Guest Post: A Pantster Explains her Method!

Writers usually fall under two differing categories, planners or pantsters. Today I am excited to have Diane Lynn Tibert, a self-described pantster, host my blog and explain her writing method.

Be sure to check out Diane’s blog after you read her post.

So, without further ado, here’s Diane.

 

Flying by the Seat of a Panster. 
 
Planning is great when taking a two-week trip to Newfoundland. It’s important to make the boat and have a place to lay your head after travelling for more than eighteen hours straight. All sorts of mishaps can materialise during a totally unplanned vacation.
 
This is true for a novel, too. However, just like a vacation planned with every minute scheduled, a detailed outline with no room for changes inhibits some writers. In fact, some can’t function with every character move choreographed and they slam into a writer’s block. Others write, forgetting or pushing aside the outline they had spent days creating.
 
When asked who was a planner and who was a planster, I had to raise my hand to the latter. I’ve tried to be a planner, but it doesn’t work for me; I’m a roamer, crow follower and dilly-dallier. My mind is constantly turning, endlessly being teased by curiosity; things I experience during a day can drastically change the route my characters take from Point A (Chapter 1) to Point B (The End).
 
I’ve learned over the years that for me, planning is a waste of time. When I begin a novel, the only thing I know for sure is Point A and Point B. The rest is made up as I go along.
 
One reason outlines don’t work for me is that I don’t know my characters well when I begin a story. I know their name, general age, the colour of their hair, what they ate for breakfast and if they wear boots or go barefoot, but I don’t really know them. I could spend oodles of time doing character sketches and filling out analysis sheets, but I don’t know if their true self will be revealed. Personally, I feel I must fry pork chops in their kitchen, sleep with them in a bed of moss and bandage their arrow wounds before I can truly say I know them. I can’t do that filling in a character sheet.
 
For instance, I was convinced one male character was a simply thug, out for a little money and revenge when he helped kidnap a young girl. However, while creating scenes between him and the girl, he began to reveal subtle character traits. It was actually the girl who first realised his behaviour was similar to her father’s. It was as though they’d been trained for the same purpose. When I, too, realised this, I began asking myself: Did he serve at the castle? If so, why did he leave? Does he have family living at Maskil?
 
While I pondered these types of questions, I wondered: “What answers would build conflict, suspense and/or drama?”
 
Did he serve as a guard? Yes, because it has the potential to cause more problems for him and those around him who learn his past.
Why did he leave? Because . . . oh, I can’t share that with you just yet. Just know the reason he left is the same reason the girl’s father was almost killed.
Does he have family living at Maskil? Yes, and they hold very prominent positions.
 
Such questions never appear when I create an outline, but their answers almost always push a story in a direction I hadn’t planned. I can’t accurately answer these types of questions until I know my characters intimately. I don’t know my characters until I write about their daily activities, their challenges and how other characters interact with them.
 
HOWEVER: Once I’m a few chapters into a story, I have character sheets on hand to note anything of importance: hair and eye colour, hand dominance, notable scars, what stone they carry for good luck, family relations, etc. I use them to check the facts quickly.
 
AND: At some point in the novel-writing process, I write short stories for the main characters and for those I need to know better. They’re around 3,000 words long and are about a turning point in their lives. Through these stories — which take place before the novel — I get to know the characters as if I had grown up in the same house with them. I don’t write the stories all at once, only when the need strikes.
 
I’m not so concerned about creating a complete, stand-alone story that’s good enough to submit to an editor. These stories are raw, for my viewing only and delve deep into the emotions of the character in question. I’ll let them ramble, shout, get their hearts broken and throw eggs at their neighbour. By the end, character quirks are revealed, a voice is created and a little history that can be drawn upon has been written.
 
BUT I can’t seem to write these short stories until I meet the characters in the novel. Then, and only then, do I know the biggest secrets they are hiding in their past, one revealed to me further by creating character short stories.
 
For me, novel-writing is like riding on a wave of emotion: I’m not steering; I’m just along for the ride and recording what I witness.

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17 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Pantster Explains her Method!

  1. ‘Personally, I feel I must fry pork chops in their kitchen, sleep with them in a bed of moss and bandage their arrow wounds before I can truly say I know them. I can’t do that filling in a character sheet.’

    OMG this is EXACTLY how I feel about my characters! Often I won’t even get an outline until I’m started on a WIP. And while I don’t write short stories for characters, I do end up with character sheets most of the time, often with little notes about backstory or reasons that they act a certain way.

    ‘For me, novel-writing is like riding on a wave of emotion: I’m not steering; I’m just along for the ride and recording what I witness.’

    I’m so with you on this as well. Many times I’ll have more than one WIP going at one time (if I become agented and have projects with timelines, this could change) and people don’t understand how I can do that, but without having anyone in the industry expecting a certain project to be finished by a certain time, I work based off of emotion entirely. ‘Do I feel like kicking tuchus today? Or do I want to bater with Faeries? Or maybe I feel like a fairy tale retelling.’ I just depends, and it’s not usually a conscientious choice, it’s just what I do.

    Nice to meet you Diane! New follower here! 😀

  2. Thanks, A. Grey (Artemis?). Sometimes I think it’s a little crazy to get so involved with my characters, but for me, it’s the only way I get to know them. And it’s the only way I know for certain if they are being true to character. And it’s a lot of fun.

    I’m happy to hear others feel the same way.

