The One About Pantsing

Welcome back to the blog. Today I have Nancy Raven Smith talking about her pantsing method of writing her stories.

Here’s Nancy!

Hi Cindy. I appreciate visiting today on your Guelph Write Now Blog. I thought I‘d talk a bit about how I’m a pantser – sort of.

If a writer writes on tight deadlines, or needs projects pre-approved before writing them, outlines are definitely a must. This discussion probably won’t be of interest to people who outline except to see how the other side thinks.

I’m an admitted pantser. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s used to describe a writer who doesn’t outline their projects before beginning writing. They write by the seat of their pants. A writer who is a pantser lets the characters and/or the situations reveal themselves as they write.

Of course, this kind of writing leads to a lot of hair pulling and dead ends, followed by bad language and massive rewriting. But what it does do is lead the story into lots of interesting things that the writer hadn’t thought of when creating the outline. Hopefully things that are unique and intrinsic and make the story different from others.

For me, an outline feels too rigid, and I get bored trying to follow one. And if I’m bored as the writer, you can imagine how bored a reader will be with my work. Also, in a true outline, all the twists, turns, and events – plus all the decisions have been made beforehand. With all the decisions made, I lose interest in a story.

I originally studied and wrote as a screenwriter. Screenplays are much shorter than novels. They generally run from ninety to a hundred and twenty pages. For screenplay students, the three act structure is critical. The late Syd Fields, a screenwriting guru, opined that it’s actually a four act structure if you count the story’s mid point as an act break. That’s an opinion that I agree with as the midpoint is also a turning point. Here’s how that works. A one hundred-twenty page screenplay structure would be roughly pages 1-30 = act 1, 31-60 = first half of act 2 ending at the midpoint, 61- 90 = the second half of act 2, and pages 91-120 = act 3. Bear in mind that any act could have more or less pages. But at the end of each act comes a major turning point for the story.

Multiply that out for a novel of 300 pages you’d have pages 1-75 = act 1, 76-150 = the first half of the second act ending at the midpoint, 151-225 = the second half of act 2, and 226-300 = act 3. In between those act breaks, you’ll have smaller twists, turns, and surprises. Lots of room to explore.

As I admitted, I’m a pantser, but here’s the ‘sort of.’ When I write a novel, I have a general sense of the ending and I make a guess at the act breaks (including the midpoint) before I start. I may or may not have an idea of the major theme. Of course there will be lots of those twists and turns between the act breaks that I haven’t discovered yet, but I use the major turning points of the story as a ‘candle in the window’ to aim for as I explore. I also leave myself a lot of flexibility. If I discover something which will make a better act break, I’ll replace the original one.

Using this method has given me the freedom to explore while writing and to still head my story in a forward direction. At the end of the first draft, I still say bad words, bang my head against the wall, and then start the rewrite process to tighten the writing, the acts, and to heighten any themes which have emerged.

This process isn’t for everyone, but I wanted to share it in case it includes things that might help another pantser.


LSToPrintA fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself. But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank’s principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi’s job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to baby sit Steve, her boss’ well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress. Lexi’s unwanted tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, has arrived at the same jungle resort. Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

To learn more about or purchase Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra, go to


Headshot-NancyRavenSmithNANCY RAVEN SMITH grew up in Virginia where she ran horse sport events. On her farm, she rescued horses, dogs and cats and is an advocate for animal rescue. Later in California, she traded her event experience for film work. Her screenplays have won numerous major awards. Raven Smith decided to write one idea as a novel and discovered a passion for writing mysteries. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Women in Film, and Romance Writers of America.

To find more information about Nancy Raven Smith and her writing –

Cindy here again.

Thanks for the post, Nancy! I’m more plotter now than pantser but I used to be a pantser. I think I fall somewhere in the middle now.

Happy writing!

Unleashing Your Muse (Free-Writing Act 1)

Welcome back to the GWN blog! Today we have our monthly columnist Cyndi Faria talking about unleashing your muse. Cyndi will be a regular guest on the blog and will be appearing monthly on the first Monday of the month. We’ve got her twice this month though so don’t forget to come back August 26 when she’ll be posting part two of unleashing your muse.

