Posts Tagged ‘Pantser’
Posted on January 3, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
When I started writing, I just did it. I wrote 6 books without ever attending a writer’s meeting or conference. I’d hear about such things, but think why spend time learning to write when I can just do it?
But it doesn’t work that way. Writers have to learn to write. They have to learn to put what they see or hear in their heads on the paper where the reader can see and hear it too. After I’d been writing for a year or so, I met a fellow writer in the office where I worked, Peggy Stirling. The first thing she asked was if I’d joined a writer’s group.
Peggy wasn’t published, but had won some writing awards, and was related to Catherine Palmer. How cool is that? Peggy even sent my first chapter of my first badly written book to Catherine to see what she thought of it. That makes me shiver now. I really hope Catherine didn’t read it. She sent me a nice letter saying that she’d long ago had to set up a policy of not critiquing other writers simply because she didn’t have time. Last month, I signed with Spencerhill Associates, the same literary agency that represents Catherine Palmer. How cool is that?
Anyway, it took another year or so for me to actually follow Peggy’s advice. By then, I’d had a very badly written book Print on Demand published. My sales were dismal since the book was overpriced and not in stores. I finally took Peggy’s advice. In fact, she went with me to my first writer’s meeting and conference.
I’ve lost touch with Peggy and I have no idea if she knows I got published or not. I did name my hero in my first contracted book (White Roses) after her, Grayson Sterling–a perfect name for a pastor. If not for Peggy, I might still be cranking out badly written, very telling stories—instead of taking my reader along for the ride and showing how the story plays out.
My second profound piece of advice took place years later. I’ve talked about Kaye Dacus and writing my second contracted book (White Doves) before. Once my editor asked if White Roses could be a series, I threw together two one page synopses using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. With a few changes and tweaks, I had a verbal promise of a three book series. But then I had to expand the synopses into chapter by chapters before the other two contracts could be signed.
I’m a pantser. When I begin a new book, I know the main characters, the beginning, a couple of big issues or problems, the black moment (but not necessarily how to resolve it) and the end. That’s all. I have no idea what will happen in chapter two, eight, or thirteen.
Writing that first chapter by chapter for White Doves was TORTURE. I used the Snowflake Method and eked out every possible thing that could happen with these characters. I expanded a word at a time, a paragraph at a time until finally I had three pages of exactly what would happen in the book I hadn’t written yet.
It was enough and I signed the contract for book two of my series. I then had eight months to write the book. But I already knew what was going to happen in every chapter, what had to happen in every chapter. With no room for creativity or pantsing. And I had a deadline to get it finished.
I couldn’t do it. For the first time, I realized writer’s block was real—not a myth. I tried going for walks, taking bubblebaths, mowing the yard—all things that free my mind and usually get my creativity and ideas flowing. But I couldn’t be creative with the book. I’d already told my editor exactly what would happen.
I attended my monthly writer’s meeting excited when I heard we’d managed to land Kaye Dacus in Little Rock. I think Kaye taught on editing. We’re talking 2009 and I’ve slept a few times since then. What I do remember—I knew Kaye wrote for Barbour which meant she had to write chapter by chapters pre-book.
After her workshop, I asked if she was a pantser or plotter. She said she used to be a pantser, but since she’d learned to write chapter by chapters, she’s part pantser and part plotter. I told her my dilemma. She said she writes her chapter by chapter, then puts it away and writes something else, or reads a book, anything but think about the book she has to write. Once it’s totally off her mind, she writes the book. Then if she gets stuck, she looks at the chapter by chapter to jog her memory.
I followed Kaye’s advice and it worked. Before long, the words were flowing from my fingertips. Since then, I’ve made a point to write my chapter by chapters several months in advance of when I need to turn them in. By the time, the contract is signed, the chapter by chapter is out of my head and I just start writing.
Six chapter by chapters later, my words are still flowing for the most part. Some books have been harder to write than others, but I’ve met all of my deadlines so far. So, if not for Kaye, I might still be stuck with the motherlode of writer’s block and only have one book published.
BTW: The picture is actually the cover of a book. Years ago, when all I had to prove I was a writer was over two-hundred rejection letters, my husband believed in me enough to buy me this nifty little book. The book is in the shape of a cube and is chock full of pictures and prompts to inspire writers.
We’ve discussed this before, but we probably have new readers since then, so here goes: Writers–are you a pantser or plotter?
Posted on July 1, 2010 - by Regina
Pantser/Plotter. Right Brain/Left Brain. Yin/Yang.
So what am I?
