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This is dedicated to all the pantsers out there.

P is for Pantsing

I understand it. Kind of.

Here’s what I know about pantsers:

  • Their creativity works best without an outline. They feel stifled and lose passion for a project with too much direction.
  • Sometimes they know the heart of their story, some of the plot points, the theme and then they just roll with it.
  • Sometimes after their first draft they might outline.
  • Pantsing sometimes requires more massive rewrites.

For the record I don’t think that one way is better than the other.

But I read about writers who are pantsers and after getting a book published, they try and figure out a little bit about outlining because now they have deadlines. They might not ever do a full-blown outline but they want to have less rewrites after the first draft.

I know some of you are pantsers – kind of sounds like gangsters – out there. So, tell me more about this writing style. Could you imagine if an outliner fell in love with a pantser? We’d have a total West Side Story on our hands.

Do my posts on story structure drive you nuts or do you find them helpful for the revision process? Or are you content reading me blabber on about it?

When and if during the process do you ever outline?

What kinds of craft books do you find the most helpful?

Do you spend time on character sheets or are your characters formulated as you write too?

I tried pantsing last summer. And even though the writing was okay, the plotting and story went absolutely nowhere. It must be a learned skill. One I don’t have.

Tell me about the joys of pantsing – sides to it I don’t know about it.

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My oh-so-scientific approach to outlining.

O is for Outlining

My life is one big outline.

I love outlines like I love soft serve vanilla ice cream with sprinkles in the summer. And beach pizza.

I write outlines for every book I write.

I have several outlines for stories I never wrote. It’s not because I lost the creativity or spark once I had the outline. Usually, it’s because the plot wasn’t right yet so I had to take a step back and re-evaluate. And then ideas I’m more passionate about take their place.

Steps in my outlining process:

  • I scribble down a bunch of ideas in a notebook. I free write. Jot a bunch of what ifs. Then leave it. I’m usually working on another project so that’s okay. It simmers in the background.
  • I purposefully nap, hoping for bigger ideas in the form of dreams. #hasn’thappenedyet
  • Formulate the blurb or logline. I try and nail down the heart of my story. The main conflict. The main antagonist. The setting. Stuff like that. #i’msoscientific
  • Research a bit if needed. Sometimes history produces the best stories.
  • Nail down the major plot points: inciting incident, Lock-in, midpoint, dark moment, climax.
  • Start at the beginning and write a one or two sentence summary of what might happen in each scene.
  • After I have my outline, I check it against what I know about structure and make sure it doesn’t need tweaking.   #yesi’manoutlinenerd

But I do all this so I start off in the right direction. In my current wip I ended up changing a lot. The guy I thought was a co-protagonist turned out to be somewhat of an antagonist. Motivations changed. Backstory needed to be fixed. Secondary characters were fleshed out. Subplots needed to be fixed to fit with story.

But the heart of my story stayed the same. I didn’t know exactly how the climax would end until I got there and knew the story better. I still had lots of flexibility.

My creativity works best within the confines of an outline.

But that’s me. Tomorrow is all about pantsing. So if you’re a pantser be prepared to share in the comments! Curious minds want to know.

Any outlining tips to share? What works best for you?

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The biggest newbie mistakes – I made.

N is for Newbie mistakes

1. Revision

I was so excited. I’d finished my first manuscript and knew it was ready to go. Many sources told me I needed to revise and rewrite but I read it over and I couldn’t find anything. So I fixed a bunch of typos and threw in a smell or two.

Ha ha ha ha. I know much better now.

Now I look at structure; scenes that are unrealistic; scenes that don’t move the story forward, scenes that don’t have enough tension or the emotion needs to be fleshed out.

And I rewrite, cut/slash, delete scenes, write new ones. #iwillhavethelastlaugh

2. Show don’t tell

I knew showing on a bigger scale – as in don’t narrate. But my first year writing I still didn’t quite get that showing meant a lot more than that.

  • It means showing emotion instead of naming.
  • It means using specific body language instead of vague clichéd ones.
  • It means allowing the internal conflict to show through internal dialogue that isn’t just spitting out information the reader already knows.
  • And all telling isn’t bad. The best writing is excellent telling.

3. Sensory details

I could have sworn all I had to do was add a smell to each scene and I had it covered.

Now I know that sensory details make the story come alive and draw the reader into the world. And through more than just smell, but touch, taste, color, sight and more.

