Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Problems of a Pantser

I will confess it right at the beginning; I am a pantser. For the few of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, pantser refers to an author who writes by the seat of his/her pants, rather than spending copious amounts of time laying out detailed plot and character outlines first. I may have started out as a plotter, back in the Jurassic when I first set pen to paper, but somewhere in those dim, early days, I evolved into a pantser.

 A couple of months back, finishing up the editing on House on Hollow Hill, I was wondering what project to start on next. I had just finished drafting two full length sequels to The Dark Lady, and written early drafts for two more tales in the Housetrap Chronicles series. Maybe I get bored easily, or more likely, prefer the actual writing to the really hard stuff, like marketing. Anyway, I thought about an earlier novel I had written and not done anything with yet, We’re Not in Kansas. I like the ending, it tied up most loose ends and even linked back to the working title. The problem is that it was only 60,000 words long; in my warped opinion, too short for a full length novel. What to do?

I decided the easiest fix would be to whip up another 30,000 words and extend the tale. Another, perhaps more obvious solution might be to flesh out the back story, deepen the plot. The difficulty is, I’d already covered that part of the story and know what happened. I get curious to find out what takes place next. A plotter would probably already know that, having worked out detailed plot lines fore and aft.

The pantser sits down at the keyboard, takes a firm grip on self, and starts off with, in this case, very little idea of where he is going. I’ve already completed the next 5,000 words and a glimmer of an idea is coming through. I must admit, I normally prefer to know what the ending will be before I start a project, it’s just the adventure in getting there that always intrigues me. Fortunately, I have spent enough time with these characters that I have a vague idea of how they will react and what they might say. I just have get them in and out of enough jeopardy to last for a few more chapters.

I’m curious to know if anyone else has foolishly placed themselves in a similar situation, where you have completed the manuscript and subsequently decided to continue on to a different ending. How did you resolve the situation? Did it change the story completely, or enhance it? It is enough to make one wish, on rare occasions, that they were a serious plotter, instead of a free-wheeling pantser. But then, I suspect that pantsers have more fun.


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013  
House on Hollow Hill - Sept 2013


Anonymous said...

Yep. Once I completed my third novel BLIND CONSENT, I sent out to my critique squad and they did not like the way the story ended. Problem was, my stories are intrigue based. Like a giant tree where the branches lead to an eventual junction point. To change the end meant I had to go back and rewrite scenes across the entire book, something I did not want to do, but I did, given I trust my reviewers. They must have been right cause all the reviews were 4 or 5 stars.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Blind Consent was excellent because of that, Mike.

I always know where I'm going; my problem is finding the long way there.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Pantster

Anonymous said...

Thanks JP. Truth be known, the two lady crtiquers did not like the ending, the two guys did, so I went with the female POV, given they were the prime audience.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Nikki said...

The last time I tried that, I ended up with another novel. Actually, both were novellas. And I want to write some more/another one. Maybe I'll put them out as a trilogy.