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?

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My month of editing draws nigh

February 26, 2013

It isn’t as if I haven’t been working hard on editing for months now – rewriting The Storm Mirror, getting stories and gnome sample chapters ready to submit to workshops, and powering through the last few lessons in ‘How to Revise your Novel.’ But as you may know if you’ve been following this blog for longer than 11 months, March is a different beast.

I’ve been doing ‘National Novel Editing Month’ in March since 2007, I think. It’s not the most popular of Nanowrimo spinoffs, and the online community tends to be terse at best. Maybe this says something about the level of challenge involved. If you’re pushing yourself to spend 50 hours on revision and editing in 31 days, (and especially if you’ve also got a job, family, or classes to keep up with,) you don’t have that much time to chatter about it on a message board.

But I still find that my March editing is worthwhile for me, and even if you’re not crazy enough to commit to 50 hours, I’d like to make the following three-part challenge to all writers out there:

  • Do some editing in March.
  • Talk to other writers about it.
  • Make a list of what you’ve accomplished with editing. Not a to-do list you cross things off from. A done list.

That third element is something that I may have come up with myself. I’m a big fan of to-do lists in general, but somehow when I’m really challenging myself in editing, they don’t seem to fit the bill, at least not in the traditional sense. Maybe that’s because my ‘to-do list’ for editing is always so long that trying to cross everything off would be disheartening instead of encouraging.

The way I do my lists in March the past few years is, I do sort of have a to-do list, but it’s an ideas/possibilities list, and nothing gets crossed off. I finish something, and I write it on the Done list. And it’s really encouraging to see that Done list grow over the month.

So, is anybody else with me?


A little detour on the road towards Clarion

February 2, 2013

I was organizing some more details on the requirements for the summer workshops I’m applying to yesterday, when I noticed a little problem.

Somehow I’d gotten the idea that the two sample stories I needed to submit for Clarion at San Diego could be anywhere from 2000 to 6500 words. But the limits are actually 2500 and 6000 words, only a little narrower, but enough to be inconvenient.

I was planning to submit “The Time Bubble Blues” and “The Storm Mirror” for Clarion UCSD. The Time Bubble Blues is a good length, but I was counting on a little wiggle room to even say that the Storm Mirror was 6500 words. It can’t pass for 6000.

And a lot of the shorter genre stories that I’ve written recently are around the 1900-2400 word length – that’s a good length for getting plenty of feedback at critters.org for one thing, and the SDMB short fiction contest entries have to be under 2000 words.

There’s one prospect that I like that’s solidly within the given range, which is ‘Northward Ho’, a speculative global-warming story set in Canada that I wrote last May. I’ve got some positive comments and some quick wins from the critters.org queue – but I’m getting a little tired of doing last-minute editing at this point. Sigh. Still, nothing to do but continue on!


Procrastinating on getting feedback.

January 10, 2013

I’ve started to realize that I’m procrastinating on on of my January goals – getting feedback on the new draft of “The Storm Mirror.” And I don’t really have the usual excuses of it being too much work and not enough time – yes, I don’t have a lot of time, but one of the Young Guns from the CSSF Short Fiction Writer’s workshops actually replied to an email I sent back in December how I was working on the revision, and said that he’d like to take a look and send me his thoughts. All I need to do is format the story up to SFWA standards and email it off.

But – well, I guess I’m nervous about the response I’d get. I’m very excited about this version of the story. I honestly think it may be one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve done. But the gentleman who has offered to do a critique is a really great writer with an incredible fund of knowledge about speculative fiction of all kinds, and he can be kinduv tough to impress.

I know I should get off my butt, send the piece off – and then take the critique with a few grains of salt when I get it back. But I’m not going to do that tonight. It’s late and I’m tired, after all. 😉


I’m all crittered out. (For now…)

January 7, 2013

Well, once again I’ve been racing to finish critiquing 10 different pieces of writing from the critters.org workshop queue, to earn the award that’s given out every week for “Most Productive Critter.” I like to shoot for an MPC every so often, mostly because the prize is a pass to go directly to the front of the queue of submitted stories, which can come in handy. The usual wait to get something critiqued on critters.org is a month, and I often get impatient when I have something new that I want to get feedback on.

The last time I earned an MPC, I kept the pass in my pocket for months, until I actually used it to see what the critters thought of the opening to “The Gnomes are Missing.” I actually haven’t really gone through all the critiques I got for ‘Gnomes’ yet, but they’re sitting in my gmail, and then I immediately sent ‘Time Bubble Trap’ through to be critiqued. TBT is going to be sent out Wednesday of this week.

And if I get a new MPC this week, I’m going to use it to get the new revision of “Storm Mirror” out next week – so I’ll have critters feedback on all three pieces I’ve been thinking of for workshop applications. Whoo-hoo!

Getting critiques of your own writing is obviously a good way to improve it, but I’ve found that critiquing other writers via critters has also helped me learn a lot. I’ve sortuv developed a sort of a pattern, which helps when I’m trying to get lots of critiques done quickly but still make them as helpful as possible to the authors:

  1. Read through the story or excerpt, making notes about anything that occurs to me but trying to look at the big picture, not the nits. (Kindle is great for reading to critique!) Read the rest of this entry »

Insecure Writers’ Support Group: Workshop Applications

January 2, 2013

Hey, everybody, it’s time for the January 2013 edition of Insecure Writers’ Support Group. At least this time I don’t need to feel insecure about missing the date – I actually got the moment of ‘Did I forget’ yesterday, just as I was posting yesterday’s blog about 2013 goals. Then I remembered that it was only Tuesday, and set an extra reminder to do IWSG today.