Confused, that’s what I am. You know, I never knew how much I didn’t know about writing until I learned that I had a lot to learn. The more I study and strive to be the best I can be, the more I feel like I can never measure up to the expectations of both myself AND others.
So why do I write? To be honest, I’m going through a period of writer’s block right now, concerning my WIP. To use the analogy of getting a child ready to go out into the public, I bathed, combed, powdered, and dressed my baby manuscript to within an inch of its little life earlier this year. I tried to put in all the things that contest judges would expect of a contemporary romance. I cut out loads of back-story—including what had inspired me to write the story in the first place.
Let’s go back a bit, shall we? Not to the beginning, but maybe, oh, two years? Two years ago, before I knew that I didn’t know how to write, I started scribbling stories. They were stories of love, faith, and happy endings. Maybe there was a mystery involved. Maybe not. But it usually started with an idea, a bit from a song, something I saw or heard that made me think of a scene. The main criteria was that it start with a hook, have some kind of conflict, and have a romantic “happily ever after.”
Oh wait…that’s almost like a beginning, middle, and end. Hmm.
After I wrote my first fanfiction story completely, I had my sister read it, and critique it. She made suggestions. Good ones. My first critique partner?
I let other people read it. They liked it. They responded in a way that made me know I wanted to write another story. The next story I wrote and posted as I went, about a chapter a day. It was nerve-wracking, but I survived. I had no outline, no idea except a general impression of the “tone” of the story and the ending. What would HAPPEN in the end, I knew, but how would they get there? I worked an FBI case into it. Sure, that required some research, but that was fun. I spent a lot of time at the FBI website. I wonder if they ever check out these zany writers that look up stuff about serial killers, jewel thieves, and where the nearest field office is to Charleston, South Carolina? (Psst – there’s not one in Charleston. The closest is in the state capitol, Columbia!)
This story was even better, and I actually started developing a “fanbase” of people who regularly begged for more.
Then I had a dream. It was one of those that featured a big house with lots of rooms. I came up with some characters. I started writing. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I finally typed “The end,” and then I started RE-writing. I’ve gone through it, in layers, at least four times.
So what am I? I’m a seat-of-your-pants writer who agonizes because she feels guilty NOT plotting. I know. I’m hopeless. But I hope, once I turn this blocked corner, that I will find the FUN in writing again. And you know what? I think part of what makes me know I will find that enjoyment again is knowing that I have friends out there who are lifting me up. I can’t help but think of Paul, writing to the Phillipians:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phillipians 1:3-6
Plotter or pantser?
Posted on June 30, 2010 - by Brenda Anderson
I love algebra.
For me, there’s nothing more fun than when my kids bring an algebra problem to me and we work it out together. Then there’s the joy of finding algebraic equations in everyday life. Yes, those equations are all around you. In college, I tutored math and chemistry. If not for that Russian calculus teacher I had in college (at 7:15 in the morning – yawn), I probably would have majored in math instead of literature. I even married an assessor.
As for spreadsheets, they are one of my best friends. I track everything on Excel. It’s so much fun highlighting a column, hitting the sum button, and then seeing the answer magically appear at the bottom. Yes, I am totally serious.
And without lists, I don’t think I’d ever accomplish anything. Every morning I make a list of what I need to accomplish during the day, and I dutifully cross out all the completed tasks. I have a list for what I want to do this summer and for my daughter’s graduation party next spring. And, yes, the date is already set.
A few weeks back, Kaye Dacus posted a blog where she talked about right brain vs. left brain and she even included a link to this neat little website where I could see which part of my brain is dominant. No surprise, I’m 65% left-brained.
I’m a linear thinker. I need to finish A before I tackle B. Please don’t throw a curveball into my plans. Nothing stresses me more.
So, naturally, one would assume that I’m a plotter.
But, as we’ve learned over the past week and a half, the opposite is true. For me, plotting out a story steals all the joy from writing. By nature, I should be a plotter. I couldn’t figure out why I’m not. Then, on Sunday night, it suddenly occurred to me:
God is showing me the freedom of surrender.
In life, God calls us to surrender all to Him. Frankly, I’m not very good at that. I like being in control, hence my lists and spreadsheets. I like life problems that add up as easy as X + X = 4. But real life is more like a complex physics’ equation that not even Data from Star Trek can figure out.
Over this past year, I’ve discovered that when I write what the market demands, when I flesh out my characters’ personalities ahead of time and plan what they are going to do, the story comes out flat, and the characters are as dull as 2X – 4 = 8.
