Pantsing Magic

Plotters plan out everything about a story ahead of time. Pantsers make up the story as they go along. My writing process has been different for each of my novels, but I fall squarely on the pantsing side of the continuum. I drift toward plotting now and then, but no matter how hard I try, my books never turn out as planned.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Something always knocks my plans for the future off course. Shit happens. Unexpected opportunities arise. Nothing in my life has ever turned out the way I thought it would. Why should my novels be any different?

Writing my first novel was like driving for the first time with no idea where I was going. Operating the vehicle was a challenge. The roads were familiar, but having never before been in the driver’s seat, I often lost my way. Through trial and error and with a lot of help from the Athens Writers Workshop, I finally reached ‘the end.”

Now I know my way around and am a licensed driver published author with a few years of experience. Moving the story forward and staying on track is easier. I don’t worry about where I’m going or how to get there. My muse, like a GPS device, will see me to the end.

I may be in the driver’s seat, but the characters drive my stories. As with real people, they reveal themselves to me little by little. Initial thoughts about names, personality traits, appearance, and interests are like seeds. Some find fertile ground and bear fruit. Others never germinate, or fail to thrive and die off.

The magical part of writing is the surprising way characters come to life. The more I write, the more “real” they become. Details about the past I never imagined come out, including often surprising connections to other characters.

I jumped into the first chapter of Whippersnapper with only vague ideas about the characters, where the story was going, and stops to make along the way. The difference, this time around, is everything I’ve learned since my first book. By the time I finished the first chapter, the focus of the second had become obvious. The farther along I get, the less I have to think about what comes next. More pantsing magic.

What happens when a retired gay man, a middle-aged straight woman who works at the DMV, and a twenty-something gay son of two radical feminist lesbians meet in a gym? To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure. We’ll have to wait until Whippersnapper is finished to find out. Until then, I’ll keep you posted.