Most editing articles focus on carefully modeling and designing a short story or novel, so that the author knows where it’s going and can capture all the nuances in the first draft. However, there is another way, the pantser’s way. Starting with a vague idea, a shadowy world build, and a group of characters, the author just goes for it.
What comes out is a surprise, and perhaps an even more exciting adventure. The pantser postulates a few characters, walks around with them in their head, and then drops them on the page in a poorly defined landscape. The writer then lets the character dictate what direction they take based on their decision-making. The writer adds the details in their world germane to the plot with anything unnecessary left out.
Where the pantser must not fail is in the edit. As the characters evolve, the writer must backtrack and refine what they know about their protagonists, antagonists, and side kicks once the story is done. They may speak in an accent later, whereas in the first draft, early on, there is none. Therefore, the writer must make sure their voice and qualities are consistent.
In the edit, the author adjusts the world build by adding critical elements as needed. Does the build itself act like a character in a survival tale? During the developmental edit, the writer must look for plot holes and complications. Should they tweak a situation, worsen the challenge, or simplify it to speed up the pace? The pantser’s way requires reverse engineering rather than early planning. The line edit must then tailor both grammar and story structure.
As an editor, I often see the arc of the character better than the writer themselves. Identifying when the writer’s voice intrudes on a character’s dialogue is critical to repair and remain faithful to their story. Would this character have the level of sophistication or the turn of phrase the author has? What information must the writer keep from the characters to add problems and complications to their story?
And what must the reader know or not know to keep them intrigued? The pantser can’t lose sight of the audience, or the audience will simply shelve the story and move on. Keep in mind the readers are as important to the story as the plot and characters themselves. Being teachy and preachy is fine so long as it doesn’t detract and propels the story along (yes, many editors disagree on this one).
The pantser’s way is a voyage of discovery. In fiction, it makes the writing as fun as the reading. Knowing your characters and letting them take you on their journey is the reward. Tailoring their world so it works for or against them makes it exciting. The possibilities are enthralling, but the pitfalls are many.
If you are a planner, try being a pantser and vice versa. You may find a niche for yourself, or at least sharpen your editing skills. Dive in if you dare!
About the Author:
Dr. Raymond is a Family and Emergency Physician. He practiced in eight countries in four languages. Currently living in Austria. When not volunteering his practice skills, he is writing, lecturing, or scuba diving. In 2008, he discovered the wreck of a Bulgarian freighter in the Black Sea. He has multiple medical citations, along with publications in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Grief Diaries, The Examined Life Journal, The Satirist, Chicago Literati, Blood Moon Rising, Frontier Tales Magazine, and in the Sci-Fi anthologies Sanctuary and Alien Dimensions among others. He is the fiction editor of SavagePlanets magazine.