A Pantser Reformed (sort of)

I’ve been a writer since I could remember, spinning tales in my mind and letting them spill across the paper like an overfilled fountain.  That worked fine for short stories, college essays, and op-ed pieces for the local city paper, it didn’t work so well for 100k novels.  When I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, my plot wandered, infodump filled the pages, and the pacing stalled at critical points.  Writing that novel was therapy for me, it allowed me to empty the contents of my imagination and let my characters develop as I wrote.  When I finally penned “the end” though, I had a mess.  The re-writes were painful.  I had to delete entire chapters, add in thousands of words to support the plot framework.  I’m thrilled with what I finally put to press, but it bears little resemblance to what I’d first churned out. 

My process was terribly inefficient – like taking a fifty foot oak tree and whittling it down to create one toothpick. I found myself exhausted, unable to continue with a style that left me basically writing three novels just to end up with one.  Stream of consciousness writing sounds so liberating and free-love, but reality was far from that ideal of an artist channeling her muse.  How could I let my imagination flow, let my characters steer their own destiny, but still have the structure, pacing, and plot complexities that I wanted?  There had to be a middle ground between stodgy old plotter and incomprehensible pantser.

I tried using a rough outline, but still wound up with a daunting number of revisions to hone my first draft.  For my current work-in-progress, I wrote my usual rough outline - conflict, climax, resolution, then added in secondary plot elements, and character development. I envisioned it all in my mind, like a dance, and shuffled things around until I felt the tempo smooth out and build to a crescendo where I wanted.  Seeing it like this allowed me to notice holes and inconsistencies that I needed to address – hopefully in the first draft rather than in the third revision.  From winging it, to rough outline, to detailed chapter-by-chapter outline with a list of beats and key plot points.  What?  Has the pantser seen the light?  Have I become a plotter?

Well. . . not yet.  Surprises happen when writing.  A bad guy has a good streak, or a heroine spurns the planned love interest.  Should I rein them in, scold the whole lot and make them walk my outline’s generous path?  There’s no right answer, except to do whatever needs to happen to produce a great book.  Sometimes it’s holding to the original outline with a firm hand.  

Sometimes it’s burning the outline and creating a whole new one from scratch.  Sometimes it’s finding a middle ground.  Whichever path I choose, I know I can’t go back to the extreme pantser method I began with- the one where my characters ramble all over the world just to visit the corner market.  We’ll see how this new process works out for me, and maybe by next year I’ll have a flow chart and index cards to complete my transformation.

Debra Dunbar lives on a farm in the northeast United States with her husband, three boys, and a Noah’s ark of four legged family members.  Her urban fantasy novels feature supernatural elements in local settings. In addition to A DEMON BOUND, SATAN’S SWORD, and ELVEN BLOOD, she has also published a short story erotica series titled NAUGHTY MOM.  Connect with her on Twitter @debra_dunbar on Facebook at debradunbarauthor, and on her website at http://debradunbar.com 

A DEMON BOUND:  http://amzn.to/MK6nxD

SATAN’S SWORD:  http://amzn.to/Tsi1Wr

Debra will be awarding an e-book copy of A DEMON BOUND (book 1 in the Imp Series) to a randomly drawn commenter at every stop, and a grand prize of a Kindle Fire with an ELVEN BLOOD book cover skin to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour (US ONLY) so I e
ncourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:


  1. Thanks for having me today!

  2. Thanks for sharing about your writing process

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  3. An interesting insight into your process. I've read and re-read all of the IMP series books, and I see a transformation from A Demon Bound to Elven Blood as if the beats are stronger now. I'm not a writer, but I do love me a good book.

  4. Ha Debra! Don't worry! I was (am) the same way!! It is terribly ineffiecent...but I still haven't found the will power to change. Oh well...maybe eventually!

    andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

  5. Thanks for the chance to win! Such an awesome tour, book, and prize!!!

    hense1kk (at) cmich (dot) edu

  6. An interesting insight. I have similar problems when trying to write papers and such. I have to just ramble on paper basically and then flesh it out and edit, etc.



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