From Scratch – Part 3: Pantsing It

Previously on From Scratch, I managed to avoid making a decision on which story idea I wanted to go with, and instead decided to write both!

I’ve since worked a whole bunch on my still-as-yet-untitled sci-fi story of space pirates hijacking holy water, and I’m very happy with how the first draft is coming, even though I’m already over the maximum word count despite probably only being 3/4 of the way there.  Even better, I’m reasonably sure I’ve got a tonne of stuff to remove, and that I’m going to have to insert a bunch more into the early parts of the story to plant enough seeds for the later plot points to pay off (once I’ve confirmed what those are!).

Does all of this sound kind of chaotic? It is! That’s because I, with this particular story, decided to go back to where I began as a writer:

I decided to pants it.

There is a writing methodology that is all about the meticulous planning: the author writes a short overall plot description (like my earlier pitches), expands this out into, say, a page or two of plot summary hitting the key points, and then expands this out in turn to be a chapter by chapter or scene by scene summary forming a novel framework.  In the case of a short story, you’d generally not go further than the page or two of summary, although you might go further down the rabbit hole with detail there if the story was particularly complex. Obviously, this is a broad guidelines – it varies by author or project, but the key rule is taking a structured, planned approach toward your work, giving you a framework where you are essentially “filling in the gaps” until the story is done.

That is the literal opposite of what I’m doing.

Instead, I decided to write by the seat of my pants.  This has traditionally been my chosen method of writing, with the end result being a whole bunch of partially completed projects and relatively few finished ones.  Basically, I sit down with an idea, and just write.  As the words come out, the skeleton of a plot starts to form, and I can organically respond to it, following it to a conclusion.

With my new story, this has actually been working really well.  I have an idea of how I want it to end, and I’m enjoying exploring the different ways of getting there, even as I rapidly realise there’s whole chunks I’ll need to rewrite.

A lot of people I speak to about writing are blown away by idea of drafting and redrafting.  The idea that you can type the last word and know that you’re probably only a quarter of the way there (if that) frustrates a lot of people, never mind the utterly alien concept of handing said work over to someone else to read and dissect and send you back to rework whole chunks of the story.

This is a necessary process for all writing styles, but it is particularly so when writing without a solid plan.  As someone without an artistic bone in my body, I’ll nonetheless liken it to my probably misconception of sculpting. I have the roughest of designs in mind. I get the base structure into place and begin to visualise where it will end up, and then I chip away until I get there in the end.

This story is taking shape so far, and I am actually feeling pretty confident it’ll be something decent in the end.

With that in mind, here’s the intro to the story – again, this is the first draft. It’s probably garbage, is subject to change, read it at your own peril, etc, etc:

The sky was the dull sheen of gunmetal, mirrored perfectly by the ocean. The four fighters of Corsair squadron skimmed above the water, leaving chaos in their wake.

The query from Holy Ter City flight control stabbed again in Ayla’s mind – most chip communications were not intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for emergency refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. ‘Landing pad eighteen in Ter City West. Deviate and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being cobalt or any other shade of blue.  Every single thing about this damn mission was lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, current revolutionary, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and decided to keep her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the smoked glass surface of the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

More about the story itself…next time, on From Scratch.