Friday, July 27, 2012

Analyzing Me and Writing (1) - Pantsing It

In my last post, I listed four quotes that completely apply to me in terms of writing. Blogging about them apparently wasn't enough for my feverish little brain, though. I kept thinking about them for days and nights and those life-preventing times called the working hours. So finally, I tried to figure out why they are so true for me. I came to several conclusions, which I want to share here in this and the next three posts.

The first ended up being an explanation about why I'm a pantser, not a plotter.

For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I'm surprised where the journey takes me.
Jack Dann

It's true, at least for me. The adventures my characters have are my adventures, too. But I only feel this sense of adventure and surprise if I don't outline beforehand. I've become wary of even jotting down ideas on how the story should proceed or what should happen, even if they are only single keywords. Heading towards an already ordained point in the plot limits my imagination and drowns my adventurous spirit. I'm a pantser first and a plotter never.

I'm aware that most writing-savvy people say you need at least some kind of outline. It makes sense and, believe me, I've tried. I've written outlines to great stories (if I may say so myself), and enjoyed writing them. But as soon as an outline is finished, I'm not invested in the project enough anymore to actually type tens of thousands of words, first of all because I already know what's going to happen (no more exploration), and second of all because I have to rein myself in all the time, so as to not stray from the pre-ordained frame of events. Sure, there's nobody but myself to make me stay within my outline, but if I know I'm not going to keep to it after page two, why then should I invest all the work in it in the first place? A single word in one line of dialogue can be enough to veer the plot into a different direction than previously assumed. I don't know my characters well enough in the beginning to be certain as to how they will react and what they will do when confronted with certain things that will force them to act and make decisions.

Yes, I have an idea where the story is going, but no, I never write it down, because the idea can change from chapter to chapter, from scene to scene, from sentence to sentence even. That may sound random and arbitrary and rambling, but that's how it works for me. 

What I do make notes of are questions that arise while I write and which need to be answered by the end of the story - that demand 'pay-off', if you will. I frequently return to these questions and either mark them as 'paid' or contemplate whether I can use them to further the plot at the point I'm currently at. As I said, I never know beforehand when or how they will turn up again or be paid-off.

In the end, everything in the story must serve a purpose. If something turns out to be a dead end or isn't resolvable or important, it's fodder for the delete-button. Which is my best friend in reviewing / rewriting and sees a lot of use, I must admit. Plotters probably don't delete quite as much as this-here pantser does.

Now you might observe that I'm not a professional author, that I've not managed to publish any of my novels with this extreme anti-outline philosophy and you'd be right. But my answer would be that, by pantsing it, I've at least finished several novels - not just outlines.

And I've had a hell of a fun ride along the way.

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