Pantsing is the art (?) of writing by the seat of one’s pants. Winging it. Going where the story & characters take you. Or, just writing to see where you end up.
The other end of the spectrum is outlining, where you plan it all out in advance…and then stick to that outline.
It’s never either / or … not for me, at least. I do both. When I get into trouble or when I’m trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing, I outline.
I’m currently rewriting yet another scene, one that I mostly pants’d my way through probably 18 months ago. When I read my book in Sept ’15, this particular scene stopped me dead in my tracks b/c the pacing was off. It was too slow. Leaden.
There are two reasons:
- It’s unfocused (too much pantsing)
- It’s just people talking — about important things (major plot events, etc.) and there’s a lot of interpersonal dynamic stuff going on, along with backstory references and foreshadowing, but it’s still just folks talking.
Think Council of Elrond, but without John Rhys Davies having an allergic reaction to his dwarf prosthetics and the “Elves extras” who were paid to sit still and act wooden. Or w/o Agent Smith’s overacting, Mr. Anderson er Underhill er Baggins.
My in-progress solution to reworking this leaden scene is:
- Rewrite it. Some of my writing is cringeworthy, even only 18 months out. Good sign, really (that I can see it & can therefore fix it).
- Totally re-organize it — Just started today and am doing it by falling back on a new outline.
- Figure out the absolutely key things
- Make sure they’re addressed appropriately and without redundancies or repetition 😉
- Obscure those important thingees with red herrings, tastefully placed
- Fill in backstory & foreshadowing
- Make sure the characters are acting and interacting as they should
- Revisit POV
- Is the POV with whoever has the most at stake?
- Is the scene written so that it shows who’s talking — ie Odin vs Frigg or Vidar?
The only way I can do all that is outline it, then (re)write by sticking to the outline, then rewriting it again (and again) so it sucks less.
One author quote that’s been resonating for me is from Nabokov: “My characters are galley slaves.”
So while my inclination is to use pantsing to get to know my characters, I use outlining to chain them to their oars.