Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Advantages and Disadvantages of Pantsing

By "pantsing" I do not mean the prank by which someone pulls down the pants of another in public in order to cause them public exposure shame. Instead I mean the abbreviation of the phrase "Writing by the seat of one's pants" which in other words has the meaning of "making it up as you go". As I rewrite Looming Shadow and consider how much time I need to do so, I reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of this writing style.

Ever since I started writing fanfiction back in Middle School I have been a "pantser". I didn't plan out the whole story in advance, and I certainly didn't plan out the individual arcs or scenes. I would write down ideas as I had them and keep a rough idea of the general arc of the story in mind as I wrote, but everything was subject to change as I wrote the story and the plot took shape. Even when I went to college and structured my class papers (thesis-general outline-specific outline etc) I continued writing my novel as it came to me.  (This was A Mage's Power but at the time it was called "Trickster Help Service".)  I wrote two sequels before publishing the first one. My intention was to go back to the first when the last was done and revise once I knew what I was doing with the plot.

Advantages of Pantsing

1. 90% of writing time was spent on genuine writing; not prewriting.
---As a full-time college student, I had precious little free time and so I did not want to squander it on something that I did not believe was progress. The end result was a novel whose first draft was completed within a year. I had nothing to compare this to but considering my rewrite took longer, I believe it is quick.

2. Natural Flow of Cause and Effect
---As I wrote A Mage's Power, I had only a vague idea of what would happen next. I would make something up; anything that was funny or gave me a chance for world building. Because I didn't force characters or events to happen I believe I avoided problems such as idiot balls.

3. Focus on Characters
I'll never forget what I learned from a speaker in a creative creating course; "Plot is nothing more than a character in trouble." Without a top-down plot, I had to understand my characters and what they would do with each step.  That lead me to get to know them better. The plot follows their traits instead of their traits following the plot.

The changes to the first draft of A Mage's Power were legion but on the whole they were superficial so I felt that my approach was justified. Now I am not sure.

I started revising Looming Shadow around this time last year. The first arc required few changes and the second more  and the third arc more still. It was like overturning a rock and finding all sorts of bugs and rust. Every arc required more rewriting. In places, I was chucking entire chapters out. Other stuff was moved around.  In short, I rebuilt it from the first floor up because I didn't have a plan.

Disadvantages of Pantsing

1. More Rewriting

---Looming Shadow had no plan. I had a premise but it ceased to be a driving point in a certain arc and sputtered out without a sense of resolution. Then something happened that blindsided me. Yes, the author himself didn't expect this twist. I couldn't carry on with my previous idea and so the rest was only tenuously tied together.  When I looked back on it, I realized how loose and unappealing it had become.  The only solution was to rewrite the story with a plan that could hold everything together. The end result is a novel that has taken twice as long to complete as its prequel and it's still not done yet.

2. Disorganized

---Pantsing is useful for getting ideas on paper and forging a trail. However, this trail lead through a dense forest whose leaves blocked out the sun. I had no idea where I was going and in many places the trail looked forced. There was no continuity or purpose; only a series of independent events happening to the same person.

3. Who's on First?

Characters drive Plot but how to know which and how many characters are involved with the plot? A single ingredient can radically alter the flavor of a dish and so can a single character send a plot down a drastically different path. What if such a character shows up at the end of the novel and you wonder why they didn't show up earlier? In reverse, what if such a character shows up early but you later decide it makes more sense for them to turn up later?

 It would have been nice to have a plan.

When I write Eric 3, the change will be even more dramatic and widespread. I have a second draft  95%  done, and I might have to chuck the whole thing out.  I hope it doesn't come to that.

For more posts about editing see ""BLAM and the Author's Knowledge"     and "Outlines-Character Action List"

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