There must be 50 ways to draft your story: How do you plot vs how much do you pants?

March 13, 2014

Kathrin forwarded out a passionate and controversion Writer Unboxed post by Lisa Cron, saying that neither Pantsing nor Plotting was the best way to write a story. I took a read-through and immediately took issue with Lisa’s thesis; in my opinion she was setting up straw men for both Pantsers and Plotters, and though she provides some good advice for one way to draft a story, I don’t think it’s anything new or revolutionary, and in fact it sits somewhere closer to the pantser side of the spectrum.

That got me thinking about all the different ways you could prepare before writing a story. Very few of even the hard-core Pantser tribe would sit down and begin writing without even the glimmer of an idea picked out in their head beforehand, though it might be very interesting in a zen way to try that and see what comes out. And even if you’re plotter enough to try to get everything planned out beforehand except for the final text… what order do you tackle it in?

So I’m going to try to review how I prepared before writing a few of the stories I’m proud of writing at the moment:

Return to Civilization: This was one of the first ideas I got when I tried Holly Lisle’s ‘calling down lightning’ brainstorming idea, and so from there I had the general premise of an explorer returning to Sol system after a long trip, and running into robots who thought he was an alien because he didn’t have proper Earth citizen identification. I mulled over that much for a long time, including all my weeks at Odyssey, and finally felt I could start writing it once I realized it needed to be a funny piece. I don’t think I had much more about the character or the ending until I started typing.

Gotta Have That Look: (the first version.) I vividly remember that this was an A-Z challenge prompt from Nicki, and I saved it for my ‘Summer of Shorts’ Camp Nanowrimo challenge. The original challenge was more surreal and fantasy-ish, about a shop where you could literally buy body parts for yourself, but I knew I wanted to make it more sci-fi-ish, with genetic therapy injections, and I figured out that it had to be in high school, with a teenager who wanted to get a makeover to make himself the dream guy of his dream girl, except there’s a problem with one gene sequence he needs. Again, I don’t think I fleshed out the characters much before I started writing, and maybe that’s why I had to throw so much of the original plot out when I started again at Odyssey. 😉

The Storm Mirror: This started from another prompt, one I got online from a random prompt generator: a mirror, a seaside setting, and happiness. This time I planned it out a lot more before I started writing, though, working out what the mirror had to do with happiness and unhappiness, who had it and why she was using it, and established what my main character wanted in each act of the story and what was standing in his way.

The Angel’s Charlie: This was the first time I really plotted out a book in extensive detail, using the snowflake method. I had several pages of plot and character notes before I started writing. It’s also the first time I reached the end of my book still short on words to win NaNoWriMo, so I ended up writing a few teaser scenes for a possible sequel. 😛

What about you? If you’re a pantser, what do you generally want to know before you start writing? If you’re a plotter, what element of the story do you come up with first?

Camp Nano Spotlight: Off the Beaten Plan

April 17, 2013

First off, I want to share something else I’m really excited about that starts with an O: Odyssey! I still haven’t heard anything definitive about my application to the Odyssey writing workshop, but it sounds like the decisions will probably be made by the end of the week, and I’ve gotten a hopeful sign. It’d be so great to spend six weeks down in New Hampshire, writing and learning like a crazy fool.
Update! I got in! Got the email confirmation this afternoon.

Moving on… I’ve known this next camper since before she started her blog, because she was one of my table-mates at that pilgrimage to the center of all that is holy about National Novel Writing Month: The Night of Writing Dangerously fundraising write-in and dinner in San Francisco. So, it’s my pleasure to spotlight a fellow A-Z challenger, Nicki

How did you find out about Camp NaNoWriMo?
I am the Municipal Liason (Volunteer Cat Herder) for the USA :: PA :: Lehigh Valley region of National Novel Writing Month, so I heard via one of those super-secret, pre-release emails where us ML’s get info early so we can get super excited and figure out how to make participants super excited, too. I even went and bought the Camp NaNoWriMo Kit (one for me, and one for my Dad) the moment they were on sale. I was so excited.

Have you participated in Camp Nano before? If so, would you call it a success?
I have tried, and it was never a success. In 2011 it took place in July, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong!), and while I started off at midnight of July 1st, I started with bright blue acrylic nails that were impossible to type with. I don’t know how women do it – I just can’t. It’s awkward enough when my real nails get long, but when there’s this projection that forces me to completely change my finger position on the keyboard, it was like constantly listening to an orchestra of fingernails on a chalkboard. Really bad. I failed, and then was demotivated enough for the 2nd session to just not even try. 2012 was a year filled with other personal writing, and Camp got skipped entirely. This year is going to be different.

Do you know what you’re going to write this year?
Oh, yes. Because I’m also doing the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I really have to plan this novel out. I’ll have four less days than everyone else to write because I’m blogging my novel to comply with the A to Z Challenge, plus I have to have the entry have something to do with the prescribed letter of the alphabet.

