Tag: Halifax

Pantser On File

Pantser On File

Enroute to Peggy’s Cove from Halifax last week, my companion and I spotted flames in the roadside grasses. As tourists, we had not been following the local news. And even though we had driven through several patches of smoke-laden air, we were largely unaware that forest fires were burning in the province. But after seeing those flames and receiving cell phone alerts of emergency evacuations, we began paying attention.

Heading back to our hotel at the end of our day’s sojourn, we noticed a dark cloud in the sky over Halifax. Is it a storm cloud, we pondered. Perhaps an explosion in the industrial area? (Still in denial!)  But, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This one in the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas.

After consulting Google maps, we realized the affected areas were a 30-minute drive from our hotel in downtown Halifax. We were on the major highway at the time and not in serious danger, unlike residents of the subdivisions. Visible on the side roads and off-ramps were cruisers, lights flashing, blocking the roads and preventing traffic into evacuation areas.

I tell this tale not as an OMG-look-what-almost-happened-to-me — although I kind of just did that — but as a segue into this theme of fire currently burning in my life.

On returning to London, Ontario, I participated in a shamanic journey experience called Word Doctoring and working with the goddess Brigid who was a fire goddess. This was scheduled months in advance, but it’s interesting how it converged with my other fire experience.

Goddess Brigid, it is said, was born at sunrise, flames bursting from her forehead reaching to Heaven. She is the goddess of many things, including midwifery, healing and crafts such as writing, poetry and beer, and especially crafts involving fire — metallurgy, forging, glassblowing.

During one shamanic journey — a journey is simply an altered state of consciousness, induced by the rhythm of a hoop drum, somewhat similar to a dream state — I built a fire beside a billabong and invited Brigid to initiate me into Word Doctoring. I was put into and through the fire I had built. (The symbolism in journeying can be exquisite!) My skin did not burn. Instead, a fire was ignited in my heart as my physical heart, hands, and body became warm with the fire of Brigid.

Reflecting this morning about these experiences of fire, a childhood phrase popped in my mind:

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Now, in writing circles, we sometimes refer to two different styles of writing — plotsers and pantsers.

Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants — no outline, no planning, just write what comes. That is how I wrote my first two books, Breathing With Trees and If I Could Remember I Would: Bears & Brains & Caring For My Mother. (Note: After writing by the seat of your pants, you typically will need to edit with thought and planning.)

For my next historical fiction novel, I am abandoning my Pantser style — Pantser on fire — and going full Plotter. My weeks from June to September are carefully plotted out for week-by-week research into the period of 1918 — Spanish Flu, homeopathy, suffrage, military operations, children’s toys and clothing, women’s issues. It’s a time for gathering the kindling-facts for the fire of storytelling.

Next, October to spring is planned for character development — profile sheets, background, aims and motivation, internal conflict — setting outline, plot structure, overriding theme, timeline of events, chapter summary drafts. In short, it is thinking about all the literary devices before writing the story and is the opposite of the method for my other books where I only thought about these things after writing the first Pantser draft.

With Plotser style, the planning and details become sparks to ignite the writing. Plotser is like a controlled burn…intentionally set to manage the ecosystem where fire would naturally occur. It is meant to be a low-intensity natural fire, preventing complete burn-out. Controlled burns of forests help remove sick or diseased trees and prevent the fire spreading to other areas. Similarly, controlled burns help a writer stick to the issues and theme of the story and prevent plot-wandering in a direction away from the central burn. Plotser mimicks a natural fire with the writer controlling where and when an area will burn.

Plotser or Pantser — slow burn vs an out-of-control forest fire? I’m looking forward to the exploration of this new-to-me approach.


As of this writing, the Halifax area fires are 85% contained and not expected to spread. Five active fires continue to burn in other regions of Nova Scotia. The one at Barrington Lake is out of control.

May all be safe.

Photo credit: Landon Parenteau on Unsplash

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