Craft, Fiction, Novel, Writing

When is a writer not a pantser?

Novel writers often divide themselves into two camps: Plotters and Pantsers. As I wrote a reply to a comment on my last blog post, I realized something about myself. I don’t think I’m a true pantser. I’ve always identified myself as one because I don’t write a detailed outline, or make a colored-coded story chart, or any of those other traditional methods of writing the story before you write the story.

But if a true pantser is a writer who sits down at the keyboard with only a vague story idea, some character names, a location or two, and hopes some entity known as The Muse will take over, then I’m not a pantser.

It’s true that as I’m writing, I’m often surprised by what a character says or does, at how a plot point veers in a direction I hadn’t expected. I start with a single file. In that, I might sketch out character “bios”, but mainly so I can keep names and ages straight. I also record bits of dialogue that come to me,  and the proposed opening and ending sentences, or maybe even paragraphs. And eventually I write a detailed scene list, but not until after I’ve written the scenes.

I guess that sounds like a pantser, but the truth is I’ve lived with the story for months—at least—before I begin to write it. I’ve mentally processed the basic plot, key scenes, and details of each character. And I’ve revised all of those, sometimes more than once. Essentially, before I ever start writing the book, I’ve seen the movie played out in my mind.

I don’t know why I never related this to the more tangible actions of a plotter. Maybe it’s because I’ve tried the formal outline, the index cards, the organizing software and it always seemed more trouble than it was worth. I felt it killed the thrill of writing, but maybe it was just that it seemed redundant.

So yes, I plan, but I’m “open to suggestion” also. Does that mean I’m a plotser? Or maybe I’m just a normal writer.

Your turn: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried to change your stripes?

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Craft, Editing, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Revision, Words, Writing

Best laid plans vs. vacation

I’ve been too busy with two little charmers to write a new post, so today I’m serving up a re-post from one year ago. It’s a topic of continued relevance to me and, I hope, of some interest to you.

Blue-toed tree frog.

I apologize up front because I might step on some toes today. Just know that mine are black and blue too. I am in editing mode—again—and I’ve recently discovered John Gardner’s book On Becoming A Novelist. I shared a passage from that last week and will share another below. Gardner has been stomping all over my writing toes.

I confess I’ve been a “literary” wannabe. In editing my work, particularly the passages that haven’t changed since the first version, I find a tendency to overwrite, to use ten-dollar words or syntax that only complicates the reading, not deepens the meaning. Or, when writing in a poetic character’s point of view, to let myself get carried away with imagery. Possibly the line drawn between good writing and overwriting is quite fine. Or else, I just leapt right over it.

John Gardner

Gardner writes:
“… as a rule, the good novelist does not worry primarily about linguistic brilliance—at least not brilliance of the showy, immediately obvious kind—but instead worries about telling his story in a moving way, making the reader laugh or cry or endure suspense, whatever it is that this particular story, told at its best, will incline the reader to do.”

Anne Tyler

If you’ve been around this blog for long, you know that one of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I’ve always thought of her writing as beautiful, but when I examine it, I see that rarely does she call attention to her word choices or phrasing. By this, I mean, not often do I stop reading to admire her clever writing. I admire her talent at story telling, her fleshed out characters, her ability to draw me into her fictive dream, which means she’s an excellent (Pulitzer Prize winning) writer, but she’s not a show-off.

I’ve read books in which it seems, as Gardner says, “the writer cares more for his language than for other elements of fiction.” I don’t enjoy those books as much and little of them stays with me. If those writers attempted to create a fictive dream, I’m too aware of their writing to fall into it. Obviously, there are people who read such books, literary critics generally love them, and creative writing classes teach them. I believed that I should aspire to become one of those “important” writers. But I’ve changed my mind.

I just want to tell the best stories I know how with beautiful, but understated, language to people who want, for a while, to dream of a different life, or place, or time.

Advice, Craft, Fun Fridays, Humor, Novel, Tips, Writing

How to make a novelist melt down in 5 minutes … or less!

Rant alert, you have been warned. As previously stated on this blog, I no longer read “how to” writing books and blogs because they are generally either contradictory or repetitive. But some of you, my blogging writer friends, are sabotaging me.

I’m almost afraid to read your posts because you might have written about the three-act structure, the novel hook, author intrusion, unbelievable plot elements, or—heaven forbid—the 10 biggest mistakes writers make. You’ve probably written a brilliant post. You’ll probably get dozens of comments thanking you for such helpful advice. You won’t get one from me.

It won’t be because I disagreed with what you wrote. It’s just that your words had a strange effect on me. I read your post with a smug smile because the problems you talked about are not in my novel. Not my perfect novel. No, no, no.

Well … but …

[eyes dart wildly, shaking commences]

What if? And what about that? Is it? Could it be? Do I even have three acts? Is that too much a coincidence? And what exactly is a hook anyway?

[assumes fetal position]

My novel is a mess. I just know it. Now that I think of it, I’m sure I made all 10 mistakes. Where on earth did I get the idea I could be a writer? I was too arrogant to use spreadsheets, or flow charts, or even index cards for Pete’s sake. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just too stupid to live.

[beats head on desk]

So, dear friends, go ahead. Keep writing those evil excellent posts. And if you wonder where I am, you’ll find me sniveling in the corner, sure that somehow—somehow—you’ve read my novel and aimed those posts straight at me.

Please note: This has been a Fun Friday post. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. Really.

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