Writing by the seat of your pants: best avoided or learn to live with – Jennifer Bohnet
By Jennifer Bohnet
As somebody who has always jumped into things feet first without giving the possible consequences a second thought, it was inevitable I should be a pantster when it came to writing. Although experience can change things.♥
Ten books and a couple of hundred short stories later I’m still spontaneously leaping into the abyss without a proper plan at the beginning of a novel but I no longer grind to a nerve-wracking halt at some stage in the story (usually about halfway), wondering what on earth I was thinking about to even start writing this rubbish.
These days though I admit to having a small contingency plan I use to keep me writing without turning me into a total planner which would take all the fun of writing away for me. Knowing the end of a story before I begin doesn’t work for me – I can’t write the dreaded synopsis until I’ve at least written the first draft. So in the hope this will help fellow pantsters, here’s what I do these days.
First, before I start, I use those trusty 5W questions drilled into me from my freelance journalism days:
Who is the story about?
What has happened?
When did it happen?
Where did it take place?
Why did it happen?
Answering those five simple questions usually gives me between 500 and 1000 words on both my main character and the setting to expand on and then I use David Morrells ‘talk to your typewriter technique – an idea he apparently got from Harold Robbins. You sit in front of your computer and keyboard and ‘talk’ to each other. Something along these lines:
“Good morning – how are you?”
“I’m great. Just had this wonderful idea for a story.”
“Fabulous. Tell me about it.”
“Well I’m not sure really, it’s just that there’s this woman who lives in a tumbledown house and the locals all avoid her.”
“Why do they do that?”
“Because they think she’s a witch.”
I have to answer that question, which will prompt another question from the computer and so it goes on. Talking to your computer can be done at any stage – in fact I do it every morning when I log on to write. I read through the previous days writing and then spend five minutes talking to my computer and discovering what form the next scene will take.
By simply sitting in front of the computer basically having a written conversation with yourself it’s amazing what the subconscious comes up with! And it keeps the spontaneity of your story alive for you. Now, all we need is a word for the hybrid writer who does a bit of planning but still a lot of pantsing!
P.S. David Morrell’s book ‘Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing is well worth reading.
Jennifer Bohnet is English but has lived in France for the past 17 years. When she’s not writing she loves reading, cooking and having friends around for lunch – lunches that follow the French tradition of lasting for several hours. Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera is her tenth book and HQDigital are issuing it in paperback as well as e-book format.