Tips From a Pantser


Tips From a Pantser

Nandy Ekle

I am most definitely a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. I usually have an idea for a story, and idea for a character, and an idea of a twist when I start. But planning much more than that before beginning to write seems to take all the fun out of it, sort of like having a fill-in-the-blank test. I rely on the television inside my head to fill it in as I write.

There have been times when I’ve had to plan a little more deeply because I get to a place where the character looks at me and shrugs his shoulders about what he’s supposed to do next. That’s when I get out a piece of paper and write what I know, where I know it’s supposed to go, where it’s been, and what have I not done. A lot of times this happens when I’ve just finished a very thrilling and revealing scene and I know we need a slow down breathing moment. But I don’t want my reader to get bored. 

Sometimes I’m the one whose stuck and I have to rely on my character to tell me what happens next. For example: my current WIP. I have three characters, each one has to face a task designed just for them. Which means I have to know that character well enough to know what would be a good task for them. The first character was easy. She was an expendable character and was destined to fail. So her character didn’t have to be extremely deep. She had to be deep enough to connect with the reader, but still could be pretty shallow. I knew the third character inside out. He’s been in my head for years, his passion, his motivation, his fears, and what he is willing to pay to accomplish his goal. He’s a deep character, very solid. The problem I had was my middle character. I didn’t know him very well and wasn’t particularly fond of him. So I took what I did know and just began writing that. Then there came a moment when he had to face what he didn’t want to ever face. And the inside of his head came tumbling out on the page. It was exhilarating!

Another place I was stuck and looked to the character was in a past work. I knew the story, knew all my characters, knew the conflict and the twist. What I didn’t know was who the villain was (it was a paranormal story, so the villain was not clearly visible). So I continued to write what I did know. As I’ve said before, writing a story is, for me, like watching a movie in my head. So I had the characters in one room and one of them got on the floor to check under the bed for the boogie man. As he began to stand up, he turned to face me and wink. And I knew he was the villain! Another exhilarating experience.

So pay attention to your characters. A lot of the time, they know exactly what they’re doing and what comes next—it’s their story, after all. And if they don’t know what’s next, look at what you have and remember, your job is to make the reader love your character, then torture them with any and everything you can think of. So what have you not done to them? That’s what comes next.


Toss, Salvage, Donate, Keep

Toss, Salvage, Donate, Keep

One of the benefits of moving is the opportunity to go through all the stuff in the house and do major editing. I make four stacks – keep, toss, salvage, and donate. It’s not always easy to decide which pile is the right one. Toss is more obvious. Trash is trash and surprisingly I accumulate a ton of that. The salvage pile includes items like a blouse with a missing button. Keep and donate are more difficult. Dishes, clothes, and furniture normally fall into all the categories. Sometimes I make a fifth stack called “I’ll decide later”. By the time I’ve gone through everything, I have packed boxes labeled for the movers, tagged boxes with bright pink sticky notes for charity, and bags of trash are ready for the dumpster. Even with all the editing, I realize I have too much stuff.

Sometimes we need to assess the baggage in our personal and professional lives. Over the years, I learned we carry around baggage that hinders our growth toward healthy attitudes and creativity. Let’s start with the toss pile. Get rid of procrastination. This is one of my weaknesses. I tend to put off things I could be working on now. I claim I can do my best work under pressure, but why add to my stress. Get rid of guilt, resentment, and the “I can’t” attitude. They are counter-productive.

Salvage that under the bed project. I have a novel that fell apart because of September 11, 2001. I took a break from packing to read parts of that story and decided to box it because I think it may be some of my best work. When I’ve completed my current project, I plan to pull out MACON GEORGIA and rework it. Most writers have such manuscripts. Perhaps now is the time to revisit the work.

Donate your time to other writers. Every writer has something to pass on to their peers and beginners. We’ve all learned something along the way. Maybe a trick for formatting or tracking submissions would help a beginner or even a more experienced writer. Don’t keep your tips to yourself. Think about all the folks who helped you, and return the favor.

There are definite keeps in life. I treasure my family and friends. They have supported me through the bad times, shared my tears and disappointments. They have celebrated my successes and kicked me in the backside when needed. I could not survive as a person or a writer without them. I keep copies of my successes to encourage me when the project stumbles. And I maintain a file of failures to keep me humble when I succeed.

Cait Collins