The Art of Being A Pantser
You find someone every day writing about the goodness of outlining, how to do it, and why you should. Perhaps you laugh. Perhaps you cringe. Perhaps you cry, start pulling your hair out, and gnashing your teeth, because no matter how hard you try, you just cannot stick to an outline.
The chances are if you are nodding your head at that last statement, you are indeed, a pantser.
What is a pantser?
A pantser is a writer, author, novelist, screenwrite who “writes by the seat of their pants.” Often, they write the way they live, with spontaneity and a life filled with no planning (or the bare minimum anyway). These writers get an idea in their head, and boom! they are off filling the page. They have no clue where their story is going, get just as surprised as their readers when a twist gets thrown in, and generally can’t tell you the ending until they are at least 3/4 through writing the story. Even then, the ending is subject to change, and they are okay with that. They are content to let their characters and the story lead the way.
So, why does outlining matter?
For a pantser, it doesn’t. Some writers would suggest that outlining your story before you write is a sure way to have a flat story. I’ll explain.
What’s wrong with a comprehensive outline?
Outlining, character sketches, and spending a lot of time weaving the intricate details into an outline creates several issues:
- It takes away from time you could be adding another word to the actual story. When your time is already stretched, creating an outline can leave your story as just that: an outline.
- It’s not a house, a business meeting, or a PTA event. It’s creative. When you create an outline, you’re making it work instead of art. If your writing is art, it doesn’t need an outline to succeed.
[bctt tweet=”If your #writing is #art, it doesn’t need an outline to succeed. @theauthorSAM #writerslife #writingtips #ourwriteside” username=”OurWriteSide”]
are you a translator or a creator? When you sit down with an extensively drawn out outline, you become a translator turning your outline into prose, introducing your characters to your readers based off a sketch. Where is the surprise of character reaction? When do you get to create rather than translate? The best writing happens by accident—when the writer is discovering something new about the story, plot, or characters.
- we don’t want to micromanage our readers experiences. We want readers to create their own interpretation of our story, leave them with shades of gray, mysteries to sort through, and perhaps even unanswered questions to keep our stories at the forefront of their memory. We want to leave our readers satisfied, yet unsettled.
- outlining the action ahead of time offers the risk that a writer decides what the reader will get out of the work, and that’s not a fiction writer’s job. Our job as writers is to provide the windows into conclusions of whatever theme our story has focused on. We want to advance the discovery, which is best done through discovering ourselves, not through an outline.
- Detailed outlines take away the surprises, the journey to discovery, the little quirks that character’s reveal as a story unfolds. In short, for a writer, particularly a pantser, it stifles the creative process, leaving a dull book and a frustrated writer.
Am I suggesting that everyone stop creating outlines and toss out their notes? Not at all, especially if you need them to get started, or to keep the story from getting away from you (as all pantsers can attest to!), if you’re writing a series, or working in an unfamiliar genre. There’s something to be said about having a plan for anything, even if it’s just a brief sketch. If it keeps you from going new places in your writing, exploring your story and the characters, places, scenes then you should try a new approach. Start writing wherever you are in the story, and let the words lead you. After all, the oft-quoted phrase “just write” means more than not editing as you go. It means tossing that outline to the side and letting the story lead. Should you get stuck somewhere down the line, and you probably will, move on to the next scene, the next chapter, or a different character. There are tons of posts out there on how to keep working your story through a block. Who knows, I may even write one.
The less you know before you start, the more you’ll reveal as you write, and that my friends, is the true art of being a pantser.
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