Sunday, September 19, 2010

A History of Being a Pantster

In high school English, the area I hated the most was dissecting a story’s plot. I didn’t care how an author constructed a story. I wanted to be entertained. I wanted an adventure I could never have in real life. A trip back in time with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or a new planet to explore in Anne McCaffrey latest novel; something fun.

In high school, papers were to be done to the teachers specifications. I had a hard time with teachers that expected you to turn in an outline weeks before the paper was due. I preferred to write the paper from my head and not follow a step by step process. In college, it was easier to write research papers. I took notes, organized them according to the thoughts in my head, and wrote. Ten to twenty pages later I was done.

It should be no surprise then, that as I started writing fiction I am known as a Pantster. I sit at my keyboard and let the story flow from head to the paper. I don’t outline, I don’t have any plot points defined and I don’t have any storyboard with multicolored post-it notes. Yes, I’ve taken quite a few plotting classes and none really work for me.

I keep several of the plot point diagrams (Vogler’s Character Arc and the 3-Act Structure) around my desk but I don’t refer to them very often as I write my first draft. I may use them more during edits if a critique partner tells me I’m missing something. Or I get that feeling that something is wrong with the storyline. But for the most part my stories progress start to finish from my head with no pre-planning.

I have to do some character detail sheets before I start writing. But that’s character and not plot so it doesn’t count. I don’t like doing it either. I’d rather sit and write but it is hard to get details correct without having character traits ahead of time. So there is a bit of pre-planning to my stories but not much.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Plotter? Panster? Plantster?

Hi, my name is Emma Lai, and I'm a recovering panster. I used to write by the seat of my pants. My characters dragged me this way and that. It was like a rollercoaster ride. The peaks were moments when my fingers flew over the keyboard racing to keep up with my characters. The valleys were times when I was stuck trying to recapture the momentum of the peaks. Both His Ship, Her Fantasy; His Hope, Her Salvation and Twice is Not Enough (coming soon from The Wild Rose Press) were written in this manner.

What happened? As always, life. Create a series and suddenly there's the issue of overarcing plot. That requires tracking. Create a baby and suddenly your spare time becomes used for things like showers and food.

That ever precious commodity of time leads to the requirement of plotting. I don't have time to let my characters drag me this way and that, but I do have time to catch the essence of the journey. A few lines to spur my memory and the story can progress in my head, if not on paper.

But, if I had my way, I'd still be a panster. :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

plotter or panster?

Plotter or panster? That's the question this month. As an editor who also writes, I'd have to say my answer to that question is a combination of both.

I don't exactly draw up detailed charts and graphs, but I'm not constantly taken by surprise by where characters lead me. I like to do a short synopsis then write the bare bones story first. I go back after that and flesh out the story, develop the characters, and add historical details...etc.

I've tried the more complicated plotting, having a notebook with sections and color-coding things; it was all very organized. That worked fine, but it was a real change for me, and I haven't done it since.

I don't normally sit and write a story through though, without some thought first about direction and goals. I'll make notes. If plot holes pop up, I'll do more research. Sometimes a chart or two come in handy, and so do timelines.

After it's all done, I of course go over it all again carefully to make sure all my added details fit in with the overall story quite logically. It's so much fun writing a book. Don't you think? -Corinne M

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Plotting by the Seat of my Pants

I used to write by the seat of my pants. A single thought would trigger an idea for a story and I'd just start putting ideas on paper as they came to me. I wrote faster this way, but I'd often write myself into a corner. I'd get to a plot twist or black moment with no way to logically resolve the issue. Or, I'd work my way through the problem only to have my critique partners point out gaping wholes in my plot. I'd also frequently leave dangling threads at the end of the story. I'd leave a secondary character hanging or a question unanswered. Readers hate this. So do editors and agents.

Writing by the seat of my pants was faster on the front end but it was a logistical nightmare that required extra work on the back end. A story that took only three months to write often took another year to edit. And, as I later learned after years of submitting, fixing a problem isn't nearly as effective as preventing it.

Plotting a story allows me to see plot holes and logic issues before they become too big of a problem. If I create a story outline and jot down notes, I can fix plot problems before I'm half-way into the story.

Initially, I'd hand write my outline. But then I'd have all these papers scattered in files all over my office and I sometimes couldn't read my own writing. So, I opened a word file and tried keeping track of the plot and characters that way. But this was time consuming and not much better organized than using a pen and paper. So, I bought a computer writing program.

Now, I can not only plot out a story, I can keep track of physical descriptions and details of my characters so my heroine's blue eyes don't magically turn green. I can also keep track of turning points in the story and outline the details from beginning to black moment to happily ever after. It's even easier to give my characters goals, motivation, and conflict this way.

My hero/heroine wants or needs something because of this but can't get it because of that.

Sounds easy. Right? But not when my characters don't play along. And therein lies my problem with plotting.

As the story progresses, my characters take on lives of their own. Their goals or motivation change and I start stressing over the new direction of my story. Do I force them to follow the original plot? Or see where they'll take me?

If I go back to the original plot and try to make these new ideas work, I wind up re-plotting, which is a bit like writing another story. So, I follow the outline but let my characters stray from the original plot if it feels natural.

Following an outline is easier than writing by the seat of my pants but I've learned I have to be flexible or the story feels forced. And sometimes as I'm writing, the story changes course but I don't stress over it. I've learned writing is a lot like life.

Sometimes, things just don't go according to plan.

Out of the Darkness was originally entitled Blood Link but as the story grew and took on a life of its own, I realized the title didn't work any better than the original plot. But things worked out for the best. The Wild Rose Press published Out of the Darkness in May of this year. And now, I'm writing the sequel. The story is completely plotted but the characters have already strayed from my original script.

I guess I'm just going to let them have their way and see where they take me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If It Gets the Job Done...

As a new writer, you might have started out as a panster, but when you wrote your second and third book you decided plotting and outlining your stories worked better for you.

I’ve found I’m a little of both. When I wrote my historical time travels, I researched the time period. This also helped me decide some of the plot points I wanted to add to my story. Even with my paranormal romances, there’s a background story. You can’t have your characters popping into the world, make believe or not, without giving some insight to where they’ve been. Moon Shifter is about werewolves. I researched the legends and decided my werewolves would be more like the traditional Irish werewolves. In my Fallen Angels series, the Fallen are the Watchers mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls’, the Book of Enoch.

I also like to have the names of my hero and heroine before I write. I’ll jot down in a notebook what they look like and if they have any habits, etc. This goes for the secondary characters as well. So in this sense, I am a plotter.

I’m more a panster when it comes to writing the story. I do have an idea where I want to go with the story, but sometimes my characters have another idea and things begin to take another route. I just go with the flow. I may write the first few chapters of the book then have an idea for the middle of the story or have a great last scene in mind and have to let my fingers fly over the keyboard to type it out. Even characters have a habit of showing up and introducing themselves. I just add them to the notebook. I use “sticky note pads” to scribble down a few lines here and there as they come to me. These usually turn out to be full-fledged scenes. It’s rare for me to write from beginning to end.

There is nothing wrong with being a plotter, a panster or a little of both if it gets the job done. Just be true to yourself.

If you would like to know more about my paranormal tales, visit me at:

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