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When plotting turns to plodding; stop pantsing...

Some tips for a pantser

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by Cynthia T. Luna in Creative writing

It’s probably best for me to begin this blogpost by confessing that I’m not expert in the area of plotting. That’s because the writing style I employ is commonly referred to as “pantsing it”, which means, that I improvise, go with the flow, and I don’t look back. (The term comes from the expression “flying by the seat of one’s pants” — which, is totally comprehensible to me as a native English-speaker, but I would not be able to explain the origin of that second expression to someone learning English…)

I don’t look back… Until, that is, I don’t know what to look forward to.

It’s pretty common that once a person has written about 25 to 30 percent of her story, the writing slows down. This is where you start slicing into the main course of your story. At this point, writers should be pretty clear on the widget/problem their protagonists must find/solve in order to ensure order is restored after a period of page-turning entertainment.

If not, your writing is going to hit a productivity wall, and in little time, you will be stepping out of the marathon altogether, blaming writer’s block for twisting your ankle near the first water station.

Stop pantsing and turn plodding to plantsing!

For a writer like me — who gets so caught up in her storytelling, she becomes more of a documentarian of her characters’ actions — creating an outline is like burying MacGyver six-feet under in a water-filled coffin, and then emptying his pockets and making him spit out his gum. (Basically, you’ve stripped him of any chance of escapting a hopeless situation, you’ve stripped him of even the smallest details that make him MacGyver.)

But on the first day when I feel like my writing is going nowhere fast, I open up a clean Word document, write the title, “What you know is…” and start outlining what I’ve already written into the story. In bullet points.

It might look something like this:

  • Sidney St. Claire is a PR flack in Washington D.C. who is unlucky in love.
  • Her best friend Cherri tries to help Sidney out, but Sidney might be beyond help.
  • Sidney’s boyfriend is a hot, French journalist, whom she rarely sees because he’s presumably working the graveyard shift.

Doing this might be all I need to for new ideas to present themselves. And all I need to do is write the next couple scenes.

  • Sidney’s boss, Patti, gives her a project that will force her to put off the wedding plans for at least six months.
  • Her boyfriend has been busy lately. And then Sidney finds him cheating on her!
  • Cherri helps Sidney throw herself into her work and into the local bar scene.

The next time I hit a wall, I will pull up the same Word document (the one with the outline), scroll down to the bottom, and in big bold letters I’ll write, “What you don’t know is…” 

  • Pierre is a spy who was trying to get his intel through tried and true pillow-talk, espionage techniques. He loves Sidney, but can Sidney live with his career?
  • Patti is part of an espionage intelligence-trading network.
  • Sidney has no idea how in-deep she really is!
  • There’s going to be a love interest for Sidney, but will she be able to trust him, or is his work at odds with hers?
  • Something serious is going to happen to Cherri.

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This will usually help me round the corner. And it’s enough to get me writing more scenes. I don’t need to get too detailed with my outline, because my characters tend to take over the script. (You can read more about the term, “plantsing” on the blog of another fellow pantser-writer, Stephen D’Agostino.)

How about you in your writing? Do you pants it, plot it or plants-it?

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What gets measured gets managed. Amp up your writing speed today!

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