The Pantser Confronts His Mess

The potter mixes his clay, then throws it on the wheel. The painter paints the background first before engaging his subject, creating form, balance, and beauty. The composer hears a melody in the mind, then puts notes on the staff capturing that melody and, around that melody, builds the accompanying counter melodies, and the symphony, instrument by instrument.

Just so, the pantser writes scenes, develops characters, makes the characters interact, either together or individually as accomplices or antagonists. The rough draft is the glob of clay, the paint on the palette, the melody in its crudest form. So the pantser looks at the rough draft and asks, “What do I do with this mess?” The nice thing about this mess is at least there’s something to work with, not just a blank sheet of paper.

Yup. It’s a mess. Sketchy scenes, some characters which resemble shadows, secondary characters which are even less than shadows, form something like a story. The middle is a muddle, but is coming into some sort of shape. At this point I have read the entire manuscript, rearranging scenes. Hoping to gain clarity, I listed the scenes in some sort of order. This gives the manuscript a shape. I know how I want the story to end, though some of the characters have different ideas. Characters have minds of their own. I believe every writer has encountered this. Characters can refuse to cooperate, but the writer can terminate those characters at will. It gives the writer a mistaken sense of power.

Historical fiction requires the writer to follow the timeline of the actual events, which the characters like to ignore. The writer ignores history at his peril. So back to the sources you go. Exactly what date and time did this event occur? What was the weather? And sometimes the sources disagree, or remain vague. The ground battle and the air battle follow different timelines.

The timeline of the battle runs from August 1943 as the battle for the Kursk Salient is resolved, across the Ukrainian Steppes, punching through the Dnieper River line, to February 1944 and the battle for the Korsun Pocket.

The story has its own timeline.

My intention is to go through the last third of the story again before starting at the beginning. In the second rewrite I wish to smooth out the bumps, flesh out the characters, clean up the back-stories, eliminate some of the short scenes, and sharpen the plot. The hope is to keep the reader engaged and reduce the confusion.

My characters are roughly based on the experiences of real people. In previous blogs I have dropped some names: Lilya Litvyak, Ivan Kozhedub. In future blogs I will provide more detail about Erich Hartman, Hans Ulrich Rudel, and others.

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