NaNo Prep for Pantsers / by Jeff Leyco

November 1 is NaNoWriMo day! GET READY.

As I wrote about earlier, writers typically fall somewhere closer to one side of the Pantser-Plotter spectrum. I generally fall on the side of plotting, but there have been a lot of times when I've gotten by with pantsing instead. 

Almost time.

Almost time.

What the hell is pantsing anyway? 

* Note: I was going to include a picture of pantsing here but man are those NSFW.

Pantsing is really just a fun way of saying that you're writing by the seat of your pants. There's no real guide to follow, no structured outline you're trying to keep to. Rather, the story goes wherever the story wants to go.  

For a lot if writers, this is maddeningly difficult to do. Especially the Middle. The dreaded, dreaded Middle.  

To be fair, everyone hates the Middle anyway.  

There's really not that much to say.  

By its very nature, writing by the seat of your pants can be a chaotic endeavor. An incredibly fun one, but chaotic nonetheless. There's not much to say about how to do it except to do it. 

The real issue, however, is where things slow down. 

While it's fun to bring stories to life with your beginnings, then being them to their dramatic conclusions, the Middle is where so much writing goes to the wayside. Writers lose sight of where their story is heading, go down unnecessary subplots, introduce superfluous characters. Situations like these are where it helps to have an outline, or at least some sort of semblance of structure in order to guide where the story goes.  

Here's a few ways to try to navigate around that, when you don't have any idea where else to go.

Hamlet's Hit Points.

Not just for game masters.

Not just for game masters.

Robin D. Laws is a prominent tabletop game designer, responsible for Mutant City Blues, one of the most fascinating combinations of the superhero and procedural crime drama genres. He also wrote Hamlet's Hit Points, intended to be a guide for game masters, but with interesting insights that could easily apply to writing as well.

Hamlet's Hit Points approaches the topic of stories by examining critical story beats. He analyzes three popular pieces of culture: Hamlet (duh), Casablanca, and Dr. No. Focusing on these, Laws creates beat maps detailing whether the action is rising, falling, or remaining neutral (among other things.

One of the most important takeaways in creating an effective story is not to let two of the same kind of beat stand next to each other. A story constantly rising in tension creates only action that becomes monotonous. A story constantly falling in tension has no stakes. A story that neither rises nor falls in tension is boring.

If you're pantsing your story, try to keep this idea in mind. That way, you can more effectively balance your story's progression, even if you don't know where it's going next. At least you'll know not to let the tension and conflict you're building up fade away too quickly. 

Gnome Stew has a far more in-depth look at Hamlet's Hit Points, perhaps the closest you can get to understanding the concept without actually purchasing the book. You should buy the book anyway, though

Write by emotion tags.

Similar to Hamlet's Hit Points, another way to keep your momentum going if you're pantsing your way through a story is to write by emotion tags. This was discussed by James Dashner, author of the Maze Runner, in a recent episode of Writing Excuses (again, one of the podcasts in my writing podcast pantheon). 

Writing by emotion tags means that you tag a specific emotion to each scene you write. The most important rule is that you do not put two chapters with the same emotional tag next to each other--it's easy to see that back-to-back scenes of elation can get annoying, and back-to-back scenes of sadness can get mopey and melodramatic. 

Again, while pantsing, if you don't know exactly what the next scene is supposed to be, at least you know not to focus on someone crying if another person was crying in the last scene. 

Seriously, what's up with all the crying?

An experiment.  

I typically write by outline, but even then I leave some things loose in between to allow my characters to pursue pathways that I don't expect. It's a very similar structure to what I do when prepping for tabletop RPG sessions.  

Shut your pie hole, yes, I'm that nerdy.  

I'm currently experimenting with an outline that includes five plot points/motifs that are not necessarily tied to scenes but I feel are important to explore. While making my outline and arriving at the tricksy middle, I continually referred to these five motifs to give inspiration on where to go and what to do.  

It's an experiment. Maybe it'll work. When you need something to get your butt in gear for NaNo, it often pays off to try out new approaches.