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?

Nano Spotlight: Sushi Must Write

October 24, 2013

Good large_ponymorning, friends and followers. This morning, it’s my special pleasure to bring you a very special spotlight interview with the wonderful Sushi–a wrimo among wrimos, admin of the Wikiwrimo, and someone who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several times at Night of Writing Dangerously events in San Francisco. She’s also the only spotlight victim so far who has dared to appeal the usual questions, on the grounds that she didn’t have a Nano plot. So… Sushi!

Why did you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo the first time?
I wanted to be a writer since fifth grade but never could finish writing a novel. By 2002 I had started one novel but gave up after three chapters. One evening in October I was reading friends’ diaries on Diaryland when one of those people mentioned a thing called National Novel Writing Month. Novel? Month? This immediately intrigued me because according to my teenage logic, how could I be a writer if I couldn’t finish writing a book?

So without any idea of what I was getting into, I signed up and finished with six hours to spare. And I’ve finished every year since.

What’s the most unusual part of your writing process?
I write a lot. 50k is a minimum, not a threshold, and after years and years of Nanoing, I take that very seriously. After all, NaNo is a self-challenge and there’s no fun if you’re not challenging yourself in some way.

I’m also a pantser, and the fact that I have only a tiny idea that may or may not work out doesn’t bother me one bit. Give me a concept and a character, and I’m ready to go. The rest can get figured out as I go along.

What advice would you give to all your fellow Wrimos?
This is a thing I could on and on about. But just to name a few:

Back up your novel in multiple places. Anything can happen: you wash your USB drive, you delete the email containing your novel, or your hard drive dies. Or all three happen on the same day. The more backups and the more regular backups you make, the better. Every year multiple people lose their novel at the end of the month. Don’t be one of them. Back up your novel.

Get involved in the NaNo community. I’ve been fortunate to meet most of my best friends through the NaNo community, and this community is supportive and kind. So go post on the forums, get involved with your region, and make a writing buddy or two. Writing a novel is much more fun with company.

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Nanowrimo Spotlight #7: Quiet Laughter

October 27, 2012

Good morning, everybody! It’s the last weekend before Nanowrimo, so here’s a spotlight interview with Guilie from Quiet Laughter.

What’s the most unusual part of your writing process?
Define “unusual”. Unusual to whom? To me it all looks perfectly normal, but then again, I’ve been known to consider wine before noon normal, or wasting a perfectly good Saturday traipsing along backroads chasing a stray and mangy dog to bring him to the vet. So maybe my “normal” isn’t quite up to par. I’m a pantster, meaning “plot” or even “plan” are words that confuse me. How can anyone plan anything to do with fiction? Characters have lives of their own, and as wonderful an idea as I may have for a story, the characters rule. (Yes, my fiction is character-heavy.) So I sit in front of the blank page, and imagine the character. Who is he/she? What do they want at that moment? What are they feeling? What makes them who they are? What are they doing? Who do they see, talk to? Why? And so a story is born.

HUGE drawback of being a pantster? The editing. I finished my first novel in August 2011, and have been editing it non-stop since then. Ran it through a couple of beta readers, then past my ever-trusty critique group (the Internet Writing Workshop,), hired a professional editor, next week will be her second pass after a six-month round of revisions. I do empathize with Picasso, going back to the museums to “fix” his paintings. It’s never finished, not ever. All I can hope for is to tell the story as well as I’m able before sending it out into the world. And yeah, I’m going the traditional agent-publisher route. Subject for another discussion, perhaps.

Where are your backup files?
Uh, backup? No, just kidding. I’ve never lost a WIP to the vagaries of cyberspace or cybertech, but I’ve heard enough stories to scare me into multiple backups. SERIOUSLY. DO IT. My Writing folder (which contains novels, short stories, notes on future opus magna, etc.) is not saved on my computer at all but on Dropbox. Additionally, I save a copy of it (yep, the whole folder) once or twice a week to an external drive. AND I have multiple copies on CD, too.

On a NaNo group in Facebook, there was recently a discussion about Scrivener and other writing software. Yes, I use Scrivener, will never go back to Word (not for the actual writing, although I do use it for final formatting), you cannot convince me there’s anything better than Scrivener, so don’t even try. And yeah, this is related to backing up. See, Scrivener allows you to take “snapshots” of your work. Say you finish a chapter, or scene, whatever. You take a snapshot, record it for posterity. Then you come back to edit (not during NaNo, eh?), and you go, “what the *#$% was I thinking?” and you start deleting like there’s no tomorrow: snipping whole sections out, copy-pasting paragraphs from the end to the beginning and vice versa, changing dialogue around, changing tags to action beats or beats to tags, whatever. And after an hour of merry snipping you realize you’ve totally–absolutely, beyond belief–ruined the chapter / scene. Ooops. Ha! But Scrivener, see, has saved that previous version in that snapshot you took. It’s right there for you to read, side-by-side with the new disaster. You can copy-paste from the previous version, or you can just hit “restore” and the disaster disappears. Oh, wait, you’re not sure the disaster is such a disaster after all? No worries–take a snapshot of it, and it’s saved. You need never again lose any bit of your writing.

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April 18, 2011

O is for…

For a lot of years, I was very much a ‘Pantser’ in terms of my writing, and have the very long and rambling Roswell fanfic manuscripts to prove it. Recently, I’ve tried to outline in more formal ways, including trying the snowflake method with Nanowrimo last year, and the Blake Snyder beat board with Script Frenzy, which is working out quite well.

I used to think of my usual ‘writing by the seat of my pants’ approach as a way of taking a journey – whether walking or driving, but trying to get to a particular destination, and possibly visit certain landmarks along the way, but without a map or a planned out route, just a vague notion of which direction I’d find my goals in.

Outlining, so far, isn’t like scouting out the path ‘boots on the ground’ beforehand – it doesn’t have that same sense of immediacy that actually writing does. But, depending on how I approach the outline, it might be like working out a plan with a map, or on Google Maps, or even scouting out the territory in a helicopter ahead of time.

I haven’t made up my mind whether it’s always better to outline in a structured way, like with the snowflake method or the Blake Snyder approach, or more intuitively, just trying to write the storyline out in bullet points, (perhaps working back from the ending.) Maybe both approaches have their points, depending on the situation.

Either way, outlining is a pretty cool way to prepare for a writing trip, and I think that I’m going to keep experimenting with it, in more detail and trying out more approaches.

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