Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 22: Flying – By the Seat of Your Pants

Welcome back! Over the next several more months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-two:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 22: Flying – By the Seat of Your Pants

My husband and I have major differences when it comes to attacking a project. He’s the plan-and-research guy. I’m the gal who starts right away and screeches to a halt in the middle of the mess to realize that I don’t know where I am or how I got there.

In the world of book-writing, these two approaches are generally labeled as Planner (or Plotter) versus Pantster. Pantster refers to”flying by the seat of your pants.” I’m a Planner with my research, which I define, lay out, and adamantly pursue. I also get to know my characters very well before I write their “stories.” However, when it comes to writing the story, I’m pretty much a Pantster. I love the creativity and freedom writing as a Pantster engenders.

IMG_05431(I AM glad my husband is a Planner, because he is also a pilot, and I DO NOT want my pilot to fly by the seat of his pants!)

If you are a Planner, you’re probably doing just fine with your first draft. You’re following your outline and you’re staying on track.

If you are, like me, a Pantster, you may have followed your creative urges and pushed your novel into an entirely different – or new and improved – plotline. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it may include painting yourself into a corner. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve spent a lot of time in that corner!

Experience has taught me a few tricks about agilely exiting from corners without ruining a great paint job (i.e., your new and improved plot line.)

1. Don’t get discouraged. Writing is hard work, especially first and second draft writing. Everyone needs to reread and edit, even Planners.

2. If you’re stuck, go back to the beginning of your novel and read what you’ve written. As you read, jot down the ideas, main characters, and developments in each chapter. Use only a few sentences per chapter.

3. When a chapter veers off in strange, unproductive directions (It doesn’t advance the plot.), note that, but don’t stop to rewrite at this point.

4. Read until you think your novel has reached the “Great Desert of Hopelessness.”

5. Stop.

6. Contemplate. Where do you want to go? If you don’t have the end of your novel rattling around in your head somewhere, this is the time to formulate your last chapter.

7. Write the last chapter. You will likely change this, but for now, in this painted-into-the-corner moment, it gives you a goal.

8. Again start at the beginning of your novel, and this time jot down any “travel” notes beside your chapter notes. How do you need to change this chapter to eventually arrive at your last chapter?

9. Rewrite. Don’t spend a lot of angst on wording or those bits of minor research you haven’t completed. You’ll have time for that later. Now is when you get the plot back on track. Don’t be afraid to cut bad chapters or rotten paragraphs.

10. When you’ve finished rewriting to your satisfaction, jot down where you’re going with the next series of chapters. I know that sounds like Planning, but it’s really only Reminding.

If you’re like me, you may need to repeat these steps more than once during the first draft, but it’s worth the effort! Keep writing!

Question for you: Are you a Planner or a Pantster? (Not only with writing, but in life, too!)

Strength to your pen!


*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back December 18, 2014, for part 23. (Note the change in schedule for that month due to Christmas.)


3 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 22: Flying – By the Seat of Your Pants

  1. I am pantster and have painted myself into a corner on a few occasions. This advice certainly will help. Thanks from one pantster to another!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. *super enlightenment* It’s all become so clear now! 😉 Thank you! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Erik and Darlene, It seems to me that we writers who fall into the “Pantster” category outnumber the planners. Ah well, creativity has its down side. (But isn’t it fun to just WRITE and let the muse lead!!)


I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

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