Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Tickles Your Fancy?

With each book, my writing method seems to define itself a little more.

For my first book I wrote a one page summary of the plot before beginning and tried to map out chapters in a notebook…but it was to no avail. - I totally pantsed the project in the end, letting the story go wherever it wanted.  It was a lot of fun but after all was said and done, I ended up with a 130k project that began with three chapters of back story, contained stiff dialogue, useless details, description and adverbs galore.

Now- this would be a dream come true for those who love to edit and revise.

Unfortunately, I am not one of ‘those’. - As president and co founder of the Revision Haters Club, my first project was a living nightmare.

Two years later, it still needs work.

With my second project however, I found myself writing a scene by scene outline without even realizing it.  Before I started writing, certain scenes would just come to me while I was driving or doing dishes.  Sometimes it would be a funny scene based on a small bit of dialogue. Sometimes it was an emotional scene to develop the plot or characters etc…  In any case, I wrote all the scenes down, everything I wanted to see happen in the book between the characters and then eventually sewed them into the plot, making sure each scene served a purpose.   

Once those were down, I had to do some actual brainstorming and find ways to fill the holes where there was nothing to move the plot along.

When I finally sat down to start writing, the outline helped so much because I always knew where I was going.  The actual process of writing a first draft went by a lot faster (two or three months rather than the eight months I spent on my first book)

The scenes themselves would often change or go in a direction I hadn’t anticipated.  The characters wouldn’t react the way I’d imagined in my daydreams and I never tried to force it in this case.  Often times I’d have to delete, rearrange, or flat out change the scenes in my original outline but I didn’t mind.  Despite trying to map things out, I still love the feeling of letting the writing go where it wants.  There’s nothing like it.

Now that I’m brainstorming a fourth project, the outline has become an essential part of my writing method.  I let the scenes come, let the characters form and become clearer in my mind while silently building  anticipation for the day I’m ready to sit down and let the fun begin.

What is your writing style?  Are you a plotter or a pantser?  If you’re a plotter, was it something you’ve always been or did it kind of creep up on you like me?  If you’re a pantser, how do you handle the revision process?  Has anyone done both and what  differences/ difficulties did you find with each?

34 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Great post Katie. I was a panster and I think we both hit the same learning curve as I started with a semi-outline for my second book, which ran a lot faster. Now on my third, I have a full outline and the writing is going a LOT smoother. I'm guessing we're on the right track because I've read other authors who say they basically started the same way we did and are now happily outlining and writing 2 books a year.

Laura Pauling said...

I am a total plotter. It's like I write the book in my mind but just down the main idea of each scene and then I write it. But lately, I've been doing more work on my story concept before even starting to outline. And that has helped tremendously.

Jess said...

I'm slowly heading in the same direction. I tend to start writing right away, but have a separate file for random scenes that I want to use. I totally have those days where tidbits of dialogue exchange pop into my head, and I work a whole scene around that. Great post!

Cherie Reich said...

I'm a plotter, but it was something I learned about myself along the way instead of just knowing. I've even started doing brief outlines for short stories. There's just too many ideas in my head, and it helps to keep them all straight when I make a list, no matter how small it is.

That being said, I still agree that you can plot and plan all you want, but in the end, the characters will likely take over and make the story their own.

Janet Johnson said...

So fun seeing how you write!

I've become a plotter. I pantsed my first book, and I just finished the edit (after a couple of books in between). Yeah, I kept very few words from that first draft. Plotting helps me know where I'm going. BUT, things still pop in that I didn't plan, which I love! Those are always the best parts. :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I'm a bit of both. I tend to know the main areas, but join the dot with the rest of it. I like a rough sketch of what will happen, but I like seeing where the story will twist and turn.

Rachel said...

I am BOTH. I would draw up a plot and then pants my way through the entire plot but never actually deviating too much from the plot. And sometimes, i plot and then see that my pantser take charge by sprucing up newer and better ideas.

I like to edit but hate to revise.


www.rachelsquest.blogspot.com

Carolyn Abiad said...

I agree with Anne...I think it's a learning curve. I did the same thing as you for my first MS, but with the second I'm using Scrivener (YAY for the beta version!)because in revisions, I was outlining and cutting out all the mess that wandered into the story!

Kelly Dexter said...

I began as an Absolute Pantser, wherever the wind took me and all that. Now, I'm still fairly pants-y, but I tend to plot in my head so I suppose I'm a combination of the two.

How's that for a noncommittal answer?

Melissa said...

To be honest, I don't do either. The idea for my trilogy just came to me fully formed after I'd been depressed. Sometimes I have to choose which "future" my characters should be on because there are many different and alternate futures and possibilities but all of those futures are all fully laid out and complete and just in my head. So... I guess I make some choices but my subconscious pretty much does all the work for me.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love editing, but even I'd balk at a 130 K written without an outline.

For my first novel (and the 3 other books in the series), I wrote a 3-10 page synopsis (single spaced) then wrote the outline from that.

My process is much simpler now. Now I just outline. But there's still a lot of flexibility. I just finished my first draft and there're characters and plot twists I hadn't originally planned. Of course now I have to develop characterization sheets for those party crashers. ;)

Elena Solodow said...