But through this gift of writing, God is showing me the joy of releasing control completely to Him. He gifts me with beautiful moments when my mind is clear of outlines and plots.
And then, God whispers a scene, one that lives with much greater depth than I ever could have planned. I let the story flow organically and learn about the characters in my stories much the same way I learn about people in real life. At first I see their façade and then gradually discover their heart.
So, this summer, as I sit at my computer with only a beginning and an ending in mind (and both will most likely change by the time I type THE END), I look forward to writing again. I don’t care if what I write doesn’t appeal to the popular market, because they’re not who I write for. My ultimate goal isn’t to write a best seller, or even get published, although the world tells me that’s what I should strive for. But, honestly, wouldn’t that be limiting God? My goal is to listen to His voice, to make my fingers sing praises over the keyboard. Writing what He wants me to write, and working at it with all my heart, is the ultimate form of worship.
There’s a tremendous joy and freedom in surrender.
Now, I need to learn from that and apply it to the rest of my life.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23
Posted on June 29, 2010 - by JerriLynn
Plotter. Pantser. Some hybrid of both. It’s an age-old discussion. And I’ve heard just about every angle of it. Even seen a few flame wars to go along with it. People are very passionate about the way they do things. But the truth is, there’s no exact science to writing, having written, and being a writer. You just do it. Like or not, you sit down in front of the keyboard and start hitting the keys in some random order that eventually reigns order from the chaos.
I’ve enjoyed reading all the different ways that my partners write. It’s like peeking into lamp-lit windows as you drive through a neighborhood after dark. There’s just something fascinating about that little three second glance you get as you drive by. It’s enough to get the creative juices flowing.
No two writers write exactly alike. That’s one of the reasons that there are so many writing books on the market, and why those books tend to sell so well. We’re all looking for some standardization. There isn’t any. And the sooner you come to the realization that your way works for you, the more you’re actually going to get written.
My method, for example is slightly different than every other one that’s been written about over the last couple of weeks. I tried the plotting method. I’m bored with the story before it’s time to write it. I tried the seat-of-the-pants method. I get lost. So, I’ve developed something that keeps me on track but allows me creative freedom.
Stories for me come around frequently. Sometimes they’re great stories that stick with me. Other times they are just drivel that fills up dozens of notebooks that I have to find a place to store.
I write all of the ideas down. Usually it’s a paragraph or two with a very skeletal outline for what I see in the story. Once in a while a story is captivating enough that the initial note is a few pages long. Those are the ones that I usually end up trying to develop.
Once I settle on an idea that *I* think is good enough to develop, I start a notebook for that idea. I use it to capture initial thoughts; those bits and pieces of story that don’t fit into any specific place…yet. In this note book, I write the name of each character at the top of a page and leave a few pages between it and the next. About halfway through the notebook I’ll start an outline.
The outline is not a before-the-book-is-written outline. It’s an as-I-write outline. So initially I have maybe a scene or two of the beginning of the book in the outline. Then I write. And write. And write. And when I’ve finished writing for the day I do two things. I go back and fill in the outline so far. It’s usually just notes about the high-points in the story, or character qualities or quirks that I need to keep up with.
I also take the time to write down what I see for the next chapter and make notes for other plot-points that have come up while I’m writing. This way I don’t get lost and when I come back to writing the next time (which isn’t always the next day), it’s easy to re-acclimate myself with where I am in the story.
The system works well for me. I’ve had positive comments from editors about the novels I’ve submitted. I just can’t seem to write something that “fits” with popular (meaning sell-able) fiction. Not to worry. The stories needed to be written. And actually writing is the part that I do seem to have down to a science, even if it’s not popular science.
Posted on June 24, 2010 - by Marlene (aka Marlo)
I’m a hardcore pantser. My only problem… the seat of my pants is ripping at the seams and hanging by a shred.
At a rational level, I understand the plotters arguments. Plan your story first. Develop your character. Then write the story. It’s simple, elegant and practical. No dead-end, no banging your head on the wall. Believe it or not, I do apply that rule to every other aspect of my life, so why not writing? Frankly, I’m not sure I have an answer.
I write suspense. The first thing I develop is a plot. More often than none, it stemmed from a misadventure in my life, like when my oldest daughter called me from Costa Rica to tell me she was in the middle of an earthquake or my youngest daughter when she missed her plane after the pilot barged out of the plane as it was about to take off when he learned his pregnant wife had gone into labor. These actual events make good premises for an interesting story, so my mind begins to play with alternate scenarios until it settles on one that shows some potential. That’s actually when I begin to write.
