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Confessions of an Accidental Pantser | by Steve Sheppard

Let’s talk about pantsing. And before you rush to complain about any decline in the levels of moral turpitude in writing-related blogs, I’m not referring to nether garments.

I’m talking about making stuff up as you go along. Specifically, when writing books. I’ve discovered that I’ve become an accidental pantser.

You may not have heard the expression. I certainly hadn’t until 2018, several months after I’d managed to come up with the initial draft of my first comedy thriller, A Very Important Teapot.

I’d had a sort of epiphany in April 2017, literally on a flight back from Australia, when I decided just to write for the rest of that year and see what I came up with. On a wing and prayer, so to speak.

There are many ways to write a novel and there is no such thing as The Right Way. Of course you can spend months intricately plotting every word, inventing detailed back stories for every character, covering a wall with post-it notes or some sort of giant Venn diagram with arrows pointing every which way.

But you absolutely don’t have to.

You won’t find pantsing listed as a subject on any writing course. No course ever tells you to just wing it. Maybe they should: less time in the classroom and more time in the bar.

So how does one go about doing pantsing? With very little. Or that’s how I pantsed my way through A Very Important Teapot.

Location: Australia, because that’s where I’d just been. I’d been to a dusty little town called Yackandandah, and I thought, if I’m going to write a humorous novel (and I knew it would have to have humour in it) then you can’t go far wrong with a name like Yackandandah.

Main protagonist: They say, write what you know so my protagonist was a mildly fictionalised version of myself from some years earlier, out of work, sitting in a pub in Surrey.

Title: Something I’d heard years back had stuck in my mind. The teapot’s very important. At the time I was the only one who laughed. I refused to believe that I was the only person who finds that funny.

Plot: I sort of thought that spies had to be involved somewhere. No real reason.

Nine months later, I had a book. I’d managed to write a comedy thriller with a serious plot. Simply by making it up as I went along. And it had been fun. I particularly enjoyed the way characters took on lives of their own and then dictated to me what would happen next.

And as for that second book, Bored to Death in the Baltics? The same thing really. Admittedly, I already had Dawson and Lucy in place and I wanted to start with something big, so a bomb blast and Dawson being kidnapped came rapidly. And the location had to be as far away from Australia as possible. Latvia came to mind. Latvia became Estonia when I discovered which country owned the island of

Saaremaa. So, chocks away, let’s see what occurs.

Book three, Poor Table Manners, was originally going to be about Gaddafi’s lost millions. And although these still get a passing mention, that idea went down a rabbit hole and never resurfaced. I had no initial thoughts about the story revolving around the build-up to a South African presidential election.

This is quite a scary way to write. I’m presently about 22,000 words into Dawson and Lucy #4 and whilst I know what is happening, I don’t yet know why. It’ll come to me.

After three successful books, I know the raison d’etre will suddenly appear, as if by magic.

Or by pantsing.


Steve Sheppard is the author of the comedy thriller Dawson and Lucy Series. Book 3, Poor Table Manners, was published last month and is available for order via all good bookstores and major retailers.


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