I thought a Pantser was a…

Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So I started to listen to the Narrative Breakdown Podcast and one of the topics they talk about is being an Outliner or a Pantser? Pantser? I thought that was what you called a person who danced around in their pants. No? No. From the podcast I learned that a Panster is someone who writes a story without knowing a lot of the details before writing. Through a quick Google, the name is derived from a person who writes by the seat of her/his pants. I’m starting to do that. Let me rephrase, I’m sort of going back to that… almost.

My very first script was basically a transcript from a dream I had about a community around a marketplace in the Philippines. I dreamt of everyone’s wants and wrote it down. So that is a little different from being a pantser and a plotter. But within the last couple of years, ESPECIALLY in the realm of trying to write long-form I’ve depended on the outline. Being a web programmer, it’s been conditioned into my being to plot out everything on paper/flow-chart through a spec first before starting on the project or risk losing valuable time and money. It’s crucial to PLAN everything when trying to program a web application! Without a plan then wheel’s would be a-spinnin’. For reals, who has the time to wander around searching for a solution when an outline would get the person to that end faster.

When I first started thinking about the possibility of writing as a career, I researched the field where writing was the most prevalent to me: tv and movies. Honestly, before I went back to school, I can barely remember how many books I’ve read–probably on one hand at most. (Now is a different story! If you want to be a great writer, you HAVE TO be a great reader. No way around it.) But I digress, in studying the craft of writing for the screen, I started to listen to an awesome podcast called Nerdist Writer’s Panel, which has one of the most awesomest intro podcast songs EVER! So as I started listening to it, I started to learn about the writers’ room as much as I learned about characters and plot and themes, etc. I also learned what Acts were in TV and Cold Opens and what a Show Runner does and all that good hollywood stuff. Point is, they PLOTTED! The writers’ room is where a whole bunch of brilliant people gather at a table and basically plot out an episode of a TV Show. One that I particularly paid close attention to is when Vince Gilligan (or any of his show’s writers) from Breaking Bad. He said that he learned his craft of writing from Chris Carter, the show runner for X-Files. Anyways, I heard that the note taking of cards was incredible. Each scene or idea is written on an index card and posted up on a board. You can view this video to see what I’m talking about. Fascinating to me. But it turns out fiction churns out a different type of writer.

A heap of people actually like to wander and DISCOVER what and where characters (and hence the plot) will take them. Go figure!!! It’s completely foreign to me (and wrongful to think) backwards way of writing. Logically, how can you start writing without knowing where you’re going? Using that implied analogy, it’s like saying that you’re going to go on a drive without any destination… well not really, but I know what I mean. Crazy talk. Until I started to do it.

For a class, I started writing a play about Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines called YOLANDA, the name of the Typhoon it was called over there. EVERY long-form play I’ve ever written started from an outline. Like I said, I’m wired to do this. However in this case, and with the push from my awesome instructor, Brian T., I ditched the outline and just wrote aka wandered. Interestingly enough, even though I didn’t have a physical outline I can refer back to I had where I kinda wanted to go in the back of my head as I wrote. After finishing the first draft and doing some tweaking, I had it workshopped. As expected, that draft felt like it was walking around in a circle around specific plot points and ideas but never really landed. Well, DUH?! Of course! What can someone expect from wandering around? But there were parts in that first draft actually worked. And moreso, Brian said that there was a quality about the flow of it that felt like it wasn’t generated from an outline. AH HA! Incredibly, I actually began to think that I was a fiction writer–discovering bits and pieces along the way to the destination I had in the back of my head and allowing myself to use those found niblets to move the story in interesting directions. OHHH!!!

I guess that’s one of the takeaways from going back to school: to try something new and adapt it into creating art in a fresh way while still discovering my voice. hmmm…

Well, I feel smarter. Night.

Article by Conrad

Conrad's a San Francisco Bay Area Playwright. He loves long walks upon the concrete and rainy days. Aside from writing words for actors to regurgitate into an audience's ears and eyes, he loves sports, 90's R&B, and learning.


  1. The image you have used on this blog post belongs to me, and is not creative commons in any way. If you read the copyright notice on my page, it says that no images or content are to be used with out my permission. I would have contacted you privately, but you have no contact details on your page. Would you please remove my image from your page immediately.

    1. Please accept my apologies for using your image without permission. I have removed it and wish you nothing but the best with your blog and everything creative this year! 🙂

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