4. Three dimensional characters

I was convinced that it just meant knowing more backstory on your character. But it doesn’t matter how many quirks or details or history you know about a character they will not come across three dimensional unless the writing is excellent: incorporating showing, description, sensory details, internal monologues, internal conflict and more.

5. The power of internal thoughts

I often skimped on the internal thoughts because I thought for sure readers would be bored. I mean, who cares? Well, I was wrong. The reader does care. That’s where we see how a character reacts, how they grow, how they interpret their world. Without it, a character will certainly be flat.

These are just the biggies. I made many other newbie mistakes. And the biggest thing I learned is that we can read a 1,000-page book on craft but until we struggle through our writing and experience the light bulb moment, they are nothing more than black words on a white page.

What are your newbie mistakes?

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M is for a humongous dark beast that terrorized me.

M is for Moose

Many people come up North and then want to go farther North to see moose. They return and show me pictures and I think, maybe I should go see moose, I mean they’re not that far away.

But no more.

A couple years ago, on a normal day like any other, I slipped into my running clothes and sneakers, ready for my daily run. I stretched and did some jumping jacks #notreallybecauseIcan’tdojumpingjacksanymoreafterhavingthreekids.   #momsunderstand

I breathed in the crisp fall air, looking forward to crunching through the dead leaves on the dirt roads behind my house.

While I ran, I did the normal eccentric things I do while running. I talked to myself. I reworked queries in my head, searching for that perfect first hooky line. I talked myself into or out of thinking my writing sucks. I jumped at the squirrels running around in the brush. #i’mjumpylikethat    #i’vehaddeersrunacrosstheroad

But this one day, I stopped halfway and stretched, looked up and saw a moose about 50 yards away. I thought it was pretty cool, so I continued to study him. Until he started clip clopping toward me.

In that one second, my heart leapt from my chest and I swear I left it in the road. With terror racing through my veins and, me, breaking out in a sweat – and not because I was running – I jogged up the road toward home.

I peeked back over my shoulder to see if he was following me. This huge, dark-colored beast had his eyes trained on me and not because I looked cute in my running clothes.  #freakingout

And I started sprinting.

I soon realized I couldn’t outrun a beast with legs as tall as my house. #seriously #nothyperbole

I took a quick right into someone’s driveway and sprinted into the garage, ready to bang on their windows and cry for sanctuary.

The moose stopped where I turned right. He sniffed the air, first left, then right; and then turned left.   #ididn’trunforaweek  #whenididrunihadfasttimes

So, do you want to come up North and take pictures of the pretty moose?

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What a good old-fashioned lie can do for your story.

L is for Lies

The power of a lie.

In real life, we know lies can hurt, destroy, and basically ruin a relationship. We don’t like it when people lie to us. I train my children to tell the truth. But somehow, dishonesty creeps in. Face it. It’s a part of life.

We want honesty from our families our friends. And we want emotional honesty from our loved ones. And from the characters in our story.

Notice I said emotional honesty.

But any and all other kinds of dishonesty and lies – bring it on. And bring it good.

What can lies and dishonesty do for a story?

  • Lies create dramatic irony.
  • Lies in the form of hidden backstory create mystery.
  • Lies create conflict.
  • Lies can be the start of a moving character arc.
  • Lies set-up a powerful midpoint or Act III twist.
  • Lies create story tension, which can cover a multitude of other writing sins.

As you can see, I’m talking about more than one character lying to another character. Lies can be in the form of keeping truth from the reader. Or a character can be lying to themselves, in denial.

Examples:

TWILIGHT and the dramatic irony created when the reader knew Edward was a vampire, but Bella didn’t.

CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers. I’m reading it right now and something big happened in the main character’s past to change her life. And I’m turning the pages as bits of backstory are dropped in because I want to know what happened.

THE LIAR SOCIETY by the Roecker sisters. The main character’s friend died and once we care, we turn the pages to find out how and why.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. The main character wakes up fifty years too early after being cryogenically frozen. Let’s just say that big lies are revealed at the end that made a terrific twist!

HOLES by Louis Sachar. The main character is sentenced to Camp Green Lake for his prison term. Except the whole camp is a lie. This created incredible story tension.

I’m sure there are many others. Can you think of any? Do you use dishonesty and lies in your writing?

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