Pantsing and enjoying the journey

Ross pointed this out:

When you aren’t rushing to a destination, the journey becomes the focus.

To which I could only say: Yes.

The discussion was about Haruki Murakami, who maintained in an interview that he wrote without a plan, not knowing where he was going. This is sometimes called pantsing (I guess after seat-of-the-pants).

But even pantsers have resources. When you start, you know some things.

And along the way you’ve digested a lot of stories (probably), absorbed a lot of notions about how stories work (probably), and so can rely (more or less) on what you will at that point probably call your “instincts”* to — on the one hand — provide you with good stuff and — on the other hand — keep you (more or less) away from the ocean of crapulousness you don’t want to enter.

*Footnote: Not really instincts at all, but rather the accumulated grasp, understanding, comprehension and adeptness with all of this kind of stuff in the most generalized and at the same time most specific sense.

So clearly it’s not just “seat of the pants” but rather seat of the pants plus everything contained in the pants and also by the way all the other body parts above. Your complete Writing Self is engaged. Or is yearned for, depending.

I had read it before, but in response to this discussion (thanks, Ross), pulled up 1Q84 on my device and began reading it again. It seems to me Murakami allows himself wide latitude if for no other reason than it’s more fun to write that way, and if he’s having a good time, chances are the reader will have a good time too.

And it’s educational and fun to watch him solve some of the problems he raises for himself. For example (and this example is moderately X-rated, so if you’re of a tender disposition stop right here), in Chapter 5 of 1Q84 Murakami has one of his principal characters, Aomame, go to the cocktail lounge of a high-end hotel in order to pick up a guy and have sex. This character (spoilers ahead, so you might want to stop right here), an attractive young woman, has just assassinated an evil businessman, and she wants to blow off some steam and relax by having sex with a stranger. Seated at the bar, Aomame has a few drinks and eventually the right sort of guy sits down a couple stools away. They strike up a conversation. Everything up to now is the sort of thing that’s in most writer’s tool box. It’s work to write it, but not difficult work, just an application of craft. But now Murakami faces the problem of getting Aomame what she wants — sex. How to raise the subject? At this point the reader understands that Aomame wants to have sex and is sympathetic so there’s no need to go into that. The writer’s difficulty is that the situation is so susceptible to a hackneyed or cheesy way of handling it. How to get the sex thing going in a way the reader hasn’t often encountered in fiction, in a way that’s fresh and entertaining and different? That’s the problem. Here’s how Murakami handles it:

The man talked about sailboats. He moored his small sailboat in the Nishinomiya yacht harbor, he said. He took it out to the ocean on holidays and weekends. He spoke passionately of how wonderful it was to feel the wind as you sailed alone on the sea. Aomame didn’t want to hear about any damned sailboats. Better for him to talk about the history of ball bearings or the distribution of mineral resources in Ukraine. She glanced at her watch and said, “Look, it’s getting late. Can I just ask you something straight out?”

“Sure,” he replied.”

“It’s, uh, rather personal.”

“I’ll answer if I can.”

“Do you have a decent-sized cock? Is it on the big side?”

So that’s it, uh, a fun way to introduce a new topic.


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