How Pantsing Makes Revising Harder than It Needs to Be

That’s right, I said it. My semi-pantser model of writing the early drafts of WoEM has become a bit of an annoyance. I think I have been converted to a planner.

Now that I’m well into of my revisions — in the final third of my story — my somewhat free-wheeling outline style has come back to bite me.

Luckily, I found a somewhat easy way to fix it… and avoid it in the future.

As I wrote The Warden of Everfeld: Memento, I always had a general idea of where the next few sections were going. I would lay out a very basic outline indicating the character point-of-view I wanted to use, the main beats of their section, and what the conflict would be.

So I didn’t completely fly by the seat of my pants. I more picked a direction and then let myself go.

And I still got in trouble with my editor:

These sentences are bouncing between times: morning, last night, morning, night.  A little confusing, so I added a transition, but it may need some reworking.

^^^Actual comment in the margins of one page, and it’s quite similar to other such comments left on several pages, usually at the start of new sections or chapters.

The problem was, I would try to jump ahead in the timeline a little bit to up the narrative pacing, but then would go back and have the character reflect on events that had transpired in between. So I ended up jumping timelines a lot, moving between past and present events within paragraphs.

This made sense to me in my head, because I thought it was a natural train of thought for the character. But it was confusing for the reader (my editor), so something obviously had to be done.

How to Fix and Avoid Narrative Time Jumps

Each time I encountered a section that jumped between past and present like this, I first read through it to see at what point the narrative placed the reader firmly in the present.

After that, it was a not-too-complicated process of re-ordering sections so that they followed the narrative in a linear fashion.

Now, this structure works well when there are only a few paragraphs of reflection or previous events to cover before planting the character’s feet in the present scene. If your description of past events drags on for multiple pages, you might want to consider writing those events out as a fully formed scene.

For writing future sections, I’ll need to do a better job of planning. Throwing your character and reader into a new scene with little reflection on the ones preceding it can be jarring (in a good way) and can really increase the pace of your narrative. Just make sure you’re not constantly looking behind you at whatever transpired in between.

Instead of having a general idea of where each section is going, I want to lay out the beats of the scene, so that I don’t run into a confusing back-and-forth issue in my revisions.

The pantser in me is slowly being whittled away by the editing pen. We’ll see if he returns while I’m writing my next first draft.

Steve D

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