POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
Confessions of a Pantser
By Nandy Ekle
First of all, what’s a “pantser”?
In the writing world there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are those who write an outline, some more meticulous than others. Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants. They don’t do much planning, usually just have a word sketch of a character, a basic thought of a scenario, or maybe they just have a thought, write it down, and suddenly have an entire world and story going on.
I have always prided myself as a pantser. Some of my best stories have come from picking up a piece of paper and a pen (or in today’s world, opened my laptop) and written a killer first sentence. Writing, for me, was like looking into a foggy landscape. I could see dark shapes from a distance, and the closer I got to them, the clearer they were. And I got a thrill as intense as riding a roller coaster.
Lately, however, I’ve had a little harder time getting that coaster car to move. I can walk around during the day seeing the fuzzy dark shapes, but I never get any closer to them. And sometimes they run away before I can get near enough to see them.
So I’ve resorted to some plotting. Oh, I could never be so structured as to make a outline with sublevels all the way down to “iii”, but I have gotten a little more . . . thoughtful, maybe?
So, I have a character. I know the character’s name and some things about her. Mostly I know the stuff that creates the problem. And I have a very foggy situation. Then, whammo! The wall. This is when I have to step back and say, “What is it about this girl that is different? What would make the reader like her? And what does she want bad enough to risk losing everything? And what is ‘everything’?”
This is the basic plot. Your main character wants something so much they are willing to give up . . . everything . . . to get it. And this is the extent of my plotting.
Now I’ve heard plotting writers talk about obstacles and rewards. I’ve heard about the four parts to a novel (alone, lost, help, hero/martyr), and I’ve heard about the story arc. These are wonderful tools. I’ve read books where I can see these things all very clearly and cleverly used. But to sit down and think to myself, “Okay I need an obstacle to overcome” just sucks all the fun out. What I really need is for that roller coaster to fire up and show me the dark shapes in the fog.
Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.