Tag Archives: planning

Getting Pantsed

One of my least favorite terms used of late among writers is “pantser.”

When I was about 9 or 10, there was an annoying girl at the local swimming pool who – in the middle of a crowd of swimmers – would pull down my swim trunks while I was swimming in the deep end. “Pantser” sounds like a middle school term for such a person.

But it’s meant to capture one side of a debate about writing. “Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you outline the main points of your story before you write a scene, or do you start writing by the seat of your pants and see where it leads?”

Planning is like following directions off Google Maps. The key steps along the journey are listed, and it’s on the writer to fill in the details in between. Pantsing, to me, feels like “I know my destination is over there and I’ll get there somehow” or even “I’m going for a drive today, and I don’t care where I end up.”

Both have their merits, weaknesses, and uses. For me, outlining is the most successful method for two reasons:

First, as soon as I realize there’s a problem, I can pause my effort, brainstorm a solution, and get back on track. Going back to Google Maps, if I miss a step or take a wrong turn, I can stop and course-correct to prevent wasted effort. I don’t have to finish a full manuscript before addressing glaring errors or issues. The minute I see the “Wrong Way” sign on the side of the road, I can stop and turn around.

Second, laying out key decisions, actions, and events well in advance, which makes foreshadowing possible. I know how the external and internal conflicts are going to be resolved. As a result I can build toward a more dramatic climax in the story. I don’t have to be surprised with my characters when suddenly we reach the final battle.

The first drawback to those key qualities are a lack of spontaneity or creativity in the writing process. If suddenly an idea strikes me in writing scene A, I may not be able to include it, because of how it will impact scene B leading to scene C. At best, I would have to make some changes to the outline to incorporate this change. Pantsers get the liberty of doing whatever they want and fixing issues later.
The second drawback is that once the story is “told” in my head, it feels “written” to me. I already know how it’s all going to play out. As a result, I can lose motivation for the tedium of putting all those ideas down on paper (or word processor screen).

Still, the benefits outweigh the potential trouble. What I don’t want to do is find myself several thousand words into a story only to discover glaring flaws in the basic premise.

To me, that takes away the fun and joy, like getting lost on the way to the party, or getting pantsed in the swimming pool.

What’s your favorite method to organize your writing efforts? Are you a planner or pantser, and why do you like that approach? Maybe there’s an aspect to either side that I’m not considering. Let me know in a comment.

Set Some Goals

Tabletop Tuesday

A lot of the Air Force courses I’ve attended include lessons about the importance of setting goals in order to succeed.

Today, we’ll talk about setting goals in your tabletop game. But we’re not talking about incorporating player goals into your campaign (that will probably be another post). We’re talking about giving goals to your monsters!

Everyone needs a goal in life, even your fangorious gelatinous monster. (Okay, maybe not everyone.)

In a tabletop game, your players’ characters are probably going to spend a lot of time fighting against a host of sentient creatures. They may be not be the brightest creatures, they may be evil through and through, they may be tools of some higher villain. But they will have objectives and goals they are trying to achieve.

Make your combat about those goals instead of about the monsters themselves.

Let’s face it, the “kill everything burn everything and die trying” monster makes very little sense. Villains have their own interests, their own purposes. Usually, they have some decent or even good motive that has been twisted around or blown out of proportion into a terrible evil.

“Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet… and it’s remarkable how like an egg is the human skull.”

20120918-231733.jpg

This guy is going to have a different set of goals and plans than these two.
20120918-231717.jpg

Your villains’ minions need not line up like a Revolutionary War battle and march to their deaths in the hopes of defeating the heroes. Setting up a fight with no goal means setting up a long, drawn-out slugfest where the two sides try to bring their enemies to zero hit points. Yawn.

Give the monster team a reason to fight. You can speed up combat and you can make the combat matter to the story. Double win!

Perhaps they simply have to delay the heroes from an objective. They can capture or kill particular innocents or valuable NPCs. They can hold a position or activate some magic artifact or complete a ritual. They can make off with a critical object, or damage a strategic location.

“Good job, heroes… you slew fifty goblins but failed to stop the saboteur who destroyed the bridge. Now our army is stuck on this side of the river while the city is under attack.”

When you do this, mindless evil can have a place in such a setting. It stands out precisely because it has no plan, no motive, no ‘higher’ purpose than carnage and destruction. It can be the enemy that simply has to be brought to zero health, something that has to be put down. And then that combat goal tells a story different from all the others, instead of every combat feeling exactly the same.

So, what does the big bad evil guy (or girl, or gelatinous monster) want? Give your villains some goals. Your heroes will thank you for it.