Carrie’s Trigger – How to Pants a Novel

Carrie Reached Her Breaking Point

Welcome to another Friday Fiction Breakdown your place to learn from the storytelling greats and apply it to your own writing. Let’s get into it.

A Brief Discussion on Pantsing Tutorials

Plotting isn’t the only way to write a book. In reflecting the last two Wednesday Writer’s Workshops, it appeared that I have been mainly focused on teaching how to plot a book and leaving the last several paragraphs to briefly discuss pantsing. In truth, I am now a plotter, having been a former pantser for most of my educational years. There are few good “how-to” articles on the internet for pantsing due to the fact that, by definition, there shouldn’t be any tutorials on how to pants. You’re supposed to “fly by the seat of your pants” when writing. That’s what makes it fun, exciting, and natural.

I wish to do something different. Since there are few to no informative articles about pantsing, I want to fill in the gap. Instead of giving you the basic step 1, step 2, and step 3 of pantsing, I would argue there isn’t any; still, I want to help my pantsing friends out there. This guide goes in conjunction with my previous Wednesday Writer’s Workshop articles. Make sure you have read those to understand the other various elements of a story: including story structure, characterization, and gaining inspiration from your world.

Now the best way to explain how to pants your novel is to look at a novel I know was pantsed. Enter Carrie by Stephen King. For today’s Friday Fiction Breakdown, I will examine Stephen King’s expert storytelling of Carrie White’s tormented childhood and the lead-up to the book’s climatic ending.

One side note, this article will not discuss the transcripts of the White Committee or any of the alternative timeline aspects of the novel. Only chapters involving Carrie White’s narrative specifically will be elaborated so let’s get into it.

A Punished Young Girl

The Story

Carrietta “Carrie” White was a 16-year-old girl from Chamberlain, Massachusetts. Raised by her fanatic and religious fundamentalist mother, Margaret White, Carrie grew up differently than other children in the area. Margaret was a widow and neglected Carrie as she was growing up. The house was filled with religious symbols and pictures of Jesus, and Carrie’s mother was either at church or at home praying.

The book opens with Carrie in the girl’s high school shower. Here, she began her first menstruation cycle and did not know what was happening. At first, she thought she was hurt as she looked at the blood. Then she thought it was a sin due to her mother never explaining what would happen to her. Chris Hargensen, a classmate and Carrie’s lead torturer at school, saw the shock on the girl’s face. She and the other girls in the shower began to throw tampons and sanitary napkins at Carrie. Ms. Disgarden, the gym teacher, was the first on the scene. She reprimanded Carrie and then saw the girl’s horror at what was happening. She realized Carrie had no idea what was happening and awkwardly proceeded to explain female biology.


King is a genius at not only storytelling but also at how to start a gripping story. Immediately the reader learned many things about Carrie White, her mother and upbringing, and how the girl is perceived by the rest of the school. The book opened with action that showed characterization, setting, and foreshadowing of events to come. Immediately, the reader knew Carrie was hated by her classmates and would seek revenge by the end.

In Wednesday’s article, How to Plot and Pants Your Novel I talked about characterization. Steps three and five of the modified Snowflake Method explained how to write out descriptions and other information about your characters. This also applies to pantsing. If anything, having a solid character profile is far more important for pantsing than it is for plotting. I, myself, am guilty of allowing the plot to carry the story instead of the characters at times. It’s a flaw of mine and something that tends to befall other plotters. With pantsers, you don’t have the luxury or crutch of an outline and your characters must always drive the story. Your fully realized and strong characters will be the key to a successfully pantsed story arc. Back to the story.

New Powers

Things start to get very interesting for Carrie. After her first cycle, she discovered unexplainable events started to happen around her. Objects moved without her touching them and a light bulb was destroyed. Something happened inside her and Carrie realized she had telekinetic abilities that awoke with the changes in her body. She began to experiment and learn how to control her new technique.


The story took a turn when Carrie realized she had powers greater than herself. When you are pantsing, or even plotting, having a fully discovered character background is important, but that is not enough when the story begins. You must use the previous character profile to project into your story. Use the character’s history to control their thoughts and actions in your present narrative as they learn something new about themselves in the present and future narrative. Carrie learned of her powers and grew a bit more confident and rebellious against her mother.

The Setup and Trigger

Story Continued

Sue Snell was a one of girls who picked on Carrie. After the shower incident, Sue began to feel sorry for Carrie. She convinced her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to ask Carrie to the school dance. He asked her and she agreed to attend with him. Margaret refused to allow Carrie to go to anything so “carnal” as a school dance. Also, she believed sex of any kind, even after marriage, was a sin. Carrie disobeyed and went to the dance anyway.