But I definitely have something to feel insecure about, because I’m facing the prospect of choosing samples of my work to compete with other sci-fi and fantasy writers from across the continent and around the world, to represent the best I can accomplish and my hopes for a rare opportunity to learn from extremely talented published writers and editors. Yeah. Once again, I’m applying to summer writing workshops.

This year, I’ve got four different programs on my list:

Each of them calls for something different in terms of a writing sample – Clarion asks for two stories, Odyssey for no more than 4000 words, Clarion West for 20 to 30 pages. CSSF Novels wants the first 5-10 pages and a synopsis. So I’ve been trying to come up with material for all of them.

I started the sample pages for ‘The Gnomes are Missing’ in the last week of Nanowrimo, and I’ve been sharing snippets of them on Sundays ever since. During December, I started a new short, “Time Bubble Trap”, that will hopefully be my sample for Odyssey and half of my sample for Clarion. I’ve also been working on a new draft of “The Storm Mirror” for Clarion and Clarion West – the problem is, at the moment it’s too long, still around 8000 words and Clarion doesn’t want any stories over 6500.

I don’t know if any of this writing is going to be good enough to get me into exclusive programs like these, but I do feel secure enough in my dreams to keep trying and see. This summer is one opportunity that I won’t be able to take if I hesitate and miss the applications deadlines – though if I don’t make it this time, there’s always 2014.


TGIFBC

December 21, 2012

This acronym was offered by a friend of mine at work today, and I think it’s very appropriate. Thank Goodness It’s (the) Friday Before Christmas. 🙂

I’ll be able to work a half-day from home on Monday, for Christmas Eve, and then I have Christmas Day up at my sister’s place, Boxing Day, and I don’t need to go back into the office until next Thursday. On the other hand, I’m kind of on-call for work stuff, but I don’t expect that’ll be too bad.

On the creative front, things are going fairly well. I’ve done some Block Revision on ‘The Storm Mirror’ every morning this week except for Monday, (when I left early to take the bus and got some writing done on ‘Time Bubble Trap’,) and I picked up my art stuff with ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ today, for the first time since October.

TGIFBC to all of you, especially anybody who doesn’t need to go into work on Christmas Eve! 🙂


May the muse be with you

December 17, 2012

I feel like I’ve hit my creative stride over the past few days, for the first time since Nano, really. I already mentioned that my Saturday was productive in several ways.

Sunday, I started the block revision of ‘The Storm Mirror’, marking up the first two scenes and then rewriting the next few on the Alphasmart Dana. Then it was down to Williams on the pier, meeting up with Elizabeth Twist and Gale, where I started a new story, “Time Bubble Trap”, partially based on “Project Fast Track” from last year.

Today, I got more of “Time Bubble Trap” on the bus to and from work, writing on the eeePC. We got stuck in traffic for an extra fifteen minutes because the Hamilton Harbor lift bridge was up, but the battery was charged up enough that I could write for most of the extra time! I also read some of a Temperance Brennan book on the Kindle, “Deadly Decisions.”

So I feel like I’m well over the post-Nano crash, and riding a wave of creative energy. The next few days might be a little hard to find time for writing or revisions, though. Tomorrow evening is the Hamilton Writer’s meeting at Chester’s, and that should be fun. I’m going to bring the opening pages of “The Gnomes are Missing” again – this time other people have RSVPed, so I should be able to actually read them.

And Wednesday evening, my mother and I have tickets for the Vinyl Cafe concert at Hamilton Place, which is a holiday season tradition for us that I’m looking forward to.

Hopefully I’ll be able to fit more Block Revision in tomorrow before I have to leave for work.


Productive Saturday

December 15, 2012

This is definitely one of those days I can look back on and know that I got stuff done…

  • Got all my Christmas shopping done, including ‘New Year’s’ cards for my colleagues at work and some writer friends. (All the generic Christmas cards at the dollar store were pretty sappy, while the New Year’s cards seemed to hit the right note 😀 )
  • Got my hair cut.
  • Got my cable box shipped back to Cogeco.
  • Finished lesson 7 for revising “The Storm Mirror”, and pushed through lesson 16.
  • Made a kick-ass beef stew, with plenty put away in the fridge.

There was also some Terry Pratchett, organizing recycling, shopping for groceries, and organizing computer stuff in there. Now I can sleep the sleep of the just, or at least the sleep of the reasonably satisfied.


Discovery World-Building versus Revision World Triage

December 13, 2012

I’ve figured out that I skipped an important step in the ‘Revise my Short Story’ stuff I’ve been doing – the World Triage lesson, where you take inventory of all of the world elements – sets and props and gimmicks and doors and philosophies and even more categories that she’s come up with. You need to figure out what you’re using in the story to figure out if what you’ve created is the best world to fit the story you want to tell, and so that you can use those elements consistently in the rewrite.

Unfortunately, I think I’m at the point where I need to go to bed and continue the lesson tomorrow, because I’ve strayed from Triage and have caught myself doing Discovery World-Building – just looking for world elements that seem cool to know about this corner of Arion, despite the fact that I can’t see any possible way they fit into either the current draft or the revision outline that I already wrote in the Monastery. And I really do need to keep myself to the stuff that’s relevant, or I could be world-building until New Year’s!

So that’s something that I’ll have to keep in mind when I get on the bus tomorrow and try to pick up where I left off – only include the stuff that’s above the water level on the iceberg.


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