Apparently, I’m a pantser.
I never knew I was a pantser, or even what a pantser was. Kind of like in seventh grade when one of the other thirteen-year-old students asked me if I was a virgin and I answered, with a certain amount of disdain: “No.”
I had no idea what a virgin was, but I knew without a doubt I couldn’t possibly be one. So imagine my surprise to learn that I was a pantser.
In the world of short stories and novels, there are apparently two types of writers: Plotters and pantsers. The former, obviously, plot out their stories, while the latter tend to write by the seat of their pants.
Personally, I prefer to say that I write the same way Indiana Jones solves problems: I make it up as I go. Plotting has never much interested me. I prefer to discover the story as I write it. It’s kind of the difference between taking a guided tour where you have everything planned out or buying a plane ticket to your initial destination and figuring out where you want to go next.
While it’s true that this can sometime get me into trouble (like when I get two-thirds of the way into a book and I’m not really sure how the third act is going to play out), eventually the characters help me to figure out where the story needs to go. And yes, I know that sounds kind of weird in a multiple-personality kind of way, but for the most part, all of my plots develop from the actions of my characters, not the other way around.
I recently came across a quote from Robert Heinlein on BoingBoing in which he talks about just the same thing. And although I could paraphrase, I think Heinlein explains the relationship between character and plot better than I could summarize:
“My notion of a story is an interesting situation in which a human being has to cope with a problem, does so, and thereby changed his personality, character, or evaluations in some measure because the coping has forced him to revise his thinking. How he copes with it, I can’t plot in advance because that depends on his character, and I don’t know what his character is until I get acquainted with him.”
And that’s how I approached writing my novel, Fated. I started with a main character, who just so happens to be Fate, and put him into a situation in which he’s in charge of the 83% of the human race who are fated for normal or mediocre lives. Or worse.
Drug addicts. Criminals. CEOs of oil companies.
He doesn’t get the Winston Churchills or the Michael Jordans or the Thomas Edisons of the world. Destiny gets those. And she loves her job while Fate hates his. He’s like a government worker who can’t quit and who doesn’t have any opportunities for promotion.
He also has a bunch of rules he has to follow, the most important of which is Rule #1: Don’t get involved. But how Fate reacts to his existence and to his changing circumstances isn’t something I knew in advance.
When he ends up falling in love with a mortal woman on the Path of Destiny, that isn’t something I planned out.
His friendships with Sloth and Gluttony and Karma weren’t in any character sketches.
His five-hundred-year-old grudge with Death just showed up without warning.
And when he breaks Rule #1 and starts altering the fates of his humans, that wasn’t on his original List of Things to Do.
Like I said, there are definite risks you take when you don’t plot out the story. After all, it’s not always easy to figure out where you’re going if you’re not really sure how to get there. But I enjoy the process of discovering the story as it unfolds and I hope that translates to the reader enjoying the discovery, as well.
My name is S.G. Browne and I am a pantser.
Scott G. Browne is the author of Breathers, a dark comedy about life after undeath through the eyes of an ordinary zombie.
His second novel,Fated (scheduled for release November 2, 2010), is an irreverent comedy about fate, destiny, and the consequences of getting involved in the lives of humans.
Lydia’s Note: I want to say thanks to Scott for stopping by and providing The Lost Entwife with a insightful, humorous look at how he wrote Fated. My review of Fated can be found here and I encourage you all to check it out — but only if you are not afraid of snickering and snorting with laughter as you read through it.