So my story idea came to me while watching a “Say Yes to the Dress” marathon on NetFlix. I loved the two ideas of a woman buying her wedding dress before she was engaged, and have that relationship end poorly, and the idea of having a woman get stuck in a wedding dress for a day. So my novel, tentatively titled “The Cyan Dress”, is what happens when a woman who has purchased her wedding gown before her engagement is forced to spend a day in that gown after getting dumped by her boyfriend the day before.

What’s your favorite part of your Camp project?
I think my least-favorite part is easier – planning. But maybe my favorite part is going to be putting my character into absolutely horrible, awkward situations. For example, she’ll start out the novel being the 2nd bride at a wedding. And pan-handling in a wedding gown? Well, she’ll give it a shot, anyway. And so will I.

Sneaky Ninja question! What is your favorite color?


Pink. Pinkilicious, Pinkie-pie, Pink-o-rama. Cotton candy pink, 80’s neon pink, baby pink, especially Amaranth (which I did not know was a color name, or a plant, but it is actually the perfect shade of pink). I have an assortment of pink supplies always – pens (pink barrels and pink ink), sticky-notes, notebooks, file folders, and other assorted office supplies (staples). 

Creativity spawns more creativity – isn’t that interesting? I find that production also begets more production, whether it’s words on the page or projects completed in the workplace. The more you do, the more you can do. So when you are noticing your word count is depressed, or that you don’t have the energy to get done what needs to get done, find a way to increase things however you can. 200 words for a blog post here, taking the trash out and cleaning the sink there, and it all adds up. Weird, huh?

Check out my blog at Off the Beaten Plan. I have Facebooks and Twitters aplenty, but they’re all just re-posting everyone else’s stuff, so why not just cut to the good stuff? Thanks, Chris, for the opportunity to be interviewed! This was fun!!

You’re welcome, and thanks for volunteering!

Camp Day 7 check-in

June 7, 2012

Well, it’s the morning of June the seventh, and I thought I’d run down how I’m doing on my rebel ‘Summer of Shorts’ project. To recap – I’m participating in Camp Nanowrimo, but I’m not setting my goal at the fifty thousand word novel manuscript. Instead, I wanted to get some short stories written, ideally in the 2000-3000 word range, and somewhat out of the air I picked eight stories as a workable goal. I wrote three shorts in May, and finished one in two days, while the other two stretched over four. I thought that if I could turn out a short every three days in June, I’d be nearly finished the eighth when I have to leave for Kansas on June 24th, and find a little time to finish it at the workshop.

So, how am I doing so far? Three stories complete in six days! That’s how I’m doing. 🙂

Story one – ‘A New Look’. This is based on a prompt from ‘Off the Beaten Plan‘ that I saved back in March. My main character is a shy boy in school who goes down to the local genetic cosmetician to become the dream boy of his crush – complete with green eyes. But when the cosmetologist tells him that he’s allergic to the green eye formula, he has to figure out how far he’s prepared to go.
I started this on Friday morning, June 1st, and finished sometime Saturday afternoon, June 2nd.

Story two – “I will return for you.” Started on Saturday evening, June 2nd, and finished at a write-in with Elizabeth Twist, sunday afternoon, June 3rd. This was an idea that was based on the song ‘Christmas Day’, by Dido. I have a peasant heroine, who meets a young nobleman that falls in love with her and promises to come back and take her to his family estate to be married – but he doesn’t come back. The girl, Cassandra, borrows a fast horse, follows her lover’s trail far enough to figure out that he’s not all he seemed, and then goes back to the family estate to find out what’s really going on.

Story three – “My Perfect World,” took a bit longer. I’m not quite sure where this idea came from – a few references I ran into talking about realistic immersive VR or holodeck-type technology being the end of human civilization, and combining that with those old standbys, the four Laws of Robotics. I started this Monday evening on a twitter word sprint, got lots written Tuesday on the bus, and finally finished it last night after all kinds of things had come up to distract me.

So – I’m doing well so far, and if I can manage to keep up this pace I should be able to get to eleven stories at least! On the other hand, the going may get tougher through the month, as I need to either brainstorm new ideas, or work with ideas that don’t excite me quite as much as the first ones I tackle. But we’ll see. I’m loving Camp so far, and will be meeting up with the other Hamilton Campers at Williams tonight. Whoo-hoo!

Camp Day 1 – Off to a great start!

June 1, 2012

So, it was a rather rainy Friday here in Southern Ontario, so I didn’t want to take the Alphasmart or a netbook with me and write on the bus. Instead, I took a bit of time writing at home, then drove Ghost in to work, back home, and wrote more.

I ended up starting “A new Look”, based on an old prompt from Nicki, and though I only got a few hundred words done in the morning, I’m now over 1700, which means that I’m nearly done. I’m probably going to go over two thousand words, especially since I’ve got the whole denouement to go yet, but I think I can wrap it up in less than 1000 more.

This is definitely a great start – one story nearly complete on the first day, and it was a workday to boot. Maybe I’ll even be able to do better than eight stories in June – but I’m not going to commit to that yet. 😉

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