He was angry. She could see it. It frightened her.
His eyes flashed . His dark brows gathered and he seized her by the arm, jerking her from her feet. With a cry she fell. He loomed over her, his jaw clenched so tightly that his lips turned white under the pressure. His long fingers dug into her arm so hard she felt the bones bend under the pressure. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her mouth suddenly dry, her lips parted but no sound save a tiny squeak came out. Like a mouse, she squeaked. She cast about wildly as she struggled against him, looking for some safe place to hide.
There was none.
She wrenched herself free from his grasp and cowered in the corner. She gasped for breath and swallowed the scream that burbled up from deep inside her. With a slow, measured tread, he closed on her.
So what is the difference between the two? One is telling. The other is showing.
The purpose of writing fiction is two-fold. You write to tell a story and you write to evoke emotion in your reader. People read fiction for myriad reasons. Some read to escape. Some read to be entertained. Some read to experience vicariously something outside their norm. The stories that stand the test of time manipulate the reader’s emotions and provide some sort of catharsis in the end.
The ancient Greeks coined the term to describe the emotional release found at the resolution of a story. They believed it provided an emotional purification. Well-told stories, whether in a written or visual form, should provide some sort of fist pump reaction when the main character gets their reward or faces their tragedy at the end. There should be an emotional payoff for taking the journey with the character.
To reach this emotional payoff, the writer must engage the reader in the action of the story in such a way that the reader’s heart beats faster when the main character’s does. The reader laughs when the main character does. In short, the reader must slough off his or her self for a while and slip into the incorporeal body of the point of view character. Before the reader can inhabit the mind and body of the point of view character, the writer must first possess the point of view character and travel the story within his or her consciousness.
From there, it’s only a matter of taking dictation.
What does the character see? Describe it in detail. What does the character smell? Describe it in detail. What does the character hear? Describe it in detail. What does the character taste? Describe it in detail. What does the character feel? Describe it in detail. In short, engage as many of the five senses as possible as filtered through the point of view character. This means including physical reactions to the outside stimuli.
Let’s put that another way. When you open a plastic food container that’s been in the back of the refrigerator for months, you may describe it this way:
I reluctantly opened the container. The smell nauseated me. It looked disgusting. I shook my head and threw it away.
Now you’re saying to yourself that I engaged the senses. What of it?
Try this on for size:
I slowly lifted the lid on the container, holding it away from my face. Unfortunately, my arms weren’t long enough to hold the smell at bay. The rancid odor hit my nose with all the force of a Mack truck. Putrid smells of decaying matter and growing mold twisted my stomach in knots. Bile rose in my throat along with that familiar pre-vomit salty taste. My mouth watered. The first spasm hit me and I gagged. I raced for the trash can, replacing the lid as I went, cutting off the fresh assault on my senses. Shaking my head, I tossed the whole container into the trash. It wasn’t worth trying to salvage that tiny scrap of plastic. It could rot for eternity in a landfill for all I cared…as long as I didn’t have to endure that biohazard any more.
The difference between the two is that you as the reader merely watched the first event. You as the reader experienced the second event.
You cheated! You used first person. Of course the reader experienced the event!
Okay. Change the personal pronouns from “I” and “my” to “she” and “her” and I guarantee the results will be the same. Some writers write the first draft from a first person limited omniscient point of view and change personal pronouns in subsequent drafts. The reason some choose to do this is to serve as a reminder to internalize the reactions within a scene. Only an android drifts through life without a visceral reaction to the things that happen all around on a daily basis.
What techniques do you use to change your telling of a story to showing it?
“It’s good to want things.” – Winona Ryder in Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael
“Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” — Ray Bradbury
A while back, I talked about Two Sentences That Changed My Life and From Frying Pan to Fire: Scene and Sequel. What both of those posts have in common is that they touched on the three vital elements of a story: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC). Without these, you don’t have a story.
Goal – What your character wants
Motivation – Why/How badly your character wants it
Conflict – What stands between your character and his/her goal
If any of these three elements are weak, your story will be weak as well. It doesn’t matter how beautifully you command the language, or how skillfully you wield action verbs, without a well-defined goal, sufficient motivation, or suitable level of conflict, your story will fall flat and you will lose your reader.
Without a clearly-defined goal, your character will wander aimlessly along, smelling the flowers and wondering what he/she is supposed to be doing. You should be able to answer quickly and concisely what your Main Character (MC) wants. In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett wants Ashley Wilkes. Everything she does springs from this want, from befriending Melanie Hamilton to making her home in Atlanta, it’s all done with the intent to stay close to Ashley Wilkes so she can make him love her.
In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby wants Daisy. In The Sting, Hooker wants revenge for the murder of his friend. In The Princess Bride, Westley wants to claim Buttercup.
Let’s take a closer look at The Princess Bride. That’s a good one to start with because the characters’ goals are so clearly defined. Westley wants to claim Buttercup. Inigo wants to find the six-fingered man. Humperdink wants to start a war between Guilder and Florin. At some point, their goals come into conflict with one another through the action in the story. Westley and Inigo are pitted against each other because Inigo was hired to kidnap Buttercup and Westley is following them so he can rescue her.
