Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

There are two kinds of writers in the world: those who like to outline before they begin writing and those who “fly by the seat of their pants.” TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS is aimed at the latter group. Hawker promises that even the most hard-core pantsers can learn to outline. She insists that outlining novels is the only way to a full-time author career, while pantsers are doomed to keep their day jobs. Hawker then doubles down to say that outlining the “right” way (her way) is the only path to a successful literary career. None of this is true, but I suspect this book sells more for the provocative title than for any of its contents.

Hawker hasn’t done any research into the plotter/pantser divide beyond her own experience. She wrote her first book without an outline and it took her a long time. She wrote all her later books with outlines and they were written faster. Therefore, she has concluded that outlines are best for everyone. She belabors this point (and all of her points) with tons of strawman arguments and as much self-praise as she can manage.

Hawker learned her personal outlining method by following John Truby’s Anatomy of Story. She states over and over again that TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS is simply a streamlined version of Truby’s book. To be fair, Truby’s book is overly complex and borderline unreadable, so perhaps Hawker thinks she’s doing writers a favor by distilling it for them. But here’s the thing: nobody needs a dumbed-down version of a bad book.

Hawker’s actual outline template is just The Hero’s Journey with different names attached to the plot points. However, changing the name of a well-known concept doesn’t make it a new concept. Calling the all-is-lost moment the “changed goal,” or calling the climax scene “the battle,” doesn’t make them different things. It’s very unfair to the reader to take a well-known story map, rename all the parts, and then pretend you invented it.

For her examples, Hawker gives a nod to the first Harry Potter book and to Charlotte’s Web, but the majority of her examples are from two sources: Lolita, and her own book called Tidewater. Her novel is the story of Pocahontas, told from Pocahontas’ point of view. Pocahontas’ fatal flaw, according to Hawker, is that she was “too ambitious.” (Too ambitious for what? For a woman? For a Native American?) Four different times, Hawker states that the theme of Tidewater is “how people handle a cultural clash.” To her, the colonization of North America was merely a clash of cultures. The whitewashing of history aside, taking examples from a book that few people have read is unhelpful, and using the author’s own novel is just bad form.

I’m someone who loves to outline her novels and I’m always thrilled when I find a new outlining method. But TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS is derivative, self-indulgent, and offensive. Pantsers won’t want this book, plotters won’t like it, and nobody needs it.


Rating: 2 stars


I recommend Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland or Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell instead of this book.

3 thoughts on “Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

  1. I’m a reformed pantser who now outlines because pantsing led me to not actually finishing things, but that’s just me. Like you, I also felt it was too ‘this is the only way to do it’ and I don’t much like that. ‘Story Engineering’ by Larry Brooks fell into that same category for me; what he had to say in itself wasn’t bad, but the way he said it made me want to hurl my Kindle against the wall at certain points.

    And I couldn’t get past the way the narrator (I listened to this on Audible) pronounced Lolita. As far as I know, it’s pronounced Lo-lita and not Loli-taaaaaaah?

  2. I sampled this book.

    She has no understanding of pantsers.I pay the mortgage pantsing books. What’s more, she has no understanding of why professional pantsers pants.

    This book actively harms natural pantsers.

    • It seemed odd to me that Hawker insisted that only plotters can made a living selling books. Off the top of my head, I can name dozens of authors who pants all of their books and also make a full time living doing it.

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