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Long Live Pantsing ‹ CrimeReads

Chris Offutt discovers the “pantser v. plotter” debate and promptly reevaluates his fifty-six years of writing.

By Chris Offutt, June 7th, 2022, via Grove Press

I recently left the house and someone asked what kind of writer I was.

I told them I was the kind that preferred to stay home. I didn’t tell them why—to avoid questions such as that. The person followed up by saying, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?”

Not only did I fail to understand the question, I also misheard the second option as “plodder.” Yes, I said, that was my approach. I just plodded along, writing my average of one page per day.

Later I went home and googled the question.  It turns out that “pantser” refers to someone who writes by the seat of their pants, meaning they don’t plan ahead with detailed outlines.  The origin of the term “fly by the seat of your pants” comes from a pilot named Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, who left New York for California and wound up in Ireland.

He’d discarded his flight plan and lacked a radio.  His twenty-year-old compass broke en route.  Yes, I realized, that’s exactly how I preferred to write—flying blind with no instruments and no plan.  I write by the seat of my pants.  Maybe my next book will wind up in Ireland and I’ll be known as Wrong Way Offutt!

I believe this approach creates a tension on the page and a certain excitement for me.  Before starting Shifty’s Boys I had an idea that the murder victim in the opening would be a character from its prequel, The Killing Hills.  Of course, I didn’t know who!  I just placed the unidentified body, then jumped to the protagonists, Mick Hardin and his sister, Sheriff Linda Hardin.  Later, Mick was in his sister’s house when someone knocked at the door. I truly had no idea who it was—I was pantsing—but the scene needed a new character and the story needed to get rolling.  The person at the door turned out to be the brother of the murder victim who wanted Mick’s help.  Perfect!  Mick always helps anyone when he can.

Source: Long Live Pantsing ‹ CrimeReads