Here’s Cyndi!

In my opinion, free-writing is the act of unleashing your muse after a short talking to. Sure, you might think, isn’t that plotting? Well, it’s kind of a cross between pantsing (writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) and plotting.

Today, I want to show you how to successfully use free-writing to craft Act 1 of a romance novel (Act II and III will follow in future posts).

Let’s begin by looking at what goes into Act 1:

Note: If you can’t wrap your mind around this information now, that’s okay. Just commit the bulleted items to memory and unleash your muse.

  • Opening Image: This image will be the opposite of the final image in the story. Example: If in the beginning the hero is a playboy, at the end he’s shown in a committed relationship—maybe proposing or even married.
  • Meet the hero(H)/heroine (h).
    • -> What does your H/h fear, as a result of backstory (show don’t tell)? Think: Indiana Jones and snakes.
    • -> If you are familiar with the Enneagram (if not, visit my website here.), list the H/h’s personality type’s strength and weaknesses, fear and desire, and what they must learn about themselves by the end of Act II in order to defeat the villain (Character Arc).
  • External Goal: What does H/h want in life? Must be able to take a picture of external goal?
  • Internal Goal: What do they really want? Example: To be loved, needed, etc.
  • What is happening to your H/h right before something serious triggers a primal response that entices/forces them to leave their ordinary world? (See my blog post: Tipping Point) (Example: Die Hard—A policeman must save his wife who’s been taken hostage by terrorists.)
  • Cute Meet: How does the H/h meet and what is it about that person or situation that links the H/h together in a permanent-for-now way? (Example: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days—Advertising executives for competing agencies come together on a bet, he to get her to fall in love with him in 10 days and she to lose him in 10 days.)
  • What special skill or tool does the H/h possess? This will be important during the climax of the story when H/h uses his/her special skill to defeat the antagonist. (This Means War: The heroine played by Reese Witherspoon combines her knowledge as a Product Tester with hero Chris Pine’s weaponry skills to defeat the bad guy.)
  • Antagonist: May meet the antagonist and/or his associates at this time.
  • Secondary Characters: Introduce secondary characters that can rally during the climax and help the H/h defeat the antagonist’s associates.
  • Lastly, right before the H/h enters Act II—or accepts the challenge—there will be a debate section where he/she takes pause to consider the ramifications of leaving behind the old world. Firmly, he decides to step into Act II. In Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, he discusses the debate in depth saying, “…it’s important to remember that the debate section must ask a question of some kind.” In the case of Die Hard: Will the hero save his wife?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you’re ready to unleash your muse and free-write Act 1.

This can be a combination of sentences, thoughts, dialogue, or whatever pops into your mind. There are no rules.

I usually write 3-5 pages, single-spaced. Sometimes information that belongs in other acts creeps in. That’s okay—just start a new section titled Other Acts.

Next Unleashing Your Muse post, I’ll list what belongs in Act II and Act III.

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Visit Cyndi’s Website:

Visit Cyndi’s Amazon page: Amazon Author Page

About the Author:
“Cyndi Faria writes with passion and her stories touch the heart.”

—Virna DePaul, Bestselling Author

Author Photo B-WCyndi Faria is an engineer turned romance writer whose craving for structure is satisfied by plotting emotional and cozy paranormal romance stories about Native American folklore, cursed spirits, lost souls, harbingers, and even a haunted coastal town. If you love a tale with courageous heroes and heroines, where their unconditional love for each other gives them strength to defeat their inner demons, Cyndi Faria invites you to enter the pages of her stories.

On and off her sexy romance pages, this California country girl isn’t afraid to dirty her hands fighting for the underdog and caretaking rescued pets. Find her helping fellow writers and leading readers to happily-ever-after at


Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Cyndi! Great post. I loved This Means War! I knew her work as a product tester would come into play at some point. 🙂


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