Musings of a Half-Pantsed Writer #amwriting

I have come to the conclusion that if there is anything about the writing process, anything at all, that is different between two writers, they will start a war over it. Since there are no two writers who have exactly the same process, that means our profession—er, craft—um, art—whatever the freak you want to call it—(not taking sides here) is at war with itself all the time.

To pants or not to pants?

I just became aware that there is a faction of fiction writers, far more comfortable than I with planning their novels extensively in advance, who think that those of us who are less comfortable with plotting, are snobs. Well, okay, elitists. I—writing urban fantasy mysteries and hard science fiction—am an elitist, because I am reputed to think that I am more literary and creative than they, because I write by the seat of my pants rather than planning my story in advance. I wander all over the page at great and confusing length, exasperating readers, and yet expect critical praise and commercial success for my maunderings.

Wow. I thought it meant that I am easily distracted (true), quickly bored (also true), and unable to organise my way out of a wet paper bag (too damned true).

I am full of envy and admiration for those who can plan a story in advance, in detail, write it quickly, and find an eager readership. But not so a fellow pantser, who in fact does look down on plotters as producing predictable (or even boring) work that nevertheless sells.

Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. Like it or not, humans are wired to respond to stories in a certain way. Write a story that hits those response points, and you stand a chance of getting some sales. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.

Let’s go back to Sturgeon’s Law, here. Theodore Sturgeon, popular science fiction writer of the 1960’s, famously said, “90% of everything is crud.”

90% of all fiction is crud, whether plotted, pantsed, or dictated by divine intervention straight to the writer’s keyboard. Whether mine, yours, or Barack Obama’s. Of the remaining 10%, 9% is merely adequate. Only about 1% has a chance of standing the test of time and being relevant to our great-grandchildren.

If I can write fiction that beguiles a reader’s mind for a few hours, of such quality that he does not regret having paid the price of a latte for it, I’ve passed into the top 10%. Whether it’s too predictable for some or it wanders too much for others, it serves the purpose of fiction. Not crud.

Sure, I’d like to write enough of it, and have enough readers, that the cumulative latte-equivalents mount up to some decent cash. And if I want to do that, I’m going to need a bit a crapload more organisation and plotting.

That’s fine. Right now, my fiction is half-pantsed—neither thoroughly planned nor completely unplanned. But I’m working on it.


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