Friday, January 29

The Joys of Being a Pantser

I’m a total pantser. And I love it.

There are pants somewhere here to illustrate my blog.
I just can't find them at the moment. :-)
I maybe start a manuscript with a couple of characters and a vague idea of the story line. Sometimes, I only have one hastily-crafted paragraph or section of dialogue between nameless character 1 and nameless character 2. In fact, I have a whole computer file of such snippets… possible stories to flesh out when/if I get the time.

The only certainty is that my story will have a Happy-Ever-After. How I get there is much less certain or predictable. Earlier this year, I entered the On the Far Side competition, and had to submit a synopsis with my entry. I was desperate to finish the story so I would know how it ended!

I know this process means I end up spending extra time writing scenes which end up being deleted (“fodder for my newsletter,” we’ll call it). But this is what makes writing so much fun for me. I love discovering my characters and following them on their story arc, much like my readers would get to know them. I love how my characters surprise me with the little details as I put them to paper. Their little revelations delight me, and I hope will also delight the reader.

In fact, just the other night, the hero in my current story admitted to me he felt inept when dealing with a woman’s emotions. When his own actions upset the heroine, he had no idea what to do or say. I had written 90,000 words of this story and was on my second edit before this came out. Up to this point, I had assumed he was confident and in control in all situations. Yet, while editing a scene, his secret came out.

My hands stopped above the keys, my eye wide, and my mouth a silent “Oh!”

I had no idea… yet it explains so much. I had unknowingly set him up for failure, yet written success. It’s little wonder so much of the story felt… wrong. Forced. Off.

“Why didn’t you tell me this during the first draft?” I asked my hero, a little embarrassed that I hadn’t, you know… known.

He shrugged and looked away. I can tell he’s uncomfortable with the admission.

“Oh, honey. I’m sorry I didn’t know.” Then I leveled with him. “You realize we have to address this, right? We have to come to terms with this, or your story won’t be complete.”

His shoulders sagged, but I detected a glimmer of hope in his eyes. So, I continued in more dire tones. “You also realize this is going to blow out my word count. I’ll have to cut something. Like maybe a sex scene.”

The glimmer turned to horror and he begged. “No! It’s not big of a deal, really. I’ll handle it… No one has to know. It can just be one of those secrets which makes me who I am.”

“Just trust me to do what is right for the story.” I managed to keep a straight face, even though I was only teasing. I’d rather throw out a secondary character than cut a sex scene. Though I can’t promise I won’t cut both a sex scene and a secondary character… nothing is sacred when the ultimate goal is to tell the story.

I also can’t promise my hero his secret is safe with me. I totally plan on blabbing it to anyone who reads my book. But I can promise him I will take this important tidbit into consideration when editing the rest of the story. And when we finally arrive at the Happily Ever After, it will be even more exciting for having resolved this issue as well.

Now, I wonder what jaw-dropping secret my heroine has yet to share with me!


  1. Lol. It was never that much fun when I was a total pantser! Of course, if the hero had waited 90K words to let me know that, there'd have been a melt/breakdown going on. Great post, Ava.

  2. I admire your pantser-ness, Ava! And I love it when characters *finally* tell me their secrets!!

    1. Characters are complex creatures, aren't they?

  3. When I wrote Bix, it was a total pantser book. I heard his voice before the plot and had to find a plot worthy of him. After four years, close to 200K words, and eight rewrites, I still didn't get it right.

    And my pictures were distracting???? MMmm

    1. Well... I stiff competition in the eye-candy department :-)
      Keep working on the stories! One day you'll find the groove for him!

  4. What a fun post and oh, yeah, totally get the hero revealing something late in the game and things seeming "off." That's why I ended up changing Ben to Henry in TSOSC. You are a great writer and a true pantser--I can respect that, baby!

    1. Aw, thanks! I admire everyone's ability to set a little structure beforehand!

  5. I'm an outliner ... and yet I still have similar conversations with my characters.

  6. Those "AHA!" moments are what keeps me at the keyboard. Great post!