PANTSING A SERIES
Last week I talked about planning a series (piece found here) and this week I decided to do the other side of the coin, talking about pantsing one. For those who don't know the terms, planners will plan an outline their stories before they start writing and pantsers (or discovery writers) will make it up as the go along with no outline. Those who fall in the middle are called plantsers, of which I am one.
I've written a number of series, and I've always been someone who falls, again, in the middle, in that sometimes I will plan and outline the series as a whole and other times I just write and see where the story takes me. Like right now I'm working on two series, one a trilogy, the other an unknown, and both were not planned. I kinda had the idea for a sequel of the trilogy one while writing the first book, and then it snowballed from there. With the other series, I've not planned that either, again I knew it had series potential, but only once I was writing did I start to put the pieces together.
So what are the pros and cons for pantsing a series? How does it help? Does it make it harder for the writer? Glad you asked, because I'm going to give you some answers to those questions with some pros and cons and see where we end up.
PRO #1 YOU DON'T HAVE TO PLAN
This might seem like an obvious one, and it also might seem a little obnoxious, but it's also true. A lot of the writing world kinda sends the message that outlining and planning is the only way to write a book, and that's just not true. While you can go into a story with just the bare bones, the same can be said for series as well. You don't have to sit down and work out each story beat for each book, you can literally have an idea and see where it takes you.
CON #1 IT'S HARDER TO REVISE
Again, I'm not just going to be talking about the drafting process. The truth is that it's hard to revise not just a book, but a whole series, when you didn't start out with some idea of where the series was going, what was going to happen, and how it would all work out to fit together. While writing one of my trilogies, I was sure that things would happen in a certain way, and yet now, writing the final book, I know there are gonna be a lot of revisions because I've discovered things about my characters and the world, that I didn't know at the start and so they need to be worked through the first and second book.
PRO #2 YOU CAN GET TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS/ARCS AS YOU WRITE
This might seem like a con for some people, but it's not for me. I've never been one that wants to sit down and write out massive character sheets, or work out the arcs ahead of time. I much prefer having a vague idea of where the ending is, without me needing to know everything about it. I know that my characters will go through arcs, they will change and grow, things will happen in-between that first story and throughout the whole series up to the very end, and I have the chance to learn new things, and find new ways to tell this story.
CON #2 YOU MIGHT END UP WITH LOTS OF INFO-DUMPING
This is a problem for all writers, especially when it comes to that first or zero draft. No matter how much you plan, there are gonna be some parts of the story where you feel like this thing you just thought of was really important and so you spend a while weaving it in, but in actuality you're info dumping something that has no place in the book at all. Yes, as a writer you should know more than the reader will about the story, the background, the characters and all of that, but that doesn't mean you need to add it in thick chunks of text that add nothing to the story itself. I find this happens to me more when I haven't planned the series, because I end up thinking up cool things, writing them into the characters thoughts and then either never mentioning it again, or taking it out when it comes to revisions.
PRO #3 SOMETIMES YOU DISCOVER MORE STORY TO SHARE
I found this while writing what I thought was a duo, became a trilogy and finally ended up a quartet. I know that it's going to need extensive revisions, but at the same time, if I'd planned out the story, and the series as a whole, I don't think I'd have discovered the parts of it that came to me while drafting. It's happened to me before as well, with the Lights Out trilogy, where I started writing what I thought was a standalone and ended up with my first trilogy. This can be a great thing to discover and it's one thing I love about pantsing a series!
CON #3 OTHER TIMES YOU GO OFF ON A TANGENT THAT'S NOT RELEVANT
This is linked to the above pro, in that while you can find more story, you can also end up taking your book and series down a road that leads to nowhere. Yes you can revise and such, but sometimes it can be that you don't realise that plot point doesn't work until books later, and then you're pretty much in a big mess. It's not happened to me, but I do know of other writers where they've pantsed a story and ended up having to cut out whole books.
So there we go, those are my three pros and cons when it comes to pantsing a series. At the end of the day, you have to find what works for you, and go from there. I do a mix of the two, with some series I will plan and outline the series as a whole, with others, I go in with no plans and just the idea that this story might turn into a series. A lot of writing advice is about finding things that add to your writing toolbox and not worrying too much about whether other people do things the same way as you do.
Every writer is different and it's okay if your way of doing things isn't the same as everyone else. It's part of being a writer and it's completely okay to experiment and find a way that works for you.
Any questions? Lemme know in the comments below!
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