an entirely new world from scratch” are practically infinite, made only more difficult because so many of those questions are ones we don’t even have answers to in our real-world.

I have lost a certain amount of interest in the newer ideas bouncing around in my head, in large part because I’m perhaps trying to overcorrect my previous mistake by presently trying to anticipate every bit of information I’m going to need. The fundamentals of plotting are the same thing: the more you know before you get into the story, the easier it will be to write. So know everything.

As a result, I will state a simple, obvious fact, and then move on: Finding that middle ground will benefit any writer. Some might still lean more towards all-knowing (plotting) and some might lean more towards all-feeling (pantsing), but to know and to feel are both necessities in something as ambitious as a novel, and to neglect one is to do the book and yourself a disservice. The only real question should be where to draw the line between two opposing forces, rather than figuring out which item to circle on a questionnaire.

I will end this small tirade on a belief that I now hold, and that is the belief that all stories are founded on three major aspects — plot, world, and character — and that authors automatically favor one or two of these aspects. For those struggling with creating a story without first jumping into it, I recommend delving deeper into the aspects you favor, and using those as a foundation to flesh out whatever is missing from your novel. This, to me, seems safer, because it does not suggest the need to choose between knowing and feeling, and also offers the opportunity for authors to break through the unknown by delving in what they know rather than diving into a murky pool whose depths it has yet to reveal.

I shall stop myself there. The aspects of novel writing are vast and complicated, and they are things I feel strongly about. No doubt there will be more posts about them in the future.

Prim sulking, for unknown reasons.

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