The age-old debate…to wear pants, or not to wear pants? Oh, that’s not the debate…? Maybe it’s…to outline or not to outline (but that just sounds SO much less curious.)
What is a pantster? A writer who scripts stories by the seat of their pants without any clear thought as to what’s going to happen from scene to scene. They don’t outline. Like, at ALL.
HOW in the WORLD do they do that? I couldn’t write a WORD if I didn’t have a clear, chapter by chapter outline mapped out in advance!
Just kidding. I’m a pantster.
Come over and take a peek at the pantster's underpants…
HOW TO WRITE LIKE A PANTSTER:
You take a scene. Any scene. The scene I chose is my characters reacting to the technology of a toilet for the first time (in a fantasy setting.) I knew I wanted to have this scene, and have it be funny, but other than those 2 desires I had no other direction of which to make this a complete scene.
Meta-physically stand in your story. This scene I chose is set in a fantasy setting inn. I’m meta-physically standing in this inn. I look around this inn, trying to decide how my characters discover there’s a toilet in the inn, a technology of which is new and that which they will find strange. How to do that? This part is easy. My character asks the inn host where the outhouse is.
Rubbing both eyes and smacking his lips still greasy from the hot meal, he stood. “Gotta empty the bowels,” he said, patting his stomach, and weaved among the patrons in the room who filled up every chair and table, several of them hooded, keeping their heads down.
Sciath scrapped a fingernail into the wood. Clothes finally dried, his eyes drooped in half-sleep. They’d spent the rest of their money on dinner. There was no telling where they would sleep tonight.
Radak was currently in the company of Andrast’s Lord. According to the inn host, Radak had rented a room in this very inn for tonight and would be returning to it before the gas lamps dimmed.
Talon would follow Radak invisible to his room, sneak inside with him, discover what he’d done to their friends somehow, and leave without anyone ever knowing the how, why, or who.
That was the easy part. The hard part would be then getting to Malandore to rescue–
Talon ran back to their table, breathless. “Alamarr, you have to come see this!”
“This inn has a toilet.”
“A porcelain seat you sit on to empty your bowels. It flushes. Inn host called it a toilet.”
“Flushes? What does that even mean?”
“Come look.” Talon tugged on Alamarr’s sleeve until Alamarr relented and followed him.
Alright, so my characters have discovered this toilet. I STILL want this scene to be funny, and I still have no idea how to go about doing it. It’s exactly like this: you won’t know what the inside of Starbucks looks like until you GO there and LOOK around. So I meta-physically follow my characters to the toilet so I can see what they see.
HOW PANTSTERS DO IT:
Right, so I’m looking over Alamarr’s shoulder as the three men stare at the toilet. This is what they – and I – see:
Sciath followed Alamarr to a tiny closet, almost not wide enough to fit Sciath’s broad shoulders. He looked down at a white porcelain seat with a massive bowel filled with water in the center, the bowel narrowing at the bottom into a narrow funnel which disappeared.
“Watch this.” Talon shouldered passed Sciath and yanked on a chain hanging from the ceiling. Water gushed around in a circle inside the bowl, flushing all down the narrow funnel with a gurgle. They all stood silent, watching the bowel fill back up.
Well, that’s all grand, but NOW what? I’m not just going to have my characters flush this toilet once and go sit back down to talk about dethroning Radak, because that would make this entire toilet scene – though entertaining – useless and any good editor will tell me to cut the scene out because it does not drive character or plot forward.
At some point, Radak’s lackeys are going to come into the inn and attempt an arrest on my characters. While I meta-physically stand in my story, I don’t see why the bad guys can’t attempt this arrest while my characters are staring at the toilet. I’ll write it out and see where it takes me.
“Is there a man in here who is part barbarian, elf, and human?” an authoritative voice called.
Everyone in the inn held their breath. Even the three men in the toilet closet. The inn host new. But he wasn’t saying anything. So did Calthania. She didn’t respond, either.
