I’m steadily working on not being a pantser anymore. Though there are still things I’m pantsing (Faylinn’s Chronicles being one of them) I realize that a lot of my time in writing is being effected by the debilitating process of having to stop mid writing to go back and remember what someone’s name was, research a historical something, make up a religion, tribe of people or whatever. When you’re in that groove (and you writers know what I’m talking about) cutting it off to look up what you called the Main Character’s neighbor’s dog five chapters back is like hitting a speed bump going seventy. It’s jarring, somewhat painful and there’s a good chance you just damaged something.
In this case, you’d have damaged that flow of words, ideas, imaginations. That sweet spot that we writers crave, where everything just kinda comes together in the cosmos and we crank out a thousand words without even blinking, becomes bruised fruit. It limits the imaginative flow. I’m working on this because I don’t like it.
I read an article this week about things you should never do in epic fantasy. Here is where pantsing can get you in trouble. The story I’m writing for NaNoWriMo is a fantasy and some of the things my characters are doing are because of the tips here. My Hero? Well, he’s going to have to work his ass off for that sword he needs so he can sell his skills in the King’s Army because swords are expensive to make. My Heroine? Well, she’s an orphan with no money who gets a position training as a Lady’s maid, except they’re treating her more like a slave and guess what? She doesn’t have the money to send a messenger with a letter to her Uncle to get her out. And if she just left? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish she’s thinking isn’t smelling too good. The Devil you know and all that.
There are real economic issues that need to be addressed, things that can add a lot of flavor to writing when you have planned out and understand them. If we visited a home where they had lush fabrics hanging from every wall, we can deduce from the fact that our Heroine comes from a culture that hand makes each bolt of fabric, that she understands that this is an extremely wealthy person’s home. One that has very little fabric and mends everything is probably fairly poor. If there has been a trend toward certain carvings (read the Meme post for more on using cultural trends in writing) that happened many decades ago and we visit a home that has these types of furnishings kept in pristine condition, we might be able to use that to determine that perhaps this person has been wealthy at one point but isn’t any longer, maybe they just prize well crafted things and are not wasteful. Or maybe the carvings remind our Hero/ine of home and we go into a few paragraphs of longing or reminiscence.
There is a lot of good that can come from figuring this out before hand.
I also researched some map making stuff and stumbled upon this fantastic article regarding map making and world building based on that map. The exercises are quite fantastic. It’s really interesting to delve into the socioeconomic structure of a place you’ve just made up. I have a city (really a small town) called Boe on an secluded mountainous island. It’s named after the animals they famously raise, that’s kinda between a goat and a llama. They also have a thriving ship building business using the hard scrub pines that grow exclusively in their environment and use them to trade for the foods they can’t grow in their soil (which is comprised of sugar sand and holds no mineral/nutrient value).
No one never needs to see the map (but I’ll share mine with you, I tried to clean it up a bit), it can be just for your own use in visualization or you could add it in the front of the book if you choose. Also, a small pronunciation dictionary for your world helps too!
Boe, upper right hand corner, has absolutely no place in the story I have planned. No one comes from there. Yet. My Hero and Heroine come from Fynes (which does trading with Boe). I’m not sure if in chapter 7 when I have our Hero planning to come to a town on the mainland if there won’t be a Boe-raised immigrant and they strike up a conversation about their home island. Having it all planned and written out in advance makes Boe a real place in my head. Keeping with the ideas about epic fantasy mistakes, I’m sure not to hit any of those road bumps during their conversation. And who knows? Maybe this conversation strikes up something in my Hero that makes him want to visit Boe in a later chapter/book. (see how the map lets you visualize the things I’ve said about Boe?)
The point of all this isn’t necessarily to limit your imagination while writing, some of the best things I’ve come up with have been pantsed, but to help you think about things, keep them real in your head and have easy access to their traits, abilities and descriptions as you write so when you get into that groove, that flow, that zone, that you won’t struggle deciding on details. It’s about stretching your imagination, letting it run wild, to create a more solid world in your head before you even write that Prologue. And giving yourself a huge pool of information to drawn on while you’re in that zone can be utterly invaluable. Even if you don’t use it to create fantasy, there really isn’t a genre that wouldn’t benefit from these exercises.
Is it a lot of work? Of course. Even for places, people, names that might not ever come up? Absolutely. Is it worth it for your teeth not to snap together as you fly over a speed bump? Oh hell yes.