Monday, August 22, 2011
Other writers are pantsers. They write by the seat-of-their pants. They start with a blank slate and let the story and characters take them where they will.
I’ve seen both types of writers—plotters and pantsers—do very well. If you were to read their final manuscripts, you likely wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They both end up in the same place—with a delightful well-told story.
With that said, however, I will admit I’m neither of the above, that I’m really more of a combination. You might call me a plantser (plotter + pantser).
Before I start my first draft, I do a TON of research (as in weeks of reading and scouring books). But most historical writers have to do that. It’s just part of the nature of writing a book set in a different time and place.
And before I begin writing, I also do a TON of brainstorming. I pull out a new spiral notebook and jot down ideas as they come to me or as they arise from all my researching. I fill pages with lists of all kinds of wild and crazy possibilities.
Eventually I narrow down my plot and come up with a very rough sketch of how I’d like to see my book progress. I write a few brief ideas for each chapter. But usually those ideas are fluid and vague.
Of course, I also get to know my characters before starting the first draft. I need to have a good grasp of each of my character’s backstory, their personalities, quirks, goals, etc. I fill out most of an extensive character worksheet I’ve developed. (And you’re welcome to use it too! Check it out here.)
Once my characters come to life, I finally begin to have the feeling that I’m ready to write the story. I have a pretty good idea of the plot and where I’d like it to go, but I’ve also left plenty of room for the story to develop as I write (and my characters too). For me that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing—seeing the story and characters become bigger and more dynamic than I could have ever initially imagined.
Yes, I love the freedom that comes from not having things too planned out. That’s the pantser in me. But I also need some direction when I actually sit down before a blank screen. And that’s where the plotter in me comes out.
Prior to writing a chapter, I write down what I hope to accomplish with each scene in that particular chapter (I usually have a couple of different scenes per chapter where I change location and/or POV). In other words, I outline each scene in chapter one, then write them. Outline the scenes in chapter two, then write them. And so on.
It’s in those chapter outlines that I get VERY detailed in my plotting. Here’s just some of what I include (in fact I’m taking this directly from a page of my current WIP’s notebook):
• Time & Place: (This helps me keep track of the story timeline and how well I’m varying my setting.)
• Point of View: (This helps me monitor how often I’m switching POV; I try to keep it fairly even throughout the book.)
• Hook: (How can I initially grab the reader’s attention?)
• Intensity: (Will this scene be high action or more contemplative? I want this to vary.)
• Read on Prompt: (How will I end the scene so that I make the reader want to keep going?)
• Mood: (What kind of mood do I hope to portray and what kinds of things will help with that?)
• Sensory details: (I brainstorm ways I can get most of the five sense into the scene, hopefully in ways that will match the mood.)
• Goals: (This is where I list any and everything that I hope to write in the scene including character details, plot points, minor characters, etc.)
I refer to this “outline” as I write the scene. It helps give gentle direction and keeps me from leaving out important points. By doing the plotting in small increments as I go, I’m able to allow the story the breathing room it needs to develop, but I’m also able to keep myself on track with where I need to go next.
How about you? Are you a panster, plotter, or a plantser? What’s your method for getting through the madness?
P.S. This week I'm giving away one more signed copy of The Doctor's Lady! The book is inspired by true people from history. Head over to Trivia Question #3 to find out who inspired the story and for your chance to win!
*Photo credit: flickr
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