I've been an outliner for most of my writing career. It was necessary for me to make sure I was actually writing a, you know, book, and not something just stream-of-consciousness. But you always have to allow for deviations. I make it a habit to re-outline as soon as I reach the middle of a novel. It helps to figure out that I'm still on track for a good ending.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Normally I'm an panster but lately, I've been leaning ever so slightly toward outline. Now it's just the barest of bones of an outline, but it's enough to keep my story on track but flexible enough that my creativity isn't stifled. Win-win!

Tamara Narayan said...

Like you, my first book was a 'pantser'. It took years to whip it into shape. I've got a rough outline for book number two, but lots of space for wild creativity.

In any case, I know the first draft is just the beginning. I need to have the whole thing down to crank up each chapter. That's why I love editing. Once I know how a chapter fits into the whole, I can figure out what to do to make it shine.

Tom M Franklin said...

i'm a crazy plotter. if i don't know exactly where i'm headed with each chapter, each scene, i don't start writing.

i remain open to changes/new things coming up during the writing process, but without some sort of roadmap in mind, i fear i'd wander all over the place waiting for things to happen instead of forcing a logical (to me, at least) sequence of events to unfold.


-- Tom

Melissa Gill said...

I've tried to be a plotter, but I'm just not built that way. I think it would be so much easier. But on the otherhand, I always have a very rough idea about where the story is heading, what the end game is.

I love the revision process, and go through a lot of steps. It would save me so much time if I could just be more organized but no dice.

Old Kitty said...

Thank you for sharing your writing style! For me being very flexible with how to approach a new project is most helpful!!! I think it's what feels right for you and no-one else!

Just for the record - I'm a panster through and through (oh ok I outline every so often but the pants always wins!).

Take care
x

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'm a total pantser, but I'm working to develop some organizational skills! :-)

Tina Lynn said...

After NaNo, I am officially a plotter. BUT...I leave myself plenty of room to pants. In other words, I have direction. I, of course, wrote my NaNo in one month. Which was much faster than the year it took me to write my pantsed novel. Anyhoo, I'll never write without a plot again. Ever.

Carolyn V. said...

I pantsed my first book but I just finished a book that I outlined ( I like knowing where my story is going). I still have room to pants it in places. Plus it's still fun, whichever I choose. =)

Gina said...

I must plot. Nothing annoys me more than when I'm watching a TV show or a movie and I notice the plot veering off in this senseless, seemingly unplanned direction. I have to know the hows and whys beforehand, even if they change along the way. I usually come up with a beginning and an end, and let the rest fill in during those random shower/grocery store/4 a.m. insomnia moments. Not published yet, so I can't really say it has or hasn't worked!

Raquel Byrnes said...

I am a three-ring binder making, note taking, outline drafting fool.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Kate said...

I'm gradually learning to plot - but since my books are thrillers that's probably a good idea! Pantsing is better suited to some genres than others.

Dawn said...

I combine styles a lot. I have a rough plot outline, and some key points, but essentially, the characters dictate what happens from scene to scene. If I allow too much of that, I run the risk of the blank page. When I have absolutely NO plot, I run the risk of the three-chapter burnout. I have many "started" manuscripts in my desk drawer. My resolution this year is to avoid that :-)

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I'm a plotter in theory, but usually a pantser in practice. I love to outline, but I usually end up straying from the path pretty quickly.

Vatche said...

Hey, Katie!

I'm definitely a pantser, but I sometimes develop a very vague outline of the story to see where I'm going. I don't actually write it out but have a hazy idea of the end in my mind saved in the file cabinet that is my mind.

It's good to hear that you've found your routine for writing your manuscripts!

I wish you the best of luck and write on!

klahanie said...

A very interesting post and once again, I have the utmost admiration for writers, aspiring and established.
I do not have a particular writing style. I have no pressure and writing for me is just a bit of therapeutic fun. Actually, you might call me, shy and humble me, the writing and grammar anarchist
:-)
Take good care and happy writing.
In kindness, Gary.

Colene Murphy said...

Huh! Wow. Yea, have revisions. I guess plotting it out more would help not have to do so much but...I just CAN'T! I love to pants!

fakesteph said...

I just plotted something out on notecards and made all the pieces fit and now that I'm writing it I feel like all the fun is gone. :) I keep trying to plan better, because people tell me I should, but I like to have an idea where I'm going and figure out the route on the way.

Vicki Rocho said...

I'm a combination. Not too much of a plotter until I get stuck, then I make a quick road map of where I've been and where I want to go...and the next scene/plot point pops right out.

Kelly Breakey said...

I can do both. But I like plotting. Right now I am doing a round robin project with a friend that does not lend itself to plotting because I never know what she is going to throw at me. But it does keep me on my toes.

Nicole L Rivera said...

I kind of went your route. I set out to plot my first novel using the snowflake method then threw caution to the wind and totally pantsed it. But, the revisions! Oh, my the revisions. Never again. I try and get to know my characters and do a very basic scene outline with the essential scenes I've dreamed up. Usually, I return to pansting it about a quarter of the way through. So am I a planner or a panster? I think I'm a confused panster, wanna-be plotter. Then again I'm a baby in the craft of writing and I am still growing and changing my methods with each new project :) Keep up the great work. Love the blog :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm a plotter all the way. My writing goes by easier, even if I come across changes. I tried pantsing and it's hard. I also need to spend more time on revisions when I do so.

KatieO said...

Just found your blog and loved this post! Sometimes I feel like a creepy query girl, too.

I'm a pantser all the way - when I try to plot, the characters rebel on me... but it's interesting to read how other people work through the process. Someday I'll learn to plot and keep my characters in line... maybe...

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