Saturday, March 26, 2011

Adventuring: My Version of Pantsing

By Kerry SchaferThe Big Idea

For me, any piece of writing starts with an idea. It's usually a big and wonderful idea that seems brilliant at the time. And with every new idea, as though I hadn't learned anything from the last episode, I embark on the new adventure with more enthusiasm than sense. It's the same sort of concept as when, in real life, your big brother comes home and says something like, "Hey, why don't we do that Bowron Lake Canoe Trip?"

Immediately I'm in. The beauty of the scenery. The adventure! The freedom! The FUN! Where could one possibly go wrong with the concept of 120 miles of lakes and rivers, a canoe, a tent, a sleeping bag and basic food items?


The next question is, of course, who is going? What characters are involved? Can we co-exist peacefully with these people out in the wilderness? Can we trust them not to tip our canoe, are they competent enough not to go round and round in circles once they hit the water, will they be whiny or grumpy or pleasant to be with?

Important lesson: you never really know somebody until you've spent five days with them in the wilderness - days that include endless rain, mosquitoes, bears and maybe even tipping a canoe. Oh - and let's not forget the cold nights and the pseudo outhouses without doors. Even people you've been around for years will surprise you with unexpected quirks of character.


Once you're out there in the middle of the wilderness, stuff happens. Different people react to the stuff that happens in different ways. This is where character development occurs, where you begin to notice that an easy going individual likes to get up at 4 o'clock in the freaking morning and thinks everybody else should do the same. That somebody else has a talent for catching fish, or creating windsails out of a paddle and a jacket.


Going back is out of the question, because rivers only flow one way and by the time you've reached the end of day one, you're pretty much committed to complete the circuit.

It's hard work in places. Your arms get tired from the endless paddling. Muscles you never knew you had in your neck and shoulders begin to protest bitterly. As if that's not bad enough, sometimes the water is so dangerous you have to actually get out and carry the damned canoe. And the backpack.

Sometimes it's misty and you can't see very far ahead of you and you just have to trust that you're still paddling in the right direction, and not going around and around in circles.

And sometimes it's so unbelievably beautiful that you can't quite believe it's all real, and not some amazing dream. Everything else from the 'real world' falls away, and all that exists is the spectacular scenery, the incredible stillness, and the camaraderie that develops only under conditions such as this.

Different people do this trip in different ways. Some plan out every day - where they will stop to eat, where they hope to camp every night. Our planning was much more informal. We calculated how many days we had available to us, and estimated approximately how far we had to get every day to make that happen. We planned out meals for that many days. We made sure we were equipped to deal with anything that could reasonably be expected to happen. And then we got into the canoe and figured out the rest as we paddled along.

This is as close as I can get to describing the way I write. It's a process sometimes miserable, often lovely, and always an adventure.


  1. What an excellent analogy and an awesome post. =o)

  2. I agree with B.E.

    "...pseudo outhouses without doors. Even people you've been around for years will surprise you with unexpected quirks of character."

    ~wipes tears from eyes~

    Yes!! And once a character reveals that quirk, you've gotta decide how to deal with that new bit of possibly-unwanted info.

  3. Wonderful analogy. With my writing I'm still figuring out a good pants v plan balance. Part of the joy of writing is discovering those details about ones characters.

  4. Note that I resisted the temptation to include the possibility of getting lost and dying in the wilderness: drowned, eaten by bears, or simply starving to death.

    Claire - I'm struggling with that balance too.

  5. Oh, and KAK - so glad I could make you laugh. That made me happy. :) re: the unexpected quirks - that is absolutely a problem with book characters. They persist in having traits that complicate the writing, have you noticed?

  6. I love this image for setting off into a story...granted, at the moment in mine, I feel like I'm trapped inside the tent in a torrential downpour while the grizzlies sniff around outside.

  7. This is an awesome way of looking at writing. I love it! So many different way to go...and so many options open. (And yes, sometimes there is no way back if you take the wrong turn...but that's part of the fun!)