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Tips for Character-Driven Pantsers

Updated: May 11

There's no right or wrong way to write - we all work differently, value different aspects of story, and are aiming for different outcomes. That's why I've identified four writer types and will be teaching you how to play to your individual strengths. Not all writing advice works for all people, but if you can identify your writer type, this can greatly help in guiding you towards being a better writer.


First, take the quiz to find out if you're character- or plot-driven, and if you're a plotter or pantser!


If you're still here, you're probably a character-driven pantser, but you can find blog posts for the other three types here:


What's a character-driven pantser?

Pantsers enjoy writing intuitively and 'flying by the seat of their pants', but that doesn't mean they don't use any outlining techniques. As a character-driven pantser, you're more interested in following your characters and what they would realistically do than forcing them into a detailed plot.


So, here are three tips for you to write better as a Character-Driven Pantser!



 

1. Create a detailed character information sheet

It's very difficult to pants a character-driven novel without a strong character leading the way, so character-driven pantsers need to detail in-depth characters more than any other type. This should be easy, because as a character-driven writer, you're likely already in this mindset!


A story that is less heavy on external plot needs to have a strong main character who drives the story and has a clear internal arc. The character must have agency, moving and making decisions, rather than being thrown around by external circumstances alone. Otherwise the story can become very lost, with no focus, and therefore no reason for the reader to want to read it.


To make sure your characters stay clear, engaging, relatable, and don't let lost as you write, create a detailed character information sheet. This should include everything from their physical appearance, to personality, to background, likes/dislikes, goals, relationships, and mannerisms. You should also create a timeline as you go, of the character's internal and external arcs, that you can come back to.


You can use a document or spreadsheet for your character information sheet. My print-at-home Character Building Worksheet is available on Etsy.



2. Clarify the character's internal arc

Character-driven stories aren't just about the adventure your character is thrown on - they're about how your character changes throughout the story. What's the big lesson they learn?


Your main character should finish the book with a different mindset to how they started. This is what we call character development. Without this internal arc, readers will find it difficult to root for your main character. (Which is also true of plot-driven stories, but is especially important if the story doesn't have much external plot happening.)


For character-driven pantsers, the plot is mostly happening inside. Rather than an adventure with a clear endpoint, or a mystery to be solved with clues interspersed precisely through the story, a character-driven pantser's novel focuses on how the character changes as external events occur.


So, as part of your character information sheet, you should track how the character changes. This includes how the writing needs to change as the story goes: if your MC is shy, and they hunch their shoulders and bite their nails, but become more confident throughout the story, those mannerisms have to be replaced. You may even chose to create two information sheets - one for the character at the beginning of the story, and one for the character at the end.


Before you start writing, also consider what types of external conflicts you can throw at your character to encourage this growth. You don't necessarily have to outline the whole story (you're a pantser after all) but you should know how your character starts and finishes, and therefore how you can get them from A to B. (Even if that's only a vague idea while you're writing the first draft!)


3. Keep a chapter log as you write

When you finish a pantsed story, you can reach the end and not have a very clear idea of everything that happened. This means that when it comes to editing, you aren't sure where to start, because you can't remember most of the plot.


While a character information sheet details the character, a chapter log details each scene. You should complete this log as you finish writing each chapter. (I'm a character-driven plotter, and even I do this. I think everyone should, but it's most important for pantsers.)


I use an excel spreadsheet with rows for each chapter, and columns for the following: date/time, place, scene (what happens), subplots, main character notes (their thoughts/feelings/internal journey), other characters in the scene, word count, and edits or notes that I should come back to later.


You might choose to keep track of more/less, depending on your style! Don't worry, I'll be putting my chapter log Excel template up on Etsy soon. If I get enough interest, I'll do this faster, so head to my socials and let me know.


 

Want more? Head to my shop and use code AWSOCIALS20 for 20% off my writing worksheets!

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