The Problems of A Pantser

by Hellen Riebold

As we all know there are two types of writers, the careful, methodical ‘planner’ who knows who all their characters are, what’s going to happen to them and how the book is going to end. Then there are the ‘pantsers’ who live a life of fear, not knowing from one word to the next what their characters are going to say. I am most definitely a pantser.

It took me a long time to discover I was a pantser, or even that they existed, mostly because people who write ‘how to’ books can’t make much money from saying ‘just write’ so only publish books for planners. The truth didn’t dawn on me until I read a protracted interview given by a multi-million selling author who spoke about being a pantser, about just writing and using the editing process to work on the kinks. This information freed me completely and has allowed me to complete three books in eighteen months.

This past month, however, while writing my fourth, I came across a big problem. A married couple in my book had an argument and the wife ran off into the woods to sulk and didn’t decide to go home until it was getting dark. That was a problem because she had been in the area for less than 24 hours so she would have no way to know her way home and she couldn’t just find a road because they are being sought by the authorities. How on earth was I going to get her out of the woods?

For two weeks I was stuck. I couldn’t think of a single way to get her out and my friend, who is also a pantser, really wasn’t as helpful as she had hoped when she told me about a time she had two characters stuck on a beach for ten years while she tried to think of a way off for them. Actually it made me panic slightly. This book couldn’t wait ten years, it was a sequel and I have people waiting for it.

For days I sat staring at the last sentence on the page, then, one wonderful day, it came to me. It wasn’t actually dark, it was getting dark, therefore my character could see where the sun was setting, which meant she could work out east from west. If I also made her remember seeing the sun rise in the living room of the bungalow, looking out onto the road, then she’d know which way to head. Bingo. She was free. Hooray! Phew.

So will this experience make me more of a planner? No, it’s just not in me, but it does make me marvel at the problem solving power of the brain. If I had planned out every detail of my story then I wouldn’t have had the joy of realising I’d finally worked it out, and I wouldn’t have missed that feeling for the world.

No, a pantser I am and a pantser I’ll stay.



4 thoughts on “The Problems of A Pantser

  1. Bless you Maria I dont believe I have any fear I believe fear, anxiety etc break the link with the conscience and subconscience mind so its imprtant to focus I have just finished writing my life story so that was easier as it was of the cuff and all I have to do is be honest


  2. Can you elaborate (here or email) on why the joy would have been diminished if you had discovered the tale through the planning process rather than during the keystroking process? I had another writer friend tell me this, and I’d love to hear how that works for you.

    • H Daniel for me I like to live in the moment for exmaple if I plan to text somebody I just pick up the phone and start texting things rarely turn out as we plan so when I text or email I always put their name in the text it reminds me who I am messageing and for a second I visilize them it makes it more personal I am going to iceland today so all I have to do is turn up its like I am going from A to B when I get to iceland iceland become A


  3. Hi Daniel
    Sorry for the delay in replying I was away in the land of no wifi, which is great for writing but not so good for staying in touch.
    I hope the blog made it clear that I was merely saying that planning doesn’t work for me, I know there are many more people for whom it is essential and I honestly envy them. All I can say is that each time I plan my characters refuse to follow the map so I have largely thrown the map away. I don’t think this makes my creative process better, just different and much more scarey. I don’t think the joy of discovery would have been deminished by the planning process it just hasn’t worked for me.
    Hope that clears things up.

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