Thursday, November 16, 2023

In the Weeds, or the Tale of the Pantser

Donis here. I've passed the middle of the manuscript I'm currently working on, and as usual, I'm a little bit lost. I know just where I want to go, but the question is how to get there. As I've mentioned many times over the years, I am a pantser. That means I do not outline my novels before I begin writing them (I write by the seat of my pants, if you haven't yet figured out what that means.)  

 I was told once by a mystery author friend (who also happens to be a lawyer - a significant detail, I think), that before she begins writing, she outlines each and every one of her novels to the tune of at least one hundred pages, and never deviates therefrom. One Very Big Name of my acquaintance never outlines at all, or even has much in mind when she begins her mammoth novels. She writes dozens of seemingly unrelated episodes, then arranges them in some sort of order and cobbles them together with new scenes and segues. This technique may sound pretty slapdash, but it seems to work for this woman, since she could buy and sell us all.

I have done both in my long history. Each book seems to be a whole new order of creation for me, and demands its own unique method of coming into being. I’ve been known to outline before I begin when I think that would help me clarify the direction of the plot in my own mind. I have never once followed an outline to the end. The characters don't allow it.

 I have also simply started writing, usually at the beginning, but I’ve started in the middle and at  the end, as well.  More than once I’ve begun a novel on the fly, and then gone back and created an outline because I’ve gotten myself into a muddle and can’t quite figure the way out.  Miraculously, it always works out. As I write the first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the story, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. I try not to waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. No, no, that way lies madness. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I just have to keep going until the first draft is done. Then it's time to go back in with a machete and start cutting and rearranging.

Often if I'm a bit lost in my story, I simply pick a path at random and get to writing. If that path leads to a dead end, I try another. Even on the dead ends I find all kinds of interesting material I can use someplace else.

I like being a pantser rather than an outliner because I enjoy surprising myself as I go along. I don't mind hunting around for my path a bit in the middle of the first draft because often I find a delightfully original way to go that I hadn't thought of before. But really, whatever works best for each author - and for each book - is the way to go.

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