Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pantser and Proud of it

By Lisa Langtry

JH: I always love when I have a guest pantser on How They Do It because I'm an outliner. It's fun to see how the other half lives, and even helps me with the more spontaneous side of my own writing. Today, we have Leslie Langtry, who writes about one of my favorite things. Assassins. (and does it with the best song spoof titles)

Leslie lives in the midwest with her husband (not an assassin), kids (not assassins), and dogs/cats/guineapigs (also, not assassins). While she has actually been asked if she has assassins in her family tree - alas, she does not. She does, however, enjoy writing about them and will continue the Bombay Family of Assassins Saga with PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHTS, a novella due out in August.

Take it away Leslie...

My Name Is Leslie...And I'm a Pantser.

Maybe we need a 12 step group for that. All I know is that it's impossible for me to plan out a book before writing it. Try as I might, I struggle with the idea of outlining. It's a problem that makes it tough for me to submit a complete synopsis for a proposal.

I have friends who are Outliners. And once, Sophia Nash told me she's a mix - a Pantyliner (her exact word), if you will. I'd rather be an Outliner. I've even tried NOT being a Pantser. But it's no use. As Lady Gaga would say, "I was born this way."

When I sit down to write a book, I usually have a basic idea to get started. This idea most likely came in a dream, although sometimes it comes in the shower. Anyway, I'll use my first book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, as an example. I was working on a completely different book when I had this dream about a soccer mom who is in the family business, which is assassination. She introduced herself as Gin Bombay, and told me it was tough juggling making 4 dozen cookies for the PTA Halloween party and killing the bad guy terrorist next door on contract. This was all I had to go on. And since Gin wouldn't shut up until I opened my laptop, I knocked out the first chapter in one hour.

The rest of the book sort of unfolded as I wrote it - a process I delighted in because it was like I was reading the book too. I was stunned to learn that the Bombay Family was the first name in assassination since 2,000 BCE, and that they had the tradition of giving each other place names, hence Gin is really Virginia. I didn't even know until near the end who the bad guy was.

While some would call this schizophrenic...weird...or downright insane, it kept my interest in the book I was writing going until I wrote the last page. It made writing fun! As a result, this was the first book I wrote that was bought and published. Maybe it comes from the fact that I'm a reader. I read every day. There is nothing more exciting to me than turning the pages to a really engaging book. And writing a book has always felt the same way.

Of course, the publisher wanted me to write another book in the series - and I was thrilled. She didn't even ask for a synopsis. She just asked me to make the next book about Gin's brother, Dakota. I wrote that book in five months, and turned it in whole. My editor read it and said, "Wow, I've never seen a romance written in first person voice of the hero!" She proceeded to tell me how unusual that was. I was greatful she didn't tell me not to do that or even that there was a rule about it. My publisher requested a third book and we went through the same process. Everybody was happy.

Until the fourth book. For the fourth book, she wanted a synopsis up front. That was the hardest book I ever wrote. I still enjoyed it, but knowing what was going to happen kind of dampened my enthusiasm for finishing it. People loved it, and I did too, don't get me wrong. But it was like waking my kids for school in the morning. And no, I’m not exaggerating…it was THAT bad.

After that, I submitted a couple proposals to my agent. She wanted a more detailed synopsis for each of these. I struggled with that. Part of the fun for me was the discovery along the way.

The current project is a mix. I’ve somehow managed to put together a skeletal outline to make any agent happy without compromising my enjoyment of writing. So far, it’s going well. I’ve only changed the direction four times, but I’m allowing myself to do that if that’s where the book goes. I find I can still insert subplots at the last second. I just did that with an assassin novella I’m working on. Somehow, that instantaneous scene has made it easier.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that while it’s okay to be an Outliner or a Pantser – it’s far more productive to mix the two. How you do it, is up to you.


  1. Pantyliner! Gah--I love it! :D I'm a died in the wool panther myself and I sympathize with the dread of writing a synopsis first. Your books sound fantastic either way. :)

  2. Hahahahaha Pantyliner!! I can't do outlines either. I do make copious (and I mean COPIOUS) notes before I start, but I can't work from an outline. It takes all the spontaneity out of it. When I wrote my last novel (which will be my first published one) I didn't know how to bring down the bad guy. I was stuck for a couple of days until inspiration struck. And I will actually be changing that ending now. With my current WIP, I have no idea how I'm going to get from the beginning to the end. I know who the bad guy is and that I've got to bring him down somehow but I really don't know how. And I don't know what will happen in between now and then. Still, it'll sort itself out in the end. Thanks for being so open about your process!

  3. Pantyliner is Sophia Nash's word and I wish I'd thought of that!

    It's so great to know there are others out there like me!

  4. I really needed to read this. I'm trying to write my first novel right now and I rocked out the first 40K words without any plan at all during a NaNoWriMo event. Since then, I've barely touched it because I got myself stuck on needing to get organized. I beat myself up for not writing an outline or even figuring out the ending. It's great to know that it's ok (and can be successful!) to write the story as it unfolds. Thanks!

  5. It's totally ok. You tell whoever that you have my permission!

  6. I write with no net also. Outlining kills my creativity. There is nothing like writing up to an important moment and not knowing where it will go. Love it:)

  7. Pantyliner! How funny! I prefer to call myself a hybrid, but I lean heavily toward pantser. I teased one of my outliner friends that I can get a novel written in the length of time it takes her to outline, and while she's writing hers, I can polish mine. If we could keep all other factors equal, I'd bet each of us could put out a salable book in the same amount of time.

  8. I like that! Hybrid, writing without a net - all true! I have friends who write 30 page outlines. Then, they just flesh out the book. That would get old for me.

  9. I'm definitely an outliner, but I do get that "pantser's high" when I am writing my summary outline. It's basically writing a synopsis of the scenes from start to finish.

    Always enjoy hearing how others write. :)

    Pantyliners - ha!

  10. How great to see that there are successful pantsers out there who finish a project! Like you, I dread an outline; the idea of thinking it all up usually just overwhelms me. I do, however, start to outline halfway through, just because I tend to lose the thread of things if I don't.

  11. Pantsing is awesome! Until you get to revisions............

  12. Being a guy I am hesitant to call myself a Pantyliner (although that is the funniest term I've ever heard for this). Let's say "hybrid". I outline and "board" the idea (the plotter) and then pants the scenes within the structure. The outline is there to keep me on track, give the scene direction and purpose while allowing the scene to play out organically. Having the outline also helps in revisions because it is easy to spot where I drifted off target.

    So what is a Pantyliner for guys? Will have to think on that one :)

  13. I'd like to know Leslie, why your publisher and agent suddenly started asking for a synopsis. It seemed like you were all onto such a good thing.

  14. I'd probably be a Pantyliner (hehe).

    And now I have to see if my library has your series. That sounds great!