Last week I delved into Pantsing vs. Outlining. This week I’ll focus in on the art of free writing, because that sounds a bit better and more cerebral than “pantsing,” right?
As a recap: When you’re writing by the seat of your pants, you’re letting the story flow, taking you where it will in its own good time. Free writing doesn’t mean not having any kind of plan, even though people associate the term with letting your pen control the story.
Each free writer has their own formula for writing this way. One is not “right” and the other “wrong”–they’re just different. I’ll give you a peek into how I tackle this kind of writing, although you may find a way that suits you better. If you do, go with it–as long as you don’t leave out item #4!
I’ll be honest. When I first get a story idea, I’m at my very best. I’m on fire for my idea and it very nearly explodes out of my brain and onto the paper (pardon that very messy imagery). My advice to you: Take advantage of this frenzy of inspiration, as you never know if and when it will come again.
At this point, I write whatever comes to mind, but I take care to have a definitive protagonist, antagonist (whether a person or a situation) and a storyline I want to follow. As any pantser, I mean, free writer, knows, characters come and go and one that you weren’t expecting can appear out of thin air at any given moment. That’s okay, just go with it.
I don’t put a word or chapter goal to my free writing, so there’s absolutely no pressure. That’s one of the joys of this method — there’s no fear of failure because there’s no goal other than to get a complete story on paper. That being said, I do tend to naturally follow the hills and valleys of story writing. My plot points appear like magic, as if I’d outlined them into place. This is because I read. I read a lot. If you want to write well, read.
After that initial burst of inspiration, I sometimes find my enthusiasm wanes a bit. When this happens, I just make stuff up. It sounds crazy simple, but it’s harder than you think to create out of thin air when your muse is playing coy.
To do it well, I ask myself questions about what I’ve got so far. Does my character need more motivation? What would motivate me if I was my character? Does he need some adversity? How do I want to hold him back (insert evil laugh if it helps). Does she need a love interest? Some travel? Tease your own imagination for the answers to these questions. Make it fun. Make it light. Remember, the fun of pantsing, er, free writing is that there are no rigid rules.
There may be no hard and fast rules, but that doesn’t mean you can just write all willy-nilly. In order to have a salable story and one that readers want to read, you need to have a backbone. That’s right: You need to write a backbone or your story will feel like some limp, unstructured puddle of drek.
And the backbone to any story is your protagonist’s inner struggle.
This is what every story is about — not the setting, not the surface plot, not the relationships, but the inner journey of your main character. It’s what keeps readers motivated to turn the page. It makes them yearn to know what happens next.
So, if free writing is your style, go for it. But make sure your main character is one that will resonate with your readers. Make him or her dimensional, emotional, and surprising — and then send them on an incredible journey. If you can do this, your fancy pantsing will keep readers wanting more.
Next week: How to Outline the Simple Way
See you on the next page!