5 writing tips for the “pantser” in you

Shirley Holder Platt

If you eschew outlining in favor of writing by the seat of your pants, you may be a “pantser.” And this author has some tips to make this method even more effective.

by Shirley Holder Platt

Hello, my name is Shirley, and I’m a pantser.

Have you ever felt like you needed a group session because everyone you know is an outliner and you aren’t? If so, welcome to my world.

I’m a pantser, and proud of it. Some of us are just not cut out to be outliners. I know, I know: conventional wisdom will tell you this is wrong. But really, is it? One of the most highly recommended books for people learning to write is Stephen King’s On Writing. He’s a pantser! So, yes.

It’s okay. Give yourself a break, pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath. Stand up and proclaim to the world: “I’m a pantser and proud of it!” Being pansters doesn’t mean we have no idea what we’re doing.

Here are five tips to help the pantser in you create a fabulous story:

1. Understand story structure inside and out. Someone like Stephen King can skip outlining, because he’s studied what a good story is made of, and written so many novels, that it’s ingrained in him. He does it automatically. You too need to have the basics of story structure ingrained, so that when you sit down and your story flows, it takes a form your readers can follow and enjoy.

2. Know your characters and make them come alive. Readers want to relate to your characters. They want to feel their emotions, agonize over their quandaries, and feel the excitement they feel as they overcome the obstacles you put in their paths. Make your characters real by giving them a full range of flaws along with their loveable quirks. If you’ve given yourself time to get to know them, it’ll show. There are worksheets galore to help you flesh out your characters, or you can simply subject them to a make-believe interview. If you run low on ideas, this list of 638 personality traits might jar something loose. (Traits are categorized by positive, negative, and neutral for your convenience.)

3. Ask yourself, what if…? Something like: What if this wonderful, three-dimensional character I’ve created fell into a manhole and found herself in an underground steampunk world? That should get your juices flowing. Write about what comes to mind until you slow down. Then ask again: What if she met the man of her dreams in this world but had to get back to the surface because her best friend is in trouble and needs her? Keep asking “what if” until you’ve got a whole story.

4. Write now, edit later. You’ve admitted it. You’ve said it out loud. Now let go and follow your muse where it leads you. Don’t strive for perfection, just get the story out of your head and into the world. Follow your characters’ hearts. Describe their world. Give them obstacles and watch as they work themselves around, under, and over them. Discovering is one of the best things about being a pantser. You get to be the reader and the writer! Let the story take you with it. Doing this will keep it fresh and fun—something I find indispensable to my pantser mind.

5. Be prepared to self-edit and rewrite. Go into it with the knowledge that you will have to spend time at the end polishing your jewel. This may not be your favorite part, but never leave it out. You’ll have saved time at the beginning by plunging right into the grit of your story. But it’s like the old saying about paying now or paying later; pantsers pay later. And that’s okay. If you don’t expect your first draft to be a finished masterpiece, you won’t disappoint yourself. You understand story structure. Your characters are fully fleshed out. You’ve put them into amazing circumstances and they’ve come out just the way you hoped they would. Now it’s time to take a close look and fine tune your timing. Make sure the story fits into a proper structure. If you did your homework up front and studied story structure, you’ll find each story fitting in with less and less effort.

Now, repeat after me: “I’m a pantser and I’m proud of it!”

Shirley Holder Platt is the author of five romance novels and one chick lit novel. Her book-in-progress, Mama Needs New Shoes, won the October 2018 Most Buzz Award, and several of her now-published novels appeared first on ChapterBuzz.

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