‘Pantsing’ versus Planning

One of my typical ‘pantsed’ embroideries. Even the frame surrounding it was unplanned. Proof is in the areas where it touches or goes over the inner design.

This week I started to rewrite my work-in-progress before I have even written the last two chapters. Since I already know how they must proceed, it didn’t seem as important to finish the work as fix the holes I was finding while re-reading.

Some of these holes are places where I need to ‘seed’ facts to familiarize readers with concepts that will later be used as part of the plot. About five of them, so far.

For example, in Meld, the novel I’m working on, I’ll be writing a time-jump scene. There’s a space shuttle involved that I can’t just have appearing out of the blue … I’d be accused of using a plot device known as a deux ex machine ‘whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence …’ (Wikipedia)

I’ll need to ‘seed’ the shuttle earlier in the story to show that it belongs.

A second problem are the areas of credibility stretched thin by an over-use of descriptive detail, or an over-use of dramatic elements. The former is easy to fix. I just need to decide which bits of description the story can’t do without, and delete the rest.

The latter, the dramatic elements, are more difficult. In several cases these consist of personal characteristics of one or other of the characters and as such have been used to influence outcomes of behavior throughout the novel.

First I had to plot all main characteristics of each of the 6 most important characters … I hear you asking … why wouldn’t you do that before you start writing? And I would say to you … there speaks a planner. Which I am not. I’ll always will be doing this kind of thing half or three-quarters of the way through a project because I am a pantser.

I get an idea for a story in the form of a piece of dialogue between two characters. Or a thought. And I start writing. Dialogue and narrative are the first of my output. I plot and plan down the track. Insert and rewrite. Often.

Pantsing is a lot like sketching. I write and rewrite until a distinct story/image forms among the crowded words/pencil marks. How do you get your story out?


‘Reprise’, disappointingly, merely means a repeat of something. I always thought that ‘doing a reprise’ meant making a correction. That the repeat would intentionally be better than the original. Well, that is the flavor of this post.

What I wrote yesterday? Pure verbiage. When I read such drivel elsewhere I move on. Yesterday’s effort shall join the deleted pile.

Mapping is a vast subject when there’s a whole world to be mapped. Or, in this case, when there are eleven islands to describe.¬†And, if there are to be people on the ground doing the mapping, what scale will they use? Travelling on foot, for example, produces a whole different understanding of a world than travelling by ship.

Arit and Hellion, the couple introduced so impulsively, are on foot. So far, if Arit were more involved in the mapping aspect, she might have drawn three parallel horizontal lines in her journal: the lower one representing the edge of the beach, the next two the near and far edges of the red sand road. Beyond the road she could perhaps scribble some shrubbery and outline the wallow …

Same present day road again.

Instead, she and Hellion have involved themselves in the local life, in the story of the Eleven Islands. They’ve just treated a Skin-Torn youth for his wounds and infections. And Arit has drawn her line in the sand. Despite her lack of knowledge of any other people in the scenario, her sympathies are all for the Skin-Torn youth’s people.

As a result, they are in a quandary. As is their trip planner. It’s obvious now that the idea to masquerade them as a pair of neutral, sight-seeing tourists was never going to work. How now to proceed with this project?

Ideas Are Everywhere

Yesterday, when I signed up for another project with an original user name — Arit Reede — I remembered a free-floating, nameless character I’d once invented for an anthology, and how this made-up name would suit her very well.

She was the carbon-knitter companion of a medic at a time when almost all the useful extras of modern life had for one or another reason disappeared. With my next thought, I wondered how to get her and her partner into The Eleven Islands scenario, given that the events for which she was invented, took place in the UK a hundred years from now.

With a certain amount of clandestine shipping still happening, that shouldn’t be too hard. Arit and Hellion like to be constantly on the move. They’ll be able to show us the islands from the point of view of a pair of foreign travelers. Future backpackers if you like, working their way round The Eleven Islands.

Despite the recommendation of ~NO TRAVEL~ to The Eleven Islands, the ship’s boat landed Arit and Hellion at the Southern Ocean end of the Red Sand Channel.

The Red Sand Channel where Arit and Hellion landed

The bosun at the tiller pointed to the island to the west. “Bight, the Isle of Wizards. The wizards leave neither flesh nor bones to be healed when they take their prey.” He changed hands to keep command over the tiller.

Pointed eastward. “Souzadelay. In the north of the island are four city states strung along the coast. A feudal overlord keeps three of them honest. The east south and west are agricultural lands in part, with fortified villages, and of course the delta. People trying to live peacefully. The Clay Faces rove and maraud. They enslave whoever they find on the road or out of their proper encampments.”

Go to my The Eleven Islands page above to read more …