Put Your Shirt On Panster!

A week or so ago I took a great on-line class on writing a query letter. The instruction was fundamental and foundational. That may sound like a repetitive description but there are nuances that distinguish one from the other, at least in my mind. Fundamental, meaning basic principles, elementary concepts, easy to understand. Foundational however in the sense of it being the bedrock on which a query letter can be built. If you don’t start with these points in place, the end result will collapse into rejection.

I’m a Panster writer which means I know the general beginning of a story, maybe just an idea or a little of a character, a direction to go in and a hint of an ending. It is seriously fun to write this way and seriously difficult and inefficient to produce a market ready end product.
Did I say product? Yes people, may we never forget we are creating to produce, to make something that adds value to a reader’s life. Otherwise, we’re just playing in the sand box, building away, meanwhile at any moment it could crumble into nothing.

Back to the point, the class, which boiled down to the basics that are taught in every good ‘how to write a novel’ course. Know your character(current state), what happens to that character that causes a problem (inciting event), what problem or choice does the character now have to make(the stakes).
Every story, regardless if it is displayed on illustrated storyboards across the living room wall or scrawled on ten college ruled notepads tied with a ribbon, need these basic elements.

So Panster my challenge to you is not to thwart your wild, plot propagating freedom but after the dust settles (or maybe the dust bunnies in that three day old cup of coffee on your desk) rein it in just a bit. Take that kaleidoscopic work of art and find in it the structure that every successful and agent appealing story has. Where’s your character at in the beginning? What messes or shifts to change that? What new paradox, inner conflict or dilemma does that bring? Write it out. Sounds a lot like an outline but guess what, you’re going to learn if your draft is truly ready to share, you’ll be able to roll this mini outline off like it was the spelling of your own name.

If you can’t, then the Panster method is not working for you because your end product is like a story told while under water. Sure all the words are there, and maybe the tone says something but who really knows what it means? I speak from experience. Condensing a novel into three lines, then three paragraphs and then a page, forces the story into the structure. It can be destructive as pieces break off that don’t support the magnified premise. I found both hidden depth in my character and weaknesses. The book will be better by applying the scaffolding of an outline around the swirling, dizziness of inking a novel in full Panster mode.

Write on! It’s all good!

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