Friday, May 25, 2012

Pantsers Forever!

But I am left with a question.

A dedicated pantser, I begin to see some of the issues which arise when characters are given fairly free rein. One thing that happens, to me at least, is the cast list grows, sometimes pretty remarkably. Or maybe that should be uncontrollably?

For example, the fantasy epic I've been working on.
Part one is about 41K words, and has about 16 named characters.
Part two is about 82K words, and has about 28 named characters, of whom seven are common with part one.
Part three is about 18K words, and has 24 named characters. (A lot of world-building going on.)
Part four is about 83K words, and has 31 named characters, of whom four are common with part three.
Part five is about 200Kwords and has about 58 named characters. Fortunately, I think, all but four or five of these have been introduced before the first half is done.
Part six is an embarrassment; at 170K words, it is no more than 60 percent complete, and still has almost 90 named characters. Probably 20 of these are common with part five, but still.
Part seven is three short stories wound together, and runs just over novella length at 52K words. There are less than 30 named characters.

Because it is a series, a small set of the characters appear in most or all of the parts. Fewer than ten, however, so I can't use that as an excuse. One thing I should mention: the order of creation was 1, 4, 2, 5, 7, 3, 6, although except for part one, they were all written contemporaneously. Parts one and two are packaged together, as are parts three and four.

Along with the cast lists, the word counts grow. I suppose that's unavoidable as each of those character clamors for his or her bit of the action. Part seven will likely grow, but no more than a couple thousand words. I have yet to apply any effort to part five, but my goal there is to get to 160-170Kwords from the 200 it's at now. There's a lot of drivel, and if I recognize that, just wait till my readers get hold of it! Similarly for part six, I have to finish it and keep it at about 160K words. That's easy: just cut a word for every one I add! Glad I thought of that.

This little introspection brought to you courtesy of my trying to figure out how to deal with part six, to bring it into a manageable length. I fear this means excising one or more of my wonderful sub-plots. But the first part of that task is figuring out what exactly I wrote (while the muse twiddled her finger in my ear, and the characters ran amok!). An exercise I have to thank one of my friends for: synopsizing each chapter, will be of value as I find out where the story has gone, and what transpired to make it go that way. And which of the alleys should be bricked up and left for dead. Or for a different story, at least.

So, in a sort of conclusion, I'm left with this cautionary note: if you follow the ways of the pantsers, keep track of where you're headed. Keep your mind clear, and don't hesitate to tell a character that her or his deviation may be important to her or him, but by damn!, it's not to the story. Otherwise, you'll be left with unhappy characters picketing your muse and keeping her from working with you until the furor dies down.


  1. I've come to realize that a lot of what I write is really just for me. It's my brain working things out, and it probably doesn't need to be in the final story. This also means that I have countless files full of random paragraphs, sections, POVs, and dead plots.

    Keep reminding yourself that all the words count--even the ones you delete! :)


    1. Amy, good point! Maintaining that mindset will help.
      Thanks for reading.