Tommy and his friends were nice to Carrie at the dance, and she began to enjoy herself since she was on the arm of one of the most popular boys in school. Chris Hargensen was not thrilled about Carrie going with Tommy Ross. She convinced her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, to fill two buckets of pig’s blood and hang them over the stage before the dance. Carrie and Tommy were nominated and won prom queen and king. While on stage, the buckets of blood were dropped on the two winners. Laughter turned into screams as Carrie used her telekinetic powers to lock all the doors in the gym and began to create mayhem, killing people inside. She broke out of the school and headed home. One unique aspect of Carrie’s powers were broadcasted outward upsetting telephone and power lines. People watched from their homes in fear while she made her way to her mother’s house. One man realized was she was doing and tried to run her over with his truck. Carrie seized the vehicle with her telekinesis and drove it off the road killing both people inside.

Story Explained

A lot happened in a short amount of time. All of these events spoke to the characterization of Carrie and everyone around her. Sue Snell showed she still had a human side and tried to be nice to Carrie for once. Margaret White showed she was more concerned with her fundamentalist beliefs than the happiness of her daughter who did not share those beliefs. Carrie learned people aren’t so terrible despite the isolationism adopted by her mother. Chris showed she knows no bounds to torture. These events continued to show characterization from the backstory all the way to the triggers.

Final Conflict and Revelation

The Story Continued

Carrie made it home to her mother who believed her daughter was possessed by Satan and the only way to save her was to kill her. A struggle between Carrie and Margaret erupted for a brief time. Carrie was stabbed but had enough time to stop Margaret’s heart. In the remaining seconds before her mother died, Carrie learned she was born of marital rape by her father. Carrie left the home in search of the roadhouse where she was conceived and destroyed it with her mind. She collapsed on the parking lot from the knife wound. Susan Snell had been following Carrie and tried to comfort her as she laid there. The two had a telepathic conversation and Carrie learned that Susan had nothing to do with the blood and was trying to be a nice person. Carrie died screaming the name of her mother.


The final conflict did not disappoint and remains a King classic. The entire book alluded to a strange tension between Carrie and her mother. Despite Margaret’s fundamentalism, the disdain the woman had for her child was never explained, and then the reader and Carrie learned that she was the outcome of rape. This backstory revelation made sense due to the character’s actions. It was not enough for Margaret to be a religious fanatic; she was the victim of rape. Every time Margaret looked at Carrie, she thought of the night she was raped. Carrie destroyed the place that haunted her mother. She died knowing there was one good person in her life and her mother was more tortured soul than she was.

Characterization then Trigger

The best formula for your pantsed story is to have a model of characterization driven by triggers. You know your characters both inside and out. It is with that knowledge you can put them into situations where they must react to stimuli. Remember, the reader must have enough information to believe the character’s reactions to a trigger. In the case of Carrie White, the reader had most of a book to learn about the character and her interactions with the other characters. We knew Carrie was a confused, tortured and misunderstood girl with a fanatic mother and wretched classmates. We also knew about Carrie’s powers even though they were never fully explained. When Carrie was triggered with the blood, her reaction was believable. The first time the reader encountered her she was being picked on for bleeding in the girl’s shower. Now, she is being picked on again for being covered in blood. The reader understood the connection and why Carrie would become furious. It’s a delicate balance between knowing your character’s history before the first chapter, showing the reader enough to understand your character, and then giving them a trigger and reaction based on what the reader already knows. It is with this balance you can craft your pantsed story. Good luck and keep writing.


Thank you for reading this installment of Friday Fiction Breakdown. Please follow us Twitter and Facebook.  You can follow me, Ryan A. Ross, on Twitter @ryanthebossross. Don’t forget to check out the Archives, lot’s of great stuff including the Daily Download and Wednesday Writer’s Workshop. If you any suggestions for a future Friday Fiction Breakdown, I would love to hear them and give you a shout out on Twitter.
Until next time.

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2 thoughts on “Carrie’s Trigger – How to Pants a Novel

  1. Thank you SO much for sharing!! Going to look at a camper this weekend ans am so nervous but so excited. I’m wanting it to be a mobile shop for my business but versatile for living in during off season. Think it’s doable? I’m hoping I can use the bed (without the mattress) and counters as “shelving” and tables for my items.


    1. We aren’t qualified to answer if running a business from a camper is doable. It would depend on a lot of things like what kind of business you’re running, whether you needed Internet (and how you got it), or if traveling took time away from your business. Anything is possible of you work hard for it. Good luck!


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