“Inn keeper,” said the same voice, “have you seen–”
“Yes, yes,” the inn host said in a frantic hustle, clearly unwilling in his tone but without choice. “He went back to the toilet not a moment ago.”
Alamarr, hanging the most outside the closet, rammed his shoulder into Talon and Sciath, shoving them both inside. Following, Alamarr closed the door and flipped the lock.
Sciath pressed against one wall, Talon directly across, both with a foot front and rear of the toilet. With no where else to go, Alamarr stood on the toilet, bracing his balance on Talon’s and Sciath’s shoulders.
“Exactly, what did this accomplish,” Sciath asked, the small space heating up with all three of their rampant breathing.
“Keeping you alive.”
“For what, another minute longer?”
Massive fists pounded on the door, shaking the walls. “Come out by order of King Radak.”
Now I’m happy because this is building up to become really funny. But now I have a new dilemma and that is, how are my characters supposed to escape? There’s three of them crammed in this tiny toilet closet with no weapons.
I REALLY force my mind to think. I stand meta-physically in this cramped closet with them, looking at everything I have access to. I see a toilet bolted to the floor, water in the toilet bowel, boots and clothes on my characters. What kind of havoc can they cause with just those things? Well, it’s all I’ve got. So I’ve got to work with only what I’ve got.
THIS is how pantsters do it. They work with ONLY what they have, beit even a toilet, a bowel of water, and clothing. Let’s try it out.
“What? What did you say?” Alamarr removed his shirt and shoved it into the bowel, stuffing it tightly into the funnel. He flushed it. Water pooled up and dumped over the rim, splattering Sciath’s and Talon’s boots. He flushed again. More water. It flooded under the door.
“Oops,” Alamarr said to cries of, “Awk!” and “Gross!” “Sorry. Dropped a big one.”
Another shoulder to the door, but a prompt, “Umph!” and a heavy crash of armor on floor testified the man slipped and fell.
Alamarr kept flushing. While other, half-attempts were made on the slick floor on the other side of the door to ram it open, Alamarr motioned the other two to lean in. “Remove your boots, both of you. You’ll have better grip barefoot.”
They both did, without question. Alamarr, too.
“I’m going to stop flushing and shove my finger under the door. When one of them grabs it, Sciath, unlock and kick the door open as hard as you can. Talon, remain invisible and rush the first man you see. Throw your boots at him to distract him while you do. If you hit hard enough, he’ll slip on the water. The rest we’ll have to take as-is, since we don’t know how many are out there. Ready?” Alamarr flushed one more time and stepped off the toilet, shoving a finger under the door.
“I’m right here!” he taunted. “Pull me out–OUCH!”
Taking his cue, with an added forward thrust of his hips, Sciath rammed the heel of his foot hard into the unlocked door.
It blasted open. Not a particular heavy thing, with the force of his kick, the door slammed into the armored man’s head – who was bent over, holding onto Alamarr’s finger. His winged mask saved most of his face from the blow, but his entire body tumbled over and rolled. His armor looked identical to those on Avanor who pursued them. They were called Knives?
Talon’s brown boots came out of nowhere, landing on the second masked man’s face who reacted with an upward swing of his arms to block them. His body folded in half, slipping on the wet floor as an invisible Talon tackled him.
The third and last man Sciath delivered a straight punch to his face with his right, gloved arm.
The man’s head knocked backward and he slipped on the floor, remaining still.
Alamarr came out with his sodden shirt dripping in his hand. “Let’s be gone.”
All right, THAT worked out rather well.
WHY YOU SHOULD WRITE LIKE A PANTSTER:
Had I sat down three days in advance and drew up an outline for this scene, I would have planned in something super lame, like, Sciath bringing his sword into the bathroom with him which he then would use to fight his way out. Doing that I would have lost the flavor of the toilet scene, and it would not have left quite the impression upon the reader, nor would it have been as funny.
IF YOU SKIMMED: To write like a pantster, only use what the characters have access to. Don't introduce save-the-day people or objects.