Winner of last year’s Excerpt Contest on Story Addict, S. Smith, is here to grace us again with her awesome prose and news that Seed Savers: Heirloom, Book 3 in the series that won her the award was released this November and is available now!
She’s back with a post on the rare but fascinating breed of writers, the pantsers. In case you don’t know what a pantser is, it’s the opposite of a planner – someone who goes along step by step without an outline of a story. There have been arguments for the pluses and minuses of being a planner or a pantser, but as we all know there’s really no “right” way to write. Right?
I’ll get right to the point: I’m a pantser. And I’m glad we pantsers are finally out of the closet, or er, dresser drawer, whichever the case may be. For awhile there all I ever heard successful novelists talk about was “the plot,” “the Story,” “the big plan.” I’d sit in my seat while Lauded Author went on and on about how she carefully outlined the five novels in her series before even beginning book one. Huh? It made me feel like a fraud.
But now we know: not everyone makes the big plan. We don’t all outline every scene, chapter, or book. Some of us just put our characters down on paper and watch what happens. It’s fun. And it’s kind of scary sometimes. Like, for example, when you’re not sure how things are going to end. And there will have to be an ending, eventually. Unless, like, you’re the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.
If you never heard the term pantser before, let me assure you, it does mean what you’re thinking it means. It’s right there in the urban dictionary, “fly by the seat of your pants” while writing a novel. I remember how in my first novel (not Seed Savers), one of the main characters sort of slipped into the book, just like that. The character I thought was going to be a main character was summarily disposed of; definitely not according to even the vaguest plan I might have had in my head. Another shocking case of pantsing in that novel was a scene where one character had a phone conversation with her mother. The mother had always been so kind and understanding and then, wham! The mother just turns on her over the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I think that’s when I realized how much our characters will surprise us. How much fun it is to be open to changes from what we thought was going to happen.
In the first Seed Savers book, Treasure, there is an old man character named Gruff who comes upon the children when they are so lost and alone on the street. As he approached I wasn’t certain if he were friend or foe. Turns out he was friend with a capital F; he was a Seed Saver! I swear I didn’t know it beforehand. Gruff became my favorite character in the book.
In Heirloom, I was just writing along, and whoosh! What? A character jumps on board that acts surprisingly like my late grandfather. Not long after, my grandmother wanders on stage. It was really great to spend time with them again :).
What are the disadvantages of being a pantser? Well, foreshadowing for one. Hard to foreshadow when you are a part of the audience. But sometimes it works in reverse. For example, if a character is acting all squirmy or dodging the question, I think, “Hmm, what’s up with that?” The foreshadowing leads to the ultimate action. Other times I just say to myself, “What can I go back in and add as foreshadowing?” There’s no shame in going back and tidying up a book. That’s what it’s about, the polishing piece. Another disadvantage of being a Pantser I already mentioned. How is it all going to end???? I don’t know. And that’s scary. I have to trust that the characters will continue to lead me.
In the meantime, don’t bother asking about what comes next in Seed Savers. Because
Thanks for the share, S. Smith! I agree that foreshadowing is definitely not going to happen when you don’t know much of what’s to come, but you can always go back and seed in hints, or go off of what you’ve written to create resolutions you didn’t think of in the beginning. The biggest red flag of being a pantser is not plotting out your character arcs, which are quite important in books, if not the most important part. However, there is always the excitement of not knowing how a book will end and going full steam ahead just to get there and write the sacred last words. You might even surprise yourself.
-The Story Addict