Humans love to share journeys.
When we go on vacation, we send postcards and put our trip photos on Facebook. When we lose weight or stop smoking, another kind of journey, we keep our friends informed about our progress. This is my postcard to you about my journey to become (I hope) a better writer.
I truly thought my sci/fi novel, THE INDIGO CONSPIRACY, was ready for prime time until one of my readers said, “I . . . uh. . . can’t keep track of your characters.” When another tugged gently on my sleeve and whispered, “Your plot is all over the place,” I realized I had a problem.
The plot was all over the place. The characters weren’t fleshed out enough to be memorable. I’d spent months working and reworking, fixing and re-fixing the story line and adding wonderful details that didn’t lead where they were supposed to go.
After I quit gnashing my teeth and throwing things, I realized that, painful though it was, I had just received a much needed wakeup call. If I wanted to improve and get my work out in a timely manner, I needed to make some adjustments to the way I work. I needed to transform myself from a “Pantser” to a “Plotter.”
Now unless you’re a writer, you may never have heard the terms, “Pantser” and “Plotter.” A “Pantser” is someone who races to the computer when inspiration strikes and immediately begins to write “by the seat of his/her pants,” thus, “Pantser.” He carves out the story as he/she writes much the way a sculptor finds his shape in his wood or clay. As you might guess this method, while spontaneous and thrilling, causes a lot of rewriting.
A “Plotter” is someone who gets an idea and then thinks about it, brainstorms it, jots notes down, works up character biographies, does a little research on the setting and the circumstances that might impact the plot, and in this way finds the heart of the story before turning on the computer or sharpening a pencil. He may even create a “Steps” list of the steps needed to get from one story point to the next, to borrow from James Frey and his excellent book on writing, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL.
So how does a chronic “Pantser” transform from the spontaneous wild child with the wonderful new toy to the serious and dedicated adult who wants to finish more than one book in her lifetime. Is it even possible to change?
I’m about to find out.
Two books have promised to help me on this journey—OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL: MAP YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS by K. M. Weiland and THE WRITER’S COMPASS: FROM STORY MAP TO FINISHED DRAFT IN 7 STAGES by Nancy Ellen Dodd. Both books make very convincing arguments for outlining, in other words, moving toward the plotting end of the “Pantsing” to “Plotting” Continuum. Both recommend keeping a bit of the “pantser” to enliven the story.
A preliminary postcard on my progress is positive. Well, fairly positive. After reading the first four chapters of OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL, and beginning an outline of my story, the “pantser” in me kicked in and I started yet another opening sequence for THE INDIGO CONSPIRACY.
Hopefully, this is a temporary setback.
In my defense, however, I did some outlining and thinking and studying before I wrote the new chapter.
Right now, with the heat of creation still burning in my blood, this new version seems, at least to me, to be really good. I’m not sure what my readers will think.
So maybe the old phrase, “No one thing is true, it’s all true,” is . . . well, true. Maybe each fledgling writer has to find his own spot on the tightrope between “Pantsing” and “Plotting.”
I’m not there yet on my journey to make my writing process more efficient, but as a result of my brief effort to plot rather than pants, my characters in this new version of my book are more memorable. I introduce them in smaller numbers. The first scene is full of action rather than contemplation. That has to be a plus. The next scene will, when I write it, lead to a clear trajectory for my story. My mentors in print, K. M. and Nancy, promise I’m on the right track. I hope they’re right.