    Thanks again, Christi, for inviting me to host your blog.

    Diane

    • My relationship with my characters is a very intimate one. I spend a lot of time with them, learning about them as I go along, much like you. I was quite shocked by this when I began writing – I remember telling someone that writing is just like reading. And it is to me, all about discovery. That’s first draft. Second drafts are something else entirely: A lot of thouhgt of planning. Good post 🙂

  3. A,

    Before reading Diane’s post I thought I was a planner, but now I’m realizing I’m a combination of the two styles. I’m so glad you enjoyed her post and I’m sure you’ll love her blog!

    Christi

  4. Diane,

    Thanks again for hosting today! This post has already gotten lots of hits so I think your ideas really speak to us writers out there struggling with how to set up a novel’s structure and how to get to know our characters.

    Christi

  5. Jennifer,

    Ahhhh, the freedom of the first draft! Go anywhere, take on any plot point and storyline, add and delete characters at will…love it! I’ve always thought the later drafts are where the real work begins, which is probably why I love first drafts so much 🙂

    Thanks for visiting,

    Christi

  6. Thanks for a great post, Diane. It’s good sometimes to know that the quirks and kinks of being a writer are shared by others. I can’t outline until I sit down and write the entire first draft. I only know the beginning and what I think might be the end. So in that I am flying by the seat of my whatever.

    In the second, third and “do I have to do this again?” drafts, I begin to flush out detail, nuances and often to my surprise people change, characters who had been bit players come to the forefront and …

    I talk to them. Yes, I am not nuts. I talk “in character” … often in more than one character and have entire conversations. It was through my characters talking and arguing with each other that I changed the main focus of my current WIP … it was as though they were guiding me to a new direction.

    I don’t do a short story thing, but I have detailed character files, and more than one “notes” file for each story. In the note files I often create a time line or a “menu” of events and then one at a time I begin to insert them.

    This is a wonderful journey we are taking and my characters are the friends I love to travel with. I am always reminded of a post on Tess Gerritsen’s blog, A master thriller novelist, her characters on now on TNT Rizzoli and Isles. In this post she talks about when is a book actually done. I paraphrase … When I get to the eleventh draft, I begin to feel I can see the end.

    Thanks Christi for introducing us to Diane … and thank you again Diane for such a thought provoking post. 🙂

  7. Ramblings,

    The quote about “when I get to the eleventh draft, I begin to feel I can see the end” gives me such hope! 🙂

    This is proving to be a GREAT topic of discussion! Thanks so much everyone for offering up your writing style and what works for you.

    Christi

  8. Great to see you over here on Christi’s blog today, Diane. You have a lot of good ideas to share with everyone. And thanks for inviting Diane over, Christi. 🙂

    The only planning I do when I’m writing takes place in my mind, as I like to spend time thinking and having conversations with my characters. Until you get to know them you really can’t plan on what they’ll say or do. Even then I can’t alway be sure what will happen once I start actually writing. I don’t bother to outline because I know it just wouldn’t work for me.

    Great post!

  9. Thanks again, Christi, for the opportunity to host your blog. It’s interesting to read all the comments by readers. We really must write the way that workds for us; there’s no template that works for everyone.

    Diane

  10. Not knowing my characters well enough at the beginning is probably why I can’t plot and plan my way forward. I’ve adapted my pantser method a bit, however, because I need to have a glimpse of the destination to know the direction i’m going. So I guess you’d say I use an adapted pantser method. I give myself permission to make changes as I write but I have a general idea of where I’m headed. Otherwise I’d wander around aimlessly and end up cutting out thousands of words during subsequent rewrites. I keep a spreadsheet for recording details as I go along. If I need to make changes in those details, the spreadsheet makes it easier.

    Excellent post, Diane and Christi!

    • Carol,

      I hadn’t thought of plotting the storyline first, and then getting to know your characters along the way. That seems like a perfect balance between the two methods…allows for freedom and provides a map of the journey 🙂

      Thanks for visiting,

      Christi

  11. Awwwww *sigh* A woman after my own heart. I’ve had a couple of people suggest that I should “study the craft” of writing with more seriousness! Imagine. Seriously. Begin with a proper outline I was told and then create pages of information about your character. This is not fun for me.

    I love getting to know my characters! Letting them bounce around in my head. I have a basic idea of what I’m going to write and an idea of the characters and who I think they are. I know how the story begins and how it ends. An outline – sorta. I’m there for the ride, too and once I get a couple of chapters in, I just never know where the character is going to take me or what they will say and I absolutely love it! It’s that drive that wakes me from my sleep with the super strong urge to sit at the computer on a cold winter morning at 5:30 a.m. and click on keys creating sentences that bring life to a blank page.

  12. Karen,

    So it seems you are a free-flow type of writer :).

    That is some super dedication to get out of the warm bed to sit at the computer so early in the morning!

    Be sure to check out Diane’s blog…

    Christi

  13. It seems to me that writing has to be fun. If we, as writers, don’t enjoy the writing, how can we expect our readers to enjoy the reading? If writing an outline squeezes the fun out, then why go there?

    Our brains are created to work differently: some pantster, some semi-pantster, and some strict planner/outliner. That’s how I see it.

    Thanks for the great blog post!

    • Carolyn,

      I’m a bit of both…a pantster and a planner. Which are you?

      Thanks so much for stopping by 😀

      Christi

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