Pantsers, Plotters…and Flashers

I’ve previously mentioned pantsers and plotters as two commonly known ways of writing a novel. Plotters are those who outline their novel ahead of time and pretty much stick to the outline (with some bunny trails and replotting allowed). Pantsers are those who write by the seat of their pants, abhorring the idea of knowing what comes next in their story. Like the reader, they want to be surprised at what happens when they turn the page.

Today, I’d like to propose a third option. That third option is what I’ll call the flashers. (Don’t worry…I’m not going there). I bring this up because I’m somewhat of a flasher myself. A flasher is one who, after a reasonable time of brooding over his novel (read my blog on brooding here), begins to see flashes of his novel, not necessarily in chronological (or any) order.

As an example, for some time now I’ve been brooding about my men’s novel. I know the characters and generally where they’re going, but not specifically (in that way, I’m somewhat of a pantser). One of the men is the father of the main character. He’s about 70 and a lonely widower. Although this character is well known to me in my mind, he, as of now, is still nameless.

Well, last night I had a flash of this nameless character and in this flash (which I perceive as coming near the end of the book), the poor guy had a sudden unexpected heart attack. It struck me hard. I hadn’t thought that would happen….but now I know it must. I also saw in this flash what will happen in terms of his survival of this heart attack. I’m not telling that here, but suffice to say that knowing the outcome will give me some fodder for the ultimate outcome of the novel.

Oddly enough, only mere minutes after the heart attack flash, I had another flash about this same character. In this flash, he had signed up for an internet dating service and was matched up with a gregarious (too gregarious) woman named Dolly. The scene that flashed before me was humorous with our poor old man suffering through a date that he knew within five minutes would be their last date. Dolly, on the other hand, was charmed by our nameless character and chattered her head off for the three hours of their date.

Okay, so I got these two flashes. What now? Well, the important thing is to write these scenes as I saw them, without worrying where they’ll show up in the novel. As I continue to brood, get to know my characters, and experience more flashes, my hope is that the novel will gather enough momentum in my mind for me to begin to put it on paper. As I’m given to procrastination (as are many of you, I’m sure), I must be careful not to overbrood to the point of not beginning the thing. I’ve actually started a few times, but each time, deleted what I had. As you know by now, I’m absolutely obsessed with having the right opening page to novels. Sadly, none of my attempts at a beginning satisfied me. I suspect when I finally hit on that dynamite opening, I will begin the entire thing in earnest by assembling some of my flashes and see how they connect or how I can gently encourage them to connect.

How about you? Are you now or have you ever been a fellow flasher?

11 replies
  1. Jane Daly says:

    I’m a combo of Panster and Plotter. Planster? I have an idea, write like crazy for about 50,000 words, then go back and summarize each chapter. Then I make a plan for the rest of the book. No flashing involved.

  2. Richard Mabry says:

    Nick, I’d suspect that many of us pantsers have some flasher in us–Stephen King calls letting one’s subconscious work on a bit of our work “letting the boys in the basement work.” Looking forward to your novel when it takes final form.
    Meanwhile, thanks for giving me a new definition of “flasher.” I can hardly wait to trot that one out and watch for the stares I get.

  3. Joyce A. Scott says:

    Nice article! 🙂 Cleared up some things. I am a pantser, but I’ve learned a new word because I’m definitely a “flasher” too. Thanks, Nick!

  4. Angie Arndt says:

    And now I know what I am — a flasher. Yikes!

    I get that completely. My Scrivener files are full of scenes, full-blown or half-written. I’m trying to force myself to be plotter so that I can actually turn those bits into a finished story.

    So would that make me a Flotter? 🙂

  5. Kathy Bailey says:

    I plot and flash before I start to formally write the thing. I have a basic outline (which is ripped to shreds in crit group but that’s all right) and when a scene or bit of dialogue comes to me, I stash it. When I start to formally write, I put these together and try to link them. I use a lot of paper clips and post-it notes and my first drafts look like a compost heap. Except they don’t smell. Except when the crit group says they do. I do a lot of stitching. I’m lucky when the first draft looks like a quilt and not Frankenstein. I am on a roll today — got Nicky on the first try and drove home last night in a snowstorm without an accident, which is good because I have points on my license and our AAA ran out. Every little bit helps, which is a metaphor for writing. You assemble the bits and pieces, whether they’re in your head, in Scrivener or on Post-Its, and then you keep trying until it makes sense. Pantsing is too intuitive for me, but I do use flashes and write them down.

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