Posts Tagged ‘ Pantser

A Pantser’s Lament

For a pantser, the potential of the blank screen is cocaine shot straight to the third eye creating a pineal high, an occult fusion of creativity and melatonin. Nothing is holding the story to the earth, and you can fly to Andromeda or places much father and stranger.
The Downside is the inevitable crash when your story wonders into a dismal swamp in the bowels of a pointless pit. Your characters followed a freeway sign reading, “So what happens next, asshole,” and stand sphincter deep in “quickmud, abandoned by conflict, comfort, and subplots.

The Inevitable result of this unmapped waypoint in a writer’s peerless prose is the decision to abandon all hope yee who write yourself here, or regroup and rethink where your story took its left turn in Albuquerque. (Remember this decision. I’ll get back to it later.)

For me, that point is fifteen thousand words into my work in progress, the first of a Space Opera Trilogy. I began knowing how the first book started and ended. As for the rest, I have visions of mutated sugarplums dancing in my head., my series antagonist, and a frontal lobe full of MacGuffins. Sometimes, it is just a fusion of an aha moment and despair fixed by jumping back a scene or two, adding a new character to subplot to the mix, or just muscling past the swamp freezing your short and curlies. More often, a pantser throws up metaphorical arms and returns to the potential of the blank screen and moves on while pretending to be older and wiser. (The former is always true, but the later almost never.

Step 1: Cry it Out Dude

No, I am not suggesting you go biblical by rending your clothes or moving right into sackcloth and ashes. The pointless pit where a Pantser finds the story leads depresses and disheartens the creator and creativity. Our darling is drowning in foul odorous quickmud, and that requires a moment of grief. I am not suggesting a side trip through the five stages of grief recovery; you’ve lost your narrative direction not your dog or cat. I recommend a cup of coffee, no more than a glass (oh hell make it a bottle) of wine, or a joint. Take the last two under advisement. Alcohol loosens inhibitions but depresses the mind. Pot leads to a relaxed sense of well being but can cause cases of the munchies and lead to, “fuck it, dude, and light up another.”

Step 2: “Whatta Ya Lookin At, Back to Work!” Hector Barbossa1

Feel better? Good. Remember that choice in Paragraph 1? I told you we would get back to it.
Okay, you are fifteen, twenty, fifty thousand words of peerless prose with nowhere to go. Probably, you got her through a combination improvisation and declaring, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. You’ve sunk your plot in quickmud by crossing that swamp without a support structure. No, no, no, I’m not suggesting you change your authorial religion from Pantser to Planner. The whole point of this exercise is to do the minimum amount of work so you can find a rope and pull your characters out of the mud. Unless you want to dump the last hour, day, week, or month of writing, do not enter the Abandoned Hope Hotel. Every pantser must make this decision for themselves but for efficiency’s sake, regroup, especially if the word count is a substantial portion of a novella or novel. I have found two approaches that help me get back on track. (No, you don’t have to use them both, just find one that works for you. )

Structure, Structure, Structure

One of my professors of creative writing said, “classic western story contains thee acts, a beginning, middle, and an end.” You are not going to turn into a “Planner” if you take a moment to write on note cards (old school) or make a comment in our manuscript a basic outline of your acts.
Act 1: 25% of your book containing your hook, your instigating incident, and your point of no return where POV character commits to the story.
Act 2: 50% of your book, with rising action where the character tries to solve the problem where the stakes of each action get higher and lead to the final failure and the black moment where everything seems lost.
Act 3: 25% of your book containing the climax and denouement (resolution). With that minimum blueprint, most of the time you can see where your book went wrong and put it back on track.

Arc Your Characters

In my experience, a lot of Pantsers write character-driven stories, by asking themselves what would the character do next. Fix a character disaster by creating a character arc for your POV character. An arc resembles an arch. In the beginning, your instigating incident creates tension that the character tries to relieve through some form of conflict (mano a mano, emotional, legal). Reduce character tension by defeating whatever causes the character’s problem. A few cards or comments in your document can reveal the points of conflict and stress and get you back on the road.

“Let Me Sum up” Inigo Montoya2

This is neither a comprehensive list nor an attempt to turn readers into Planners. These approaches worked for me. The intend and purpose is to find the quickest way back to writing the novel. I do not find troubleshooting narrative problems fund or pleasant. There are other approaches I did not touch. For instance, narrative cohesion can fall apart when a character makes an abrupt change without having gone through the process that causes change. (example: POV character is a dynamic leader in the first scene but turns to a follower by the middle of the book.) A simple character dossier can fix this, and changing the dynamic question to “What will my character do next and does it fit the characters personality. Finally, I started writing this for myself, and now I have solved my problem with the work in process, and its times for me to get to work.

1: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl “

2: “The Princess Bride.””