At the beginning of a story, I only have a vague idea of my characters. I know I need a girl, a guy, a villain, and a bunch of other secondary characters. As I write, my characters slowly come to life. They start pretty bland and as I get to know them better, their traits and behavior emerge. About 15,000 to 20,000 words into the story, they have evolved into full human beings. At this point, I go back to page one and make a full edit of what I’ve written so far to incorporate their unique characteristics into the story and give them a three-dimensional personality. It’s also at that point that I settle on their names.
Now you may wonder if I know where I’m going with my story. At the beginning I do. I have that virtual skeleton in my mind of what the story will sound like. Do I follow it? Sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t. See, once the characters had left their imprints on paper, they become the driving force of the story, and I have a hard time forcing them to do what I want them to do. Sometime I hit a dead end in a way that I’d meant the story to go into that direction, but what the character needs to do goes against who it had become. Granted I could re-write that part of his/her personality to fit the action, but I prefer to change the direction of the story to fit my characters, which often leads to interesting new threads and subplots that I had never imagined tackling.
Do I often write myself into a corner? I stopped counting. Do I bang my head on the wall? You should see the cracks in the paint. Do I go back to check in previous chapter if the guy’s eyes are blue or brown? Yes, but only if I can remember which name I ended up giving him.
I know I should at least take small notes as I write each chapter. Well, for the manuscript I’m working on, I did just that…and I was good for two full chapters. What chapter am I on right now? Tenth, and no notes, except for the ones I keep tucked in a virtual drawer in my brain.
So…I’m afraid I’m an unrepentant pantser who needs a solid seat. Time to go shopping for a new pair of pants.
Posted on June 22, 2010 - by Shannon Vannatter
For eight books straight, I pantsed my way to completion. Oh the puzzles that unexpectedly piece themselves together when on a pantsing expedition. Oh the editing and revisions that follow. It was fun, not knowing exactly what would happen. With each book, I knew the beginning, the black moment, and the end. As I wrote, the scenes wove themselves together in surprising ways. After the final draft, I wrote the synopsis and wondered why it was so dreaded. It was just a condensed version of the book.
Then I got an offer from Heartsong Presents! And they wanted two more books! But first, they wanted a short synopsis on books 2 and 3 before I could sign the contract. Write a synopsis before writing the book????? I pantsed my way through it and signed the first contract. But before I could sign contract 2 and 3, they wanted a chapter by chapter synopsis on each book. I tossed and turned, gnashing my teeth.
In the vague recesses of my brain I remembered something about a snowflake. I looked up Randy Ingermanson’s method. The more I read over it, the more it fried my creativity. I stopped reading and started writing. I followed Randy’s method, but pantsed my way through without reading it step by step. A few weeks later, I had a chapter by chapter and another signed contract.
Then it came time to write the book. For the first time in my life, I experienced what I had thought was a myth: writers’ block. Instead of seeing where my imagination led me, I had to write a book about these characters, where this had to happen and this had to happen and we had to end up here. I tried writing anyway and turned out senseless drivel.
In the meantime, I attended a life-changing writers’ workshop taught by Kaye Dacus. I knew Kaye wrote for Barbour, so she had to have written a few pre-book chapter by chapters. I asked if she was a pantser or plotter. She said both and explained that she had been a pantser until she had to write her first chapter by chapter. She shared that she wrote them, then put the project away until her mind cleared, then she started writing the book. If she got stuck, she’d read the synopsis.
I tried it and it worked. The words started flowing, thank goodness, since I had a deadline looming. Book 2 was still the hardest I’ve written and most edited so far. For book 3, I did the synopsis 3 months in advance. By the time I started writing the book, it flowed. I think I’ve hit my stride now. And like Kaye, I’m half pantser/half plotter. It’s a happy medium for me. My creativity doesn’t get fried, but I know where I’m going if I get stuck. My books don’t align completely with the synopsis. As I write, sometimes things change.
Lately, I’ve started working out each characters’ Goals, Motivations, and Conflict before I start the story. This helps me know my characters better and keep their reactions in character. Unexpected developments still pop up and I let them. My characters tell me things I didn’t know about them and I run with it. Pieces of the puzzle I didn’t see emerge and I let them fit into place. And writing is fun again.
In life, I’m a full-fledged pantser. I don’t plan too far ahead, don’t follow a strict schedule, and am totally unorganized. I’m unstressed, easy-going, and wear rose-colored glasses. It works me. Life is fun.
If you’re a plotter, are you organized and follow a strict schedule in life? If you’re a pantser, do you fly by the seat of your pants in life?