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Novel Writing Methods #1: The Seat of your Pants

Updated on March 6, 2012

By the Seat of your Pants? Really?

What a weird phrase to use when talking about novel writing. However, any writer's group is likely to sooner or later hear the word 'pantser'.

It doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing, but it actually does. A 'pantser' is a writer who sits down and writes a novel, start to finish, as fast as possible without stopping. The pantser does minimal planning in advance and simply writes the words without regard for plot, continuity or quality.

Then, once she has her first draft, she goes back and turns it into a decent novel.

Advantages of this Method

1. The draft is done quickly. A pantser can turn out a novel draft in a month or two.

2. There is no prep work. Somebody who writes by this method often can literally just sit down and write. However, this is not true for far future science fiction or secondary world fantasy, where even the most dedicated pantser will find she has to do some worldbuilding in advance.

3. There is no risk of becoming bogged down in editing and ending up not finishing the novel at all. This method is strongly recommended for writers who, left to themselves, are likely to end up writing thirty chapter ones.

Disadvantages of this Method

1. The finished draft will require a lot of editing. The pantser has to go back and write a synopsis, move scenes around and fix character inconsistencies. It's not uncommon to revisit a novel three or four times with this method, sometimes several months apart to allow it to be fresh.

2. The pantser is prone to Great Sticky Middle Syndrome. Sitting there staring at the middle of the novel without knowing quite how to get to the end is common. Alternatively, getting lost in digressions and possibly writing thousands of words that end up unrelated to the novel itself is also a hazard of this method.

3. The novel may end up the wrong length. Salable novels average 90k words for most genres and 110-120k for fantasy. A 60k novel is not going to be salable, but a pantser may end up with one as she hasn't planned out the story. This then ends up with even more rewriting to get the novel to the right length. (Self publishers may, of course, decide to take a risk on that 60k novel, but most mainstream publishers and agents will not take something smaller than 80k or larger than 140k).

4. Some writers may feel that when the draft is finished they are finished and find going back to it very hard. (If you have this problem, I will talk about a good method for you later in this series).


The sort of person who should use the pantser method is the writer who feels that the story is done prematurely if they outline it. Also, if you enjoy doing NaNoWriMo, this is the method for you, as long as you also enjoy the editing work that comes afterwards.

Other hubs in this series:

The Light Outline.

The Heavy Outline.

The Koontz Method.


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    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

      This is a good hub! I can see some advantages in "seat of your pants" writing. I think it could work for me. But, I think I would apply this to a draft outline. I have never been taught to write and am looking forward to the next in your series.

      Thanks: up and awesome.


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