Pantsing Rules!

Pantsing. Outside of NaNo, it’s not a word you hear in the common vernacular. I looked it up on Urban Dictionary while writing this post, and the definitions you find there are not what I mean. At all.

During November, Pantsing is short for, “By the seat of my pants,” which means you’re writing your story with little to no plan, allowing your characters and plot to evolve minute by minute, word by word. (an aside: the phrase is apparently rooted in aviation history. Huh! The more you know!)

I am not a planner. I am also not a pantser. I’m a middle-of-the-road kinda guy, as previously discussed here on Confabulator. If I plan too much, I lose momentum. But if I don’t plan enough, I lose direction. So I dance down the razor’s edge between the two, and see how things turn out.

My point for this week is that when pantsing works? It’s fucking awesome. Head-explodingBill-and-Ted/Jeff Spicoli kind of awesome.Here’s my example from this year’s story:

Early, I wanted to describe digging through data in an interesting, visual way. Writing SQL queries does not exactly make for interesting fiction. The first idea that struck me was to describe things as a caver, or spelunker. So, I did. My data miners dive into caves of data, and use their spelunking tools to find interesting tidbits of information amongst the various dross of data.

Not bad.

Then I thought, how else can I visualize data? Specifically taking encrypted data and decrypting it?


The word hit me, and I typed it. Who are the Weavers? How do they work? I had no idea. Not when I typed it.

Later, it turned out the Weavers are humans that have gene-modded themselves for low-gravity environments: long, thin limbs, big eyes, thumbs-on-feet kinda thing. And their computers use fiber optic cables stretched across vast chambers. The Weavers, floating in zero-gee, constantly rearrange the fiber optic strands to produce different programs in the computer, much like the original computers. They “weave” their programs.

It’s totally ridiculous and inefficient, but who cares? The imagery is pretty cool.

With me so far?

Okay, so an overarching idea in this year’s story is that one of my original Martian settlers takes it upon himself to create huge, incredibly elaborate alien artifacts. The first is so convincingly crafted, scientists and experts completely fall for it. More artifacts are discovered, and humanity’s all: “Awesome! Totally awesome!” Some humans are so excited about the findings, they…genetically engineer themselves to look like the aliens that must’ve created the artifacts in the first place. Weavers.

Bing! Headsplosion!

Eventually, the hoax is revealed. Most people are rightfully pissed off. The Weavers, however, embrace their new forms. They even retrofit one of the fake artifacts and create a working Weaver computer.

One used by my main character to decrypt a super-secret message.

A message that might prove that her father, the hoaxer that created the fake artifacts, wasn’t responsible for all the artifacts after all.

That one artifact, in particular, might be real.


That, my friends, is the magic of pantsing.

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