Some people plan out their stories, writing in detail an intricate set of plot-lines, character traits, background information, and more all before beginning.
Other people – like me – don’t.
I write by the seat of my pants, and my planning often starts and ends with something I thought of while showering or shitting. I accumulate a large amount of world background information as I write, and editing for consistency is a total pain, but I love how my plotlines come together. Sometimes I have to break down and plan out a scene (like when I write it four or five times and the characters simply will not act appropriately), and I like how many guides are out there to help me plan.
That got me thinking… what about those people who already plan heavily? What if there’s a scene where they’d like to ‘pants’ it? I surfed around and found some advice, but most of it focused on how to pants entire books or stories. My thoughts are if you’re trying to figure out how to write spontaneously, you probably want the help for a couple of scenes before returning to planning.
The problem is that pantsing doesn’t really feel like something you can study and learn. It seems like something you’d need to practice. Here’s some quick tips on training to write by the seat of your pants.
Pantsing is often hailed as organic or natural writing, and I find it the most exciting to pants while writing dialogue. The characters say and do as they please, taking you as the writer on a journey – sometimes ones you don’t expect.
Listening to the voices in your head sounds fairly schizophrenic, but there are ways to cultivate the ability. Improv in high school drama class probably taught me more than I realized, and it definitely helps teach getting in the mind of a character.
Playing in a heavy RP Dungeons and Dragons group can also help. When you put yourself in the place of your character, you have to think and act quickly enough not to stall the game. This forced interactivity and roleplay can get you accustomed to thinking through the mind of someone else, which is important when divining character action.
If neither of those options work for you or seem too socially daunting, I have an even dumber, less communal offering: play an RP video game with the intent to only choose the actions or words most suited to the character you are writing now. I did a playthrough of Shadowrun as the main character in my novella, and I made a Mass Effect trilogy playthrough as the primary villain in my long series (that may be coming here soon if I decide to publish it that way!). Though video game roleplay is somewhat limiting and not quite as effective as the Dungeons and Dragons version, it does help you think through your character’s set of logic and personal rules.
Learn to Think Better
Pantsing starts with an idea, a character, something very small. If you get stuck or need new ideas, having a good sit down and thinking can work wonders. Talk with your characters in your head, think about premises. You can even feel free to write down notes about these ideas, especially if you are naturally a planner. There’s no requirement to dive headfirst into pantsing without any idea where you’re going.
For me, most of my ideas come from one of three places:
1) A dream
2) Thoughts during a shower
3) Thoughts during a long poop
In only one of those scenarios do I have the ability to whip out my phone (or other things) and take some rather germ-laden notes. I keep creative writing notes on my phone as well as in a memo pad between to-do lists and work stuff, and I do so with alarming regularity (fiber, man).
My advice here is to start keeping an idea journal if you don’t already. There need be no formality, no pressure, or even a real, physical journal: just thoughts you promise to keep alive. Find where and when your best thoughts are made, then make sure you have note-taking supplies present. You will come up with more trash than gold, but one day you may be inspired to take an idea forward. My best work to date is borne from that mechanism.
Learn to Rewrite
Planners often have less work on the back end of a story. If you’re just sticking your toe into pantsing, you may have difficulty leaving a sentence un-perfected. You may have a need or desire to stop and adjust, make your story better while you write rather than put it off to later. Maybe that works for you, but the closer I work to the speed of speaking, the more likely I am to be satisfied with the character’s actions.
Try altering how much editing you do as you write. Edit more, edit less, and see if you like what comes out after combing it over. Of course you will have to edit after the scene is done, but perhaps the act of just writing will help you get through a scene you’d like to pants.
How do you write? Pants or plan? Leave comments below with your own tips, especially if you have some good nuggets!