Michaeline: A Recipe for a Pantser

A warrior chef made up of kitchen items (her body is a wood stove, and she carries a mixing tub and a warming pan.

A pantser is always prepared to cook up anything her Girls send up from the basement. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

First of all, forget all that mise en place stuff. That’s for planners and for pansies. A pantser goes through all the cupboards, the fridge, and checks the garbage can just in case. The pantser gathers 20 or 30 ingredients, then dumps those on the kitchen table. Then, she sits and thinks for a minute or two to decide what looks good.

You can’t go wrong with baking powder. First thing, in a medium bowl or a ziplock bag, sift in some flour, some salt and a proportionate amount of baking powder. Don’t know the right amount? Just go with it; you’ll learn. Add in some other dry stuff, if you like, like cocoa or sugar. Be adventurous! Matcha? You betcha. Pulverised strawberry? Very merry!

In another bowl, you’ll want the wet stuff. It’s going to react with the dry stuff, so if you have gelatin in the dry stuff, don’t mix in fresh pineapple or kiwifruit. Use something else. Something without enzymes. Eggs are often good in anything. I like eggs. I don’t like separating them, but I like whipping them to a frenzy, and I like them in a lot of things that I’ve consumed. You’d be surprised by what eggs go with – consider adding some eggs. (Unless you’ve got an allergy. But you know that already.)

Now it’s time for the conflict! Pour the stuff from the little bowl into the big bowl. Make sure it’s a good, big bowl, just in case anything fizzes over. Stir well, unless it’s meant to be barely stirred. You’ll know. Just use your eyes and your ears. Your nose will be useless. Save your nose for the baking part.

Add some heat. Even if you are going to freeze it later, it’s often best if you add some heat at some point. Bake it, broil it, fry it in a pan. Melt it and mix it and make it your own. Heat is a catalyst. There are a few things that do OK without heat, but they are usually pre-packaged. Use your judgement.

Almost done. It’s time to shape it. Pour it in a mold, or use a knife. Dump it onto plastic wrap, and your hands won’t get dirty as you roll it into a ball or a log or a small bust of Michelle Obama. Freezing is OK. Pouring it into a puddle and letting it harden is often an option – particularly if you melt chocolate over the top.

Break off a tiny corner, or get a spoon, and take a little taste. Adjust. Serve. Or toss it (with an excess of emotion) in the garbage can. Your call.

The late William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride, once wrote: “Nobody knows anything.” “Not one person . . . knows for a certainty what’s going to work.”  That’s happy news for a pantser. Just get out there and enjoy your story!

8 thoughts on “Michaeline: A Recipe for a Pantser

  1. I love this approach for fun and inspiration, especially Elizabeth’s Friday writing challenges. Then you don’t even have to turn out the cupboards, just see what’s been laid out and figure out how to combine the ingredients. I’m too much of a pansy to try it day to day though. I buy a lottery ticket each week, and that’s about as edgy as I get. I can toss those in the garbage with barely a pang 😉

  2. You are a brave baker, Michaeline! I might try this – – just hurling ingredients into a bowl and seeing what happens. Could I do that? Yeah, probably not. And I know you’re talking about writing and not baking, but I don’t think, as much as I might want to, that I could be quite so seat-of-the-pants either for baking or for writing.

    • The thing is, you are depending on luck. Do you feel lucky, kid? If so, give it try. I find it works extremely well for short stories, and I don’t know if there’s any other way I can produce poetry. I can’t sustain a lucky streak over the course of a novel. I’ve been trying ways to work around it — especially connected stories. But I haven’t been able to get 100,000 related words out of anything.

  3. I spent 40 years trying this approach to writing and failed to produce a single manuscript that was remotely readable. I think to make it work you need to be someone who intuitively understands story and escalation and climax. Since I’m not that lucky, I’ll stick with designing a superstructure and then hanging the bits and pieces on it.

    • I think this is true — it works great for short stories. And it may be a really good approach when you are stuck on ONE SCENE, and you need to create “lumber” for your superstructure. And obviously, it’s only good for the first draft of any given scene. I think everyone turns into a planner when it comes to the editing stage.

      But this is the main way I make short stories, and it’s the only way I can do poetry.

      I think I might be one of those writers who will have to borrow someone else’s superstructure if I’m going to write anything close to 70,000 words. Kind of like Bridget Jones’ Diary borrowed the superstructure from Pride and Prejudice. At least, it would be a nice middle step.

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