Thursday, 18 April 2013

P is for Pantsing

While pantsing may, to some people, conjur up images of students running around pulling down each others' sweatpants, I'm not actually referring to that!

Pantsing is a term I picked up from NaNoWriMo, as in, 'are you a plotter or a pantser'? From this you can probably guess that pantsing is writing without a plot, or at least without a details plot. The term comes from 'seat of the pants', which is 'based on or using intuition and experience rather than a plan or method; improvised'. It sounds simple, but it turns out there are many levels of pantsing!

The least pantsy way of writing is when you have a plan, you know what happens in one scene and the one that comes a little bit later, but you just need to get from one scene to the next, so you just write down the first thing that comes into your head to fill the gap.

The method that I tend to use most of all is that I have a rough plan of my story with a few key events, eg. The Prince has to rescue the Princess. She's trapped in a tower. He finds her. He fights the dragon. She escapes. They all live happily ever after. It's a plan, but it's not at all fleshed out, and even I have no idea why she's in the tower or how the Prince is going to beat the dragon. I don't even know why the Prince happens to stumble across the tower, who the Prince and Princess are, or whether it's going to be a serious drama, a comedic romp or a fairytale yarn. Using the plan as a foundation I'll choose a scene and just start writing to see what comes out.

That was an extreme example, but it is generally how I write except in a very few situations where I'll have a clear idea of what's going to happen and have a very detailed skeleton story drafted out to write around.

The most extreme pantsers just start with an idea and set off with no road map. In some ways it's like a freewrite, but slightly more focussed. The extreme pantser might think 'I'll write a story about a Prince rescuing a Princess' and set off without any thought of what he's rescuing her from or how he's going to do it.

In some ways I expect that's a very exciting way to write, but as I mentioned a few days ago, I like my lists :)


  1. I think I'm a panster... I started my book at the end, and then asked myself 'but WHY do they need to do this?' and then went back and wrote a start....Ten years after the first word was written it's published (indie)and I'm sorting out the next one; and the third is wearing out the seat of those pants....

  2. Cool, never heard that term before. I'm not a writer, but I think that term can be applied to a lot of things in live. Since I've been retired, I guess I'm a pantser, since I never know from week to week or even, at times, day to day what might come up. Great 'P' word
    Kathy at Oak Lawn Images

  3. I think I would be a pantser to beat all pantsers. I cannot imagine figuring it out beforehand.


  4. Another nanowrimo and A to Z fan here! Love the post. I am no pantser as it turns out. But I love the concept. Before I even start I usually know what's going to happen in graphic detail. It's the middle that always gets me hung up.