Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project Pantser

Yes, it’s true. I watch reality TV. I have a weakness for the competition shows, like Project Runway and Top Chef. I love watching raw creativity on display, especially when I have no talent in those areas. Make a wearable dress out of Twizzlers? Whip up a gourmet meal from the crap found in a snack machine? I couldn’t do that to save my life, but I love watching those who can. I doubt if any of them could write a readable novel. Things even out.

Even the contestants aren't always good at all aspects of their crafts. On the recent Project Runway All-Stars, the judges wanted to see the contestants’ prelim sketches for their garments. One of them, Mondo, had nothing to show. Mondo doesn’t sketch. Mondo doesn’t know how to sketch. He goes to the fabric store and buys whatever “inspires” him, then brings it back to the workroom and hopes the ideas start flowing. Somehow, week after week, he managed to create a unique piece in the time allotted and, more often than not, won the evening.

Watching the episode where he admitted he couldn’t sketch and basically worked on the fly, it hit me: Mondo is a pantser.

Hooray! It’s not just writers! Other creative types find the planning stage a waste and sew, or cook, or paint, or whatever, by the seat of their pants. Somehow it works out for them. It makes me feel less alone.

It also makes for great TV. Watching the little dude sweat through creative blockage made me squirm in sympathy. I know the feeling, brother. I go through it every time I pick up a pen and paper or sit in front of a keyboard and watch the cursor blink. I’ve got a vague idea of how I want my “creation” to look, or read, when it’s done. I’ve picked out the fabrics of character, plot, POV and maybe a couple of scenes. Now I just have to cut, stitch and hem, and hope the reader can wear it when I send it out on the runway.

A lot of times the fit’s not perfect. The pattern I picked out starts changing the more I put the story together. Maybe I had a straightforward plot in mind when I started, but a colorful mosaic of subplots is working out better. I intended to write a short story and it’s turned into a novella. I tried to dress it up with a couple flashy scenes that in retrospect should be cut out. Don’t want the poor reader tripping over an unwieldy train of thought.

The designers on the show have the added pressure of short deadlines. Two days to create a dress? I don’t think even Isaac Asimov could have written a book in two days. A long novella, maybe. Of course, with no deadline, I have the leisure to let my ideas sprawl all over the page, or the hard drive. It results in a lot of extra work that could probably be eliminated if I did an outline first. But where’s the fun in that?

Eventually I get the fabrics cut and basted up together so all the seams don’t show. The end result’s as much a surprise to me as I hope it’ll be to the readers. All I can do now is send it out into the world and let the readers try it on. They’ll let me know if it’s too long, too short, too tight, too baggy, or if I got the fit just right.

I’m sure I could save a lot of time and energy by sketching/outlining first. I’m also sure I’d take that extra time and watch TV with it. Might as well stick to what works.

For the record, Mondo won the competition. But then, he’s a creative genius. I don’t have that to fall back on and will have to rely on hard work, sweat, and gallons of caffeine to see me over the rough patches. At least there’s a bunch of fast-food joints in my neighborhood, so I don’t have to cook. Next up: The Amazing Race.


Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, fascinating about Mondo. That's what I used to do with sewing/creating an outfit, dress, whatever. I miss those days when I had the freedom to create like that, and it was on very limited resources.

Now I basically cook like that, and I wish I had a way to balance planning and just creating dishes. But, cest le vie [sp?]...

Pat C. said...

Mondo should have won the first time he was on. He came in second. I'm glad he got a second chance.

I don't cook and I have no fashion sense. Watching cooking shows is like a foreign language to me, which is probably why I find them so fascinating.

Savanna Kougar said...

Go, Mondo, go! Is he hero material for a story?

Complex, gourmet cooking is a foreign language to me.

I had a type of fashion sense that some loved and others disdained. These days, if it was different world, I could still pull it off. But not with wraithe-thin or emaciated looking models.

Pat C. said...

I suppose Mondo could be hero material, though maybe not for what I write. In real life he's edgy-looking and kind of scrawny. Since I do paranormal, he'd probably be an artistic (and arrogant in the studio) mouse or rabbit.

Pat C. said...

Here's some pictures of him. He's the one with the glasses and the Ed Grimley hair.

Pat C. said...

Or just go to Google Images and search for Project Runway All Stars Mondo, which is easier than copying that huge line of coding. It didn't look half that long when I copied it.