Exploration and You: Advice for Pantsters

While I’m on injured reserve Molly Martin has agreed to step up to the plate. My goal is to see you on Friday. Fingers Crossed.

Until then…..Molly, take it away!!!


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Congratulations! You are in your favorite writing spot, a fresh page ready, waiting, aching for your words to cast the magic spell that brings life to a whole new world.

In a breathless flurry of inspiration and caffeine, you write. And write. And write. Hours pass by in a bliss known to few but runners, writers, and junkies. Let’s be honest, there are few highs as good as a writer’s high.

But then…you crash. The words stop flowing. Your characters turn against you. They refuse to be interesting, spontaneous, or even interactive. The dialog stumbles along with banal banter.

“How’s the weather?”

“Oh, fine.”


“Well, so nice to see you.”

“You, too.”

You don’t want to write this. No one is EVER going to want to read it!

Oh miserable despair. Oh, Muse, why doest thou forsake me in mine hour of need? Oh, woe!


Stop. Just stop.

Let’s talk.

You’re a pantster, aren’t you? You charge into the wilderness of your story hot on the trail of the phantom lights cast by your will-o-wisp idea/character/setting/whatever drew you to the page.

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And that is 100% okay. Understanding what’s happening will help you move forward.

First, consider why you wanted to tell this story. Maybe there’s a character you’re in love with and you want to world to love them, too. Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a type of civilization. Your inspiration might be a piece of music that has burrowed into your bones or a piece of art that whispered its story to you.

Once you identify the core of your story, plant your flag there. This is your base. Now you’re ready to continue your exploration.

Instead of thinking of what happens next and trying force your characters to comply, ask them – what do you want to do? They have their own agendas and are as stubborn as a toddler who wants juice RIGHT NOW!

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You need to make a deal: I’ll write 2, 5, 10 pages of whatever you want to do, no matter how it “breaks” the story if you’ll play along.

You probably won’t keep a lot of what you write, but that’s okay. It’s only a few pages and you will find something useful, like a Ranger picking up a lost trail.

The main thing for you, dear explorer, is to continue moving forward, mapping out the terrain of your story. You won’t settle down in every spot you find, but you need to know what’s there, so you’ll know what will make the final cut.

Think of it like exploring the map in Civ. You’re not going to build a town on every octagon, but you need to know where the barbarians are, right? Just nod if you don’t play Civ. If you do play Civ, stop and get back to your writing, dang it!

Resist the urge to worldbuild when you’re stuck. I know, I know. Those other writers, the super cool planner writers with their binders of notes, their charts and graphs and blueprints, never get stuck. Not like you…Right?

They do – trust me. But that’s a post for another day.

Back to you and why you shouldn’t be worldbuilding when you’re stuck. Because what you’re doing is procrastinating – creatively, I’ll grant you – but procrastinating, nonetheless. Your story doesn’t rise or fall based on how well you understand the geological conditions of your planet, how much history you explore, what whimsical magical items you conjure, or how fast your FTL starships can go. You, my dear pantster, don’t need to know these things upfront the way a planner does.

What you need to be doing is understanding your characters because ultimately they will drive your plot. All those other details you can fill in later.

One trick I use is [XXX]. When I can’t think of a name, a piece of tech, a type of magic, a location, etc. I leave [XXX] as a marker to come back to. This way I don’t interrupt my flow state of writing goodness. Just don’t forget to Find+Replace [XXX] before you hit “Send”.

But what about worldbuilding? When do you do that? You can’t ignore it even if you are a rugged pantster writer boldly charting fictional terra incognita.

I recommend worldbuilding when you’re not stuck. When you know what your characters what to do, where they’re going next, what will happen in the following scene. That’s the time to tap into your worldbuilding brain because then your world functions in service to the story, which is a vehicle for your characters.

So when you get stuck, remember:

  1. Find your story’s heart
  2. Explore characters’ motives and agendas
  3. Worldbuild as part of the story, not as a means to procrastinate
  4. Keep writing

Inspiration will only take you so far. If the jungle of your story starts to close in and you think you’ll never make it to the next peak, don’t focus on writing “The End”. Focus on writing the next 50 words, the next page, the next scene.

If all else fails, take a short (SHORT!) break and recharge. Reward yourself for the writing you’ve done. Don’t punish yourself for your writer’s block. Train yourself to write with positive reinforcement when you do well. Forgive your bad days. Be kind to yourself.

I’d love to hear about story blocks you’ve encountered and how you overcame them to keep writing.

What helps you when you’re stuck?

Bio: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at mkmartinwriter.com

Her viral-apocalypse novel, Survivors’ Club is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at various indie bookstores.

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5 thoughts on “Exploration and You: Advice for Pantsters

  1. Thank you Molly, that was helpful. There is a reason behind what I want to write, but I want it done…NOW! Because the reason isn’t even seen until the second volume and its just…I’m the type that wants to lose weight…NOW. But I have to work at it. I need to run (my God, but at what cost!), and I need to really IMAGINE. Creating the physical image of a character is difficult for me, but now that you mention it, all I need are some ground rules that link each important character to what really matters. So they aren’t that interesting looking, so what? Neither was Bella Swan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think of writing like eating a meal – you’ve got dessert (the fun part), the main course (the plot), and veggies (the less fun part). Yes, we probably SHOULD eat our veggies first, but when you are struggling to find motivation, skip the veggies, write dessert and come back to the veggies when you have more energy 🙂


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