Book Review of Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker


Anyone who has worked with me through developmental editing has at some point heard me recommend this book. It’s my ultimate go-to craft book. It’s short, easy to apply and understand, and focuses on the heart of what we need in a book. I can’t recommend it enough.

I initially read the book a few years ago, but I reread it again in May and I applied the methods to my own WIP. It still holds up to all my high praises. It’s been really useful for helping me explore my WIP. I’ve been struggling with nailing down a few aspects—especially the direction—and after reading this, I have a clear focus for my story.

This book is marketed as a book to help pantsers outline/plot. It’s marketed as a method to writing faster, meeting deadlines, and having a solid first draft (instead of one that runs in circles or shoots in too many directions). Although pantsers may be the intended audience, the information loaded into this book is good for ANY writer at ANY stage. Even if you have your entire manuscript written already, this book will help you focus your story during revisions.

Have you received feedback saying the plot doesn’t make sense, or that the character lacks agency? Is the why of reading your story clear? Have you written a story that readers give up on? Have critique partners said they aren’t fully invested? This book will help you fix these issues.

This is not a plotting book. It’s not a book on formulaic structure. For a pantser like me, it gives me a solid outline/focus/direction for which to write my story. It allows me the chance to “pants” my way through the story, and go where the story takes me, while also always having a clear direction in mind and easily being able to stay on that track. For plotters, it gives you the solid grid for which to begin creating scenes upon.

When I advise writers during editing projects, I talk about honing the characters’ goals and their flaws, and how the two are so closely related. Developing this will provide you with the strongest version of your story; the version that hooks the reader, invests them, and gives us an ending with full pay off. Libbie Hawker clearly defines how we use character flaw to create a character arc, she helps us plot out our novel without forcing specific, unbelievable plot points on to our characters, she helps explore the character arc, nail down the MC’s goal(s), and craft an antagonist that truly antagonizes your MC—forcing the MC to grow because of it. She makes it clear how the protagonist and antagonist must be working toward the same goal, even if they seem to be working toward opposite goals.

After using Libbie Hawker’s method, I have the direction and focus I need to write a strong, compelling draft, without feeling forced into a plot that leaves no breathing room. Have you read this book yet? If so, I’d love to know what you thought! Feel free to tweet at me @katiemccoach.

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