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  • Herman P. Hunter

How I Write - Confessions of an Unrepentant Pantser.

I'm what they call a pantser.


For those of you not in the know, in writing circles there are there are essentially two ways to write a book. The first is planning it via charts and outlines (a.k.a. plotters). The second is writing by the seat of your pants (a.k.a. pantsers). The former - plotters - do a lot of planning and detail work up front, so that the act of writing a book is merely adding flesh to the bones. The know where the story starts, what each chapter contains, where the climax is, and how it ends before they even start banging out the prose.


That...is totally antithetical to how I write. In fact, it's pretty much antithetical to how I do most everything.


Admittedly, there are no pure forms of either process. There is always a certain level of plotting going on with pantsers. And I'm sure there are seat-of-the-pants moments with many plotters. Both extreme rigidity and abject chaos are self-defeating in their purest forms. The level of pantsing and plotting is more like a mix, in my opinion, with me being on one extreme end of the range.


I write starting with a concept in my head and I construct a rough story line - a crude plan, so to speak. Sometimes it's vague or sometimes it is clear and well-defined. I'll usually start with a scene, which translates to a single chapter in the final work - usually the first chapter. After that, chapters and scenes get written as the inspiration comes. Sometimes it's sequential (the free novella is an example of this) or it's out of order and assembled later (much of the Frankie Falawell story was done in this manner). Thus, I could be crafting Chapter 13, well before Chapter 2. It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens more often than you might assume.


Now, my pantsing is something I do quite a bit. Much of the software I write is done in a non-sequential manner. I have the ability to attack a problem from multiple angles and directions. How I approach things is instinctual, especially writing software. I've been doing it for so long, it's almost like a sixth sense.


My aversion to outlines and structured planning has been with me for most of my life. I was always getting hammered in school by teachers because I never did an outline, never prepped or planned for things. My writing was sloppy, my thoughts disjointed, with no real understanding of organization or structure. Hence, one of the reasons why I did so poorly in school.


Little did anyone think that, one day, those failings would come in mighty handy.


Both plotting and pantsing are, in my opinion, forms of planning.


I wouldn't say I am a superb planner, but my ability to size up a task and figure out contingencies covers a lot of ground. Being flexible is a good thing when dealing with a lot of unknowns. In any project there are surprises. If your plan is rigid, those unforeseen circumstances could potentially dismantle everything you're constructed. Leaving room to maneuver, I find, avoids this very problem.


In this case, pantsing allows me a certain level of creative freedom and the flexibility to adapt to changes. While I start with an idea, I might come up with an even better idea - or supporting idea - partway through the draft. In essence, the road I'm on may give way to new, previously undiscovered terrain, far more interesting than where I was going. This, then, moves the story in new directions and offers more territory to explore. Sometimes, I'll stumble across something that I can use to connect to another story somewhere in the sea of my unfinished manuscripts.

A story or a software application is something like a potter's clay. Clay needs to be worked before it can be put into its final shape. Or, like looking through pieces of wood, and coming across something with a striking or interesting grain. "Hey, I could use this here..." is often part of the process.


Sometimes what I'm left with is a stack of seemingly disconnected scenes, from which I need to create a book. This was the case on the second book of the Frankie Falawell series (and will probably continue to be the case for successive books given the amount of material I have in waiting). These I try to masterfully stitch together to form something flowing and cohesive. I do find that there is a certain amount of challenge and fun connecting an old idea to a new one.


None of this should be see as a condemnation of plotting. It's just that plotting is not for me. Some people need that structure and rigidity as they develop. In some ways, I do quite a bit of planning and organizing - I just do it in my head. I also do a lot of readjusting as new ideas come along. It suits me.


If you want to firm example of my pantsing, realize that the blog post you just read is actually a prime example. Initially part of a different blog posting, I expanded on the idea to the point where I felt it merited a blog post all on its own. That's because the idea contained in those first few paragraphs were an idea unto themselves, and allowed me to reach into territory that didn't really fit the original.


So...there you are.


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