ROE #1: When the pants don’t fit.

There seems to be two main schools of thought: to pants, or not to pants. Or, for those of us who haven’t yet drowned ourselves in author subculture: do you write your story on the fly, or do you plot everything out first? (Hey, a pants pun.)

I adore the idea of working on the fly. It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? Just sit down at a keyboard and a short time later … boom. Magnum opus. Check, please.

Of course, we all know it doesn’t work that way. (But it might! insists the subconscious dreamer that lurks within). Okay, sure, it might. But it doesn’t for me. I’ve know because I’ve looked within myself and analyzed my personality and behavior and …

Just kidding. I’ve tried it, over and over. I’ve lost more hours to that ideal than I can count. Whole books were almost written, only to arrive at the third act and look back over steaming piles of garbage. Massive kudos if this is your style. I am in awe of your ability.

De-pantsing the ideal.

Pantsing it is possible, but I think it takes a certain mindset to do it well. Someone who can really feel the current of the plot shifting just below the surface, like a dowser in a barren field. And I think that a lot of people think that they can pants it that maybe sort of shouldn’t.

I think of it like this: when I started learning music, I needed those printed scales to remind me where the sharps and flats were. As I got more practice, I just knew that a major scale went WWHWWWH. As I got more practice, I could hear where the fifth was in my head, and could improvise a little. The printed scales were no longer necessary – they’d become a part of me. But it wasn’t an overnight process, and a lot of real effort went into shoving them in there.

I think that good pantsers are at that final stage. They can feel the plot like a musician can feel a scale, and so they can skip over some of that manual paperwork that I can’t. They can hear the rhythm of the story’s song, and hit those plot beats right on time.

For me, the pants don’t fit. Not yet, anyway. I need a belt made from storyboards and planning on paper. And, maybe, I need to toss aside how I romanticize pantsers entirely. The goal shouldn’t be doing it like them – it should be doing it in a way that does work for me, whatever that ends up being.

Anyway, it’s only a thought.

What do you think?