Posted On July 6, 2015 by Print This Post

You Can Leave Your Pants On by KC Falls

I met KC Falls online a couple years ago. She’s got a great sense of humor, she’s a brilliant writer and she’s a good friend. She’s also not afraid to put hard work into writing and marketing her books, and here she gives a no-nonsense approach as to why she is a pantser and how it works for her.

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I read a great deal about my craft. I read about marketing as well as the actual process of writing. Lately (and much to my dismay) I have read several pieces decrying the humble pantster.

We should all outline! Character sketches are the key to consistency! Story arcs give way to chapter arcs that drive the narrative! Write ten thousand words a day, consistently, if you follow these simple steps!

Focus groups, workshops and hundreds of books are devoted to making the creative writer better and more efficient.

The pantster is a fumbling bumbling writer who can’t possibly produce the kind of quality/quantity/speed. You fill in the blank.

I am a pantster. I always feel shamed when I read about how much better an author I would be if I changed my ways. My income would naturally rise due to productivity. I would be in control. I would be in charge. My writing would be organized. Neatness, order and calm would reign.

brothers_smThe trouble is that’s not the way I write. My stories begin with the barest of bones and even those are all rattling around in my head. I really don’t know what’s going to happen beyond the basics. I start and I take off. Sometimes there are days on end when I don’t write at all. This, according to almost everybody who voices an opinion, is a death knell.

When I stall, it’s time to do some marketing, step back from the book and think about it. When I’m done thinking and marketing, I come back to the story. Some days I write as many as ten thousand words. Rarely do I write less than three or four thousand. That’s when I write. I spend a lot of time not writing.

The not writing time is the thinking time. I am crafting in my head but plenty of time the characters have different ideas. So when I sit down to put the whole thing into words, my fingers fly and the book evolves.

THR_smI absolutely love it when my work surprises me. This usually happens when I do my first read through beginning to end. I typically review only the last couple of chapters when I sit down to write. This will horrify many, I am sure, but sometimes I don’t really remember every detail of the book from beginning until end while I am writing it. When I do the first read through it is one of the best ‘moments’ in a book’s life for me as the author.

Another naughty admission is that I sometimes forget the color of my hero’s eyes or hair. Particularly in my current series where I intertwine brothers—all dark hair, so that’s easy—only two of the five men have blue eyes. The organized writer would have at the minimum a character sketch with relevant details, right?

Me? I do a ctrl search for blue eyes. You have my permission to smack your head right now.

I made an attempt to outline my current WIP. It messed me up for weeks. I think my characters were angry with me. I lost several thousand words trying to push them down a path they emphatically did not want to take.

I’ve put over a half a million words out in my first two years as a writer. I will come close to equaling that this year, so I’m obviously getting better at my craft in spite of my wicked ways.

hooked_smI work part time, at best. Unless you include thinking time. Then I work full time. Now, I could spend the moments I presently use for gardening, cooking (fanatically) and exploring my host country more ‘productively’. One of my challenges is not to beat myself up over the question of ‘how much better could I be if’: if I organized myself, if I knuckled down, if I networked more, if I Tweeted on schedule.

I will allow that I might be better at some things. Perhaps I would commit more words to paper. Perhaps I wouldn’t have moments when I am ready to throw all of my characters into a nest of vipers. Perhaps there would be fewer valleys.

Unfortunately, my peculiar make up tells me there would also be fewer peaks. I love the peaks.

Would I recommend this path? Probably not. I fantasize about using Scrivener and putting out three dozen books instead of the ten or twelve I will publish this year. But that’s a leap from last year, so I’m happy.

And don’t be looking for a “How to Write by the Seat of Your Pants” tome from me any time soon. Because truthfully I don’t think I could even begin to describe ‘how’ to do what I do. It’s that old “hold a moonbeam in your hand” thing. You just can’t.

I know me and I’m going to cut myself some slack and say: “It’s okay. You’re doing fine. Keep your pants on.”

***

So, are you a pantser or a plotter? And why?

Join us on Wednesday for Jacqui Jacoby and Heroines can Save Themselves!

***

Bio: K.C. Falls is a native of New York who traded the Big Apple for Big Sky country. Her Montana ranch is home to a menagerie of animals including one human male she shamelessly uses for inspiration. Her tales are sharp-edged stories with strong sexy heroes and the women they can’t resist.

K.C. finds time to feed the chickens, study Native Americana (she’s part Cheyenne–that’s what the ‘C’ stands for) and cook incredible food because there isn’t a restaurant around for many miles. She writes in between bites.

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18 Responses to “You Can Leave Your Pants On by KC Falls”

  1. Thank you! I too am a humble pantser, and have seen the increasing thunder decrying why it’s such a terrible thing to be. For me, my characters *are* my story. I don’t know what they’re going to do until they do it. If I try to tell them what to do, they laugh in my face and do the opposite just for fun. I’m glad there are others out in the world willing to stick up for the humble pantser and prove we write stories that are just as structured, organized, and entertaining as the most structured plotter.

