When the Pieces Fall In Place

I’d like to talk a bit about being a Pantser, and how that affects my plot.

In case you’re not familiar with “Plotting vs Pantsing,” here’s a basic summary. The idea is that some people are Plotters, and they plan out every chapter, every scene, and know where the story is going throughout the whole writing process. Plotters say that if they don’t have a plan, things don’t fit together in the end and they end up getting stuck without knowing where to go. Pantsers, on the other hand, “write by the seat of our pants” with little to no planning involved. Pansters believe that a strict outline restricts the story and prevents the possibility of things changing direction as you go along.

I’m 90% pants. I sit down to write with a basic idea of where I’m going, but no idea how to get there. I figure it out as I go along, as long as I know what the “end game” is. I’ve been writing Collapse with only a few specific things I knew had to happen. I didn’t have any idea how I’d get to the climax, nor even exactly what the climax would be. I can’t go into detail without major spoilers, but suffice to say I had a goal in mind without knowing how to actually apply it. About halfway through, I knew how to apply it, but not how to get the characters in place to do what needed to be done. Then by about 75% of the way through, I had everything figured out, and the pieces fell into place.

At that point, of course, there are a few things to be worked out. But since writing about it in these vague ways won’t make sense, I’ll use “Bob and George” the webcomic as an example.

“Bob and George” is a great webcomic about Mega Man and superheroes. Go read it, from beginning to end. It’s only 2658 strips long. I’ll wait.

. . .

Done? Okay. So here’s one of my favorite parts. We have a bunch of Fire Men (a robot master from the first Mega Man game) who are separate from all the other robots because the writer accidentally forgot to include them in an earlier scene. This is basic pantsing taking place. I’ll list it out step by step:

1. Fire Man shows up at Mega Man’s door.
2. Then we see he brought a bunch of friends.
3. Actually, a LOT of friends.
4. A huge, month-long battle takes place.
5. You might notice there are no Fire Men among all the other robots.
6. Well the comic artist points this out (see the commentary). It turns out, since the first Fire Man was at the door, he wasn’t included in the bulk of other robot masters that got copy/pasted for the big battle scenes. By the time he realized this mistake, it was too late, so he needed an excuse for why they weren’t around. He made one up, in true Pantser fashion, and made it look like he meant to do it all along.
7. Then we catch back up with the Fire Men.
8. They start teleporting in one at a time.
9. And Proto Man starts picking them off one at a time when they teleport in.

So what was the point of going over all that? Well, the comic author says in the commentary for #9 there that he had to set up the final scene:

As I’ve mentioned before, when writing the comic, I’d often try to come up with really funny jokes, and then figure out how to connect them. In this case, while thinking about what to do with the Fire Men, this idea popped into my head, and I had to figure out how to get here.

I knew in order to do a respawning joke, they’d have to be teleporting in one at a time, which meant that’s the real reason the teleporter was broken. And I couldn’t just jump right to this point, so I had to have several comics set up this situation.

This is an analogy for how my novel writing is going. I start off putting a certain piece in place by accident (like the Fire Men being separate from the others). Then I later realize there’s a way I can USE that to make the plot come together. Then I realize how I can get to the end goal, but in order to do so, I need to write a series of scenes building up to it.

I now know exactly what the climax will be. But as David Anez said, I can’t “jump right to that point.” I have to set it up. So, that’s what I’m doing now. I’m at 93,000 words, with an estimated 30,000 to go. I know exactly what the end game will be, but I need to guide the characters into their positions now. Pretty much the rest of the book is now just guiding them into place.

If I were a plotter, I’d have figured out HOW to guide the characters into their places. But as a Pantser, I didn’t even know what the end game was until just recently. Now I need to look at what I’ve done throughout the story (including the accidental parts) and figure out the final moves.

I feel like I’ve rambled and talked in circles during this post, but this all makes sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense to you, well . . . I guess I shouldn’t have pantsed this blog post then!


7 thoughts on “When the Pieces Fall In Place”

  1. Interesting metaphor, I myself find that I’m a “plotter” at times. As for rambling, no, ’twas informative.

      1. Not at all, I get where you’re coming from. This post was a well deserved star. (Btw, incoherency is my speciality šŸ˜‰)

  2. Hmm, I tend to call myself an “organic” writer, but it turns out I am a “pantser”. I’m happy for outliners. I admire their organizational skills and ability to know where they are headed before they start. They are navigators and operate in a determined and focused way I wish I could understand. Sometimes I outline on a high level, overview scale to be sure the story path is taking me to my desired end game in a logical way. That’s fine on occasion, but there is something special about getting lost in the story while you’re writing it. I call this achieving “flow “, and magical things can happen during flow – characters and plot twists I would never have considered when outlining. If that’s “pantsing”, then I’m proud to be guilty if it.

    1. You pretty much nailed my view on the head with how they have “organizational skills and focus I wish I could understand.” I’ve tried outlining before, then got 30% of the way into the story and found that I was heading in a completely different direction. I didn’t look at the outline again until the end of the book, at which point I went down the list and said, “I didn’t do this, I didn’t do this, I CAN’T do this now,” but realize that what I DID do ended up far better than the original plans.

      I go with the flow, as you said. The climax of Book Two, “Contamination,” had something happened I NEVER planned, but which I had (unknowingly) put all the pieces in for all along the way. And during revisions I’m going to reinforce those pieces so it LOOKS like I planned it all along (thank god for revisions).

  3. I find myself a bit of both actually. A plantser? I know certain events I want to happen to my characters. I know point A and point B, but the line connecting them remains a mystery. I just let ideas flow until.I find one that feels right. Once I do however, I sometimes outline the specifics. I think both have their merits. The artist in me likes to be a pantser. The OCD in me prefers to be a plotter. It’s all about finding balance.

    1. I think a lot of people can fall in between. I do have a few plotter tendencies, but they tend to drop off in favor of pantsing when the vivid ideas come to me.

      But you’re definitely right about it all being a balance. Some people are too much at one extreme end or the other. I’m probably like 75/25.

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