    Posted by Michelle | July 6, 2015, 7:22 am
  2. That was an excellent article. I am a pantser and I hold the strong belief that pantser are just as good writers as outliners. In fact I don’t think pantsers don’t plan, they just don’t waste time writing down what’s gonna happen in the book, but we do plan all the time. I spend most of my time daydreaming about what my characters should do next. I know that at some point in the story, x should happen, I know I need to use a certain conflict, I know I need to introduce a certain character. I just don’t write it. That does not mean I don’t understand what characters are, what conflict is, what a story arc is or what a scene is. In my opinion, whether you’re a panster or a plotter, what matters is the talent and hard work you put into your stories.

    Posted by Shayla | July 6, 2015, 7:52 am
  3. Thank you for this post. When I read the first few paragraphs, I wanted to cringe until you clarified things for me. I cannot stand to plot out my stories. I’m like you (in fact, every thing you wrote is me to a capital T), the story flows not from an outline but from the barest of ideas. I have no idea where it’s going to end up and that’s the beauty of it. My characters surprise me all the time. It’s like they really do have a life of their own.

    I tried to plot with the one I’m working on now. It’s helped a little in fleshing out my main character, but then she took off in a different path than I had plotted for her. So there you go–plotting time wasting my writing time.
    Thank you for helping me stick to my guns and see that there’s nothing wrong in being a pantster.

    Posted by Jenny | July 6, 2015, 7:58 am
  4. I’m a pantser, have always been. Glad to see there are others out there who do too. Tried plotting, couldn’t write that way. Most of our writing group are pantsers. When I’m not writing, the story line kicks around in my brain, sometimes in the background. Even when I think I’m not plotting I have “Ah ha” moments, drop everything and start writing.

    Thank you for sticking up for those who “fly by seat of their pants.” Great article.

    Posted by Mike Boggia | July 6, 2015, 8:34 am
  5. Love the article. I often tell my friends I’m a plotpantser. When I have a story rolling around in my head, I sometimes know the beginning and end, it’s the journey to get there that I work on as a pantser.

    So I’ll write out the bits I know in a basic outline then let the rest hit me as I go. I never force it. That bit of outline is more so I don’t forget that brilliant idea I had for some part of it.

    A lot of the other comments hit home as well, especially with the daydreaming up the next bit before I work on it. Always is a good way to smooth the way before setting the words to the page.

    Posted by Susan | July 6, 2015, 9:16 am
  6. Morning KC!

    I admit to being a pantser as well, although I do take Laurie Schnebly’s plotting course every year (and love it!) It helps me to see the story is going to work, then I can let my imagination run wild.

    Sometimes it sticks right with the plot, sometimes it veers for a bit and then comes back, but I do like the freedom of running amok with my characters =) it’s very liberating to see where they want to go next!

    Thanks KC!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 6, 2015, 10:07 am
  7. So, you’ve probably never done NaNoWriMo then, huh? LOL. This post was frickin’ awesome. Hello, my name is Evolet and I’m a pantser. Thanks so much for this article. Talk about validation! I’m currently participating in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time and I’m finding it a little intimidating. Probably because I switched genres, too–YA to adult romance–and decided to write my first romance via this challenge. I’m thinking I should’ve started with a novella rather than a 55,000 word novel. LOL.

    Posted by Evolet | July 6, 2015, 12:07 pm
  8. Hey, thank you for allowing me to keep my pants on! I think we need to do what works. I’ve also tried to outline and nothing comes to me – I think my fingers have to be moving across the keyboard for things to happen. But like you, I do have thinking time as well. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that (only in some cases) plotting makes the story far more predictable. At least that’s what I’ve noticed.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | July 6, 2015, 12:12 pm
  9. G’ Morning, KC.

    I, too, am part Cheyenne. (My grandma, three greats back, survived both the Sand Creek Massacre and Custer’s attack on Black Kettle’s camp at the Washita.) But mostly, I am Creek and Kiowa.

    I’m not certain whether I’m a pantster. My current novel is due out late this summer–if I can get the editing done this month. My publisher is showing a lot more patience than I probably would, in the same situation.

    But I began planning the story years ago. I tried many, many times to sit down and write an outline. I have several pages from each attempt. If I put them all together, I suppose it’d be fifty pages. On the other hand, I did much research about a controversial topic I didn’t know that much about. I’m not an expert on it, but I can carry on a discussion.

    So I didn’t outline, and I didn’t exactly sit down and start cranking out copy until the details, including all research as they relate to the story, were pretty firmly in place in my mind.

    I, too, spend days not writing. I spend some days reading, and some days making popcorn and watching movies so I can be certain I’m not wasting my time. (Catch the irony?)

    Anyway, I enjoy my writing schedule–or my lack of writing schedule. Perhaps one day, I’ll actually have a writing schedule.

    I do have to admit I was jolted a little by seeing the word PANTSTER. I, being one of the smaller kids in my class, was very familiar with PANTSERS. They were the goon squad who stalked the boys smaller themselves and carried the smaller kids off to pants them in the boys’ restrooms. (The autocomplete is saying restrooms and autocomplete are erroneous. How can restrooms and autocomplete be erroneous?)

    But I learned how to handle PANTSERS. When they tried to capture me, I pushed one of them and kicked him in the nougies. They never tried it again.

    But I’m not certain I’ll ever learn how to stop being a pantster.

    Posted by Jim Porter | July 6, 2015, 12:19 pm
  10. What a great article! You’re basically saying “different is not better” and that’s awesome.

    I, too, fly by the seat of my pants as I write. I believe in trying new things to improve my craft, so I do sometimes work on plotting and characterization methods, but I hate them. Most of the time I don’t discover the greatest things about my story and the people living it until it happens.

    However, I admit to hating the word “panster.” I fly by the seat of my pants, so I’m a flier. 🙂 When you “pants” someone, you pull their pants down, and I just don’t like that image. Add to it that in the UK “pants” means underwear, and…yeah. LOL

    I’m the only one in the universe that sees it that way. LOL Different is not worse, either, right? 🙂

    Posted by Natalie J. Damschroder | July 6, 2015, 1:47 pm
  11. Amongst all these confirmed pantsers, I have to admit I lean towards plotting. Of course, I also write non-fiction histories which takes a tad of organization. For my fiction, I jot down character notes in a form (usually as the information is needed, not before) and I have a scene form where I can record bits, pieces, dialog or entire rough draft of scenes.

    For my first few novels, I plotted more extensively. Some scenes started out as a few bullets, others blossomed complete as the muse hit. By the time the outline was completed, it was a first draft, complete with dialog. Only instead of being in manuscript form, the scenes had headers that set dates and location to help me keep things straight as the various characters were in different parts of the world.

    Now, I still do the character sheets (when its a five book series knowing names helps) but the outline is more likely a mere synopsis as the organization is one in my head as the story unfolds.

    A confirmed plotter, who loves to take detours on the journey. Whether your organization is subconscious or written on paper, do what works for you. Happy writing.

    Posted by Helen Henderson | July 6, 2015, 2:05 pm
  12. Oh, KC, I also meant to say that I use Scrivener as a pantser/flier/discoverer! Maybe not nearly to its full potential, but a lot of the features are great for us even though we don’t plot or plan.

    For example, when I search for the eye color that for some stupid reason I didn’t note down anywhere, it only shows me the chapters/scenes/whatever where eyes are mentioned. It highlights each one for easy skimming! 🙂

    Posted by Natalie J. Damschroder | July 6, 2015, 2:17 pm
  13. I love all the comments! What fun it is to know I have a lot more company out there than I realized. I do like ‘flier’ and ‘discoverer’ as better descriptions and had to laugh about ‘pants’ being underwear. It was fun to write and I feel so much better knowing I’m not alone. K.C.

    Posted by K.C. Falls | July 6, 2015, 2:44 pm
  14. You rock–this is me to a “T.” And luckily, after years of being berated for pantsing, I finally took a workshop that not only encouraged it, the instructor, Tom Miller, insisted that you not stop to do anything BUT write. It’s still not my style, because I stop to do lots of things whenever I want. But going with that flow has always worked for me. Plotting and planning took all the “fire” out of my writing, whenever I tried that route. So…right on and thank you!

    Posted by Cynthia | July 6, 2015, 3:54 pm
  15. I’m a pantser, too. I’ve tried to modify my pantser tendencies by writing out anchor scenes, summaries and various guideposts to keep me on track. But what it boils down to is this: for me, pantsing is part of the fun of writing. Yes, I have to do a gazillion rewrites, but that’s just my process. My favorite part, by far, is when a scene comes together and connects in ways I’d figured out subconsciously. The best twists and turns are the ones that take me by surprise!

    Thanks for a great post! I feel a bit less guilty about my disorganized and somewhat goofy way of writing. I may have to follow some bumpy roads before I complete a story the way it should be completed, but going from Point A to Point B throughout the book would bore me to tears.

    I’m saving this post for the days plotting fails me. I agree with Cynthia – plotting might be the “right” way but for me it’s like cooking without spices.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 6, 2015, 6:43 pm
  16. Oh. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Like many others, I’m a pantser. I write the story to find out what happens. I’ve tried so hard to find different outlining methods that might work for me so I can revise easier (and maybe not have so many issues when it comes to revision), but once I have an outline and know what’s going to happen, I just don’t care to write the story.

    Right now, I think I have 6 books outlined. And I have no interest in writing any of them now.

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder that pantsers can be prolific and successful as well. 🙂

    Posted by Lana Voynich | July 20, 2015, 2:58 pm

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