This is where the motivation behind the goals leads to the level of conflict created. In the famous sword fight scene, Inigo’s heart isn’t really in it. Why not? Because Westley isn’t the six-fingered man therefore, he isn’t sufficiently motivated to kill Westley. Westley, however is strongly motivated to defeat Inigo because he stands in the way of rescuing his dearest love, Buttercup. The motivation behind meeting the primary goal is stronger than the motivation behind the secondary goal, so there is conflict. With each clash of one goal blocking another, tension builds.
The story comes to a head when the characters’ primary goals come into conflict, when Westley, in his pursuit of Buttercup, stands in the way of Humperdink realizing his goal of using Buttercup to start a war. This occurs at the climax. Will Westley’s motivation (love) defeat Humperdink’s motivation (greed)? If Westley didn’t have deep feelings for Buttercup, would he fight so hard to rescue her? If Humperdink weren’t so greedy for power, would he be so single-minded in his purpose to use Buttercup to start a war?
This is why motivation is so important. How high are the stakes for your character? What does your character stand to lose? How will it impact his life if he fails? How far is your character willing to go to attain his goals? What will it take to make your character give up on his goals? When you can answer those questions, look at your answers and figure out how to throw each and every answer into your character’s path. That is how you build conflict.
Conflict is having your character face the very real possibility of being thwarted in achieving his goals. Conflict is blocking your character from his goal. All your character has to do to reach safety is cross a bridge. What do you do? You blow up the bridge. Now what does your character do? Well, your character has to find another way across. He learns of a ferry just upriver, but he has to fight his way through hostile natives to get there. If he doesn’t have adequate or believable motivation for continuing forward, the reader will wonder why he bothers. Why doesn’t he simply go home?
You have to communicate to your reader just how important the goal is, how motivated they are to attain that goal, and how difficult the conflict is to overcome. If any of these fall short, your story will lose tension and consequently your reader won’t care.
So, say to your character “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want…”
I was very excited to find a blog post on foreshadowing this morning. Unfortunately, it didn’t really tell me anything about foreshadowing. It told me more about the author’s latest book. That’s all well and good, but I was put off. It felt like someone was pulling the old bait and switch on me. That makes me cranky. When I get cranky, I do something about it. So this morning, I wrote my own damn post on foreshadowing. So there.
On About.com Richard Nordquist defines foreshadowing thusly: The presentation of details, characters, or incidents in a narrative in such a way that later events are prepared for (or “shadowed forth”).
In short, it’s setting the stage for future events. Foreshadowing creates a mood. It sets up the audience for the main conflict and the climax, or the catalysts that bring about the climax. It’s a device mystery writers use to plant red herrings and lead the reader to the clues that solve the case. In horror, it’s used to create mood and warn audiences not to get too attached to that character because he or she will be the next victim. In romance, it provides the niggling little doubts as to whether or not the hero and heroine will end up together.
Most readers never consciously notice it. Executed properly, it is very subtle and paves the way for the emotional impact the writer seeks to evoke. Writing fiction is all about evoking emotion. I’ll go back and say it again. The first and greatest lesson I learned was that as a writer, if you’re not evoking emotion in your reader, you may as well be writing a cookbook. But then, even the best cookbooks evoke some kind of emotion these days.
I mention foreshadowing because I’m consciously using it in HERO’S END. There’s a bit of a mystery going on and foreshadowing is a natural tool in mysteries. Foreshadowing isn’t all dark portents either. As a writer, if I’m going to use an object to save the day, or to slay the bad guy on page 180, I need to introduce the object around page 20 or so. If a fact is going to be the catalyst for an emotional scene, I need to allude to the fact early and repeat it a few times before it actually causes the issue. If the reader hasn’t built up the same emotional response as the character, when the character explodes in a ball of angst, it seems to have come out of left field. Or if one of your characters must die in keeping with the story line, you need to prepare the reader for it. Think red shirts.
Some writers call it back-writing. Once you’ve written the main story, you go back through and sprinkle the images, references, clues and allusions throughout the story, building up to the climax or event.
In SOVRAN’S PAWN, I used Blade’s sunshades, which interfaced with his IC data reader for a head’s up display. I introduced the shades with Blade when he met Bo. I introduced the interface in the following chapter. At the climax, the shades and their interface were vital for getting him where he needed to be. Without the mention of them earlier, it would have seemed like a Deus Ex Machina intervention and a cheap device.
I read a debut novel by an author of my acquaintance in which her main character does a complete about-face of personality at the climax. Unfortunately, there was no foreshadowing of this possibility, so when it happened, her readers rebelled. Because her book was published by an imprint of a large publishing house, there’s really no excuse. This is the kind of thing good editors and beta readers normally catch.
Never underestimate the value of foreshadowing or the subtlety of a skilled hand on the pen.
Most writers have heard the terms “scene” and “sequel.” The first time I was exposed to the concept was when I read Dwight Swain’s book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. They are such an important element in storytelling that I wanted to write a blog post about them, but every time I started, I realized that consolidating all of the important elements of scene and sequel into a short post would be nearly impossible if I were to deal with the mechanics of them in any depth. After all, Swain took an entire chapter to delve into the nuances of scene and sequel – they are that important.
At the most rudimentary level, scene can be explained as “action” and sequel can be explained as “reaction.” Both exist together to drive the action forward and control the pace at which the story unfolds. Scene is about linear events and sequel is about the emotional impact of these events and opens the door to the next scene.
Every scene should be like a microcosm of a story in itself, with your character having a goal, reaching an obstacle, and encountering change as a result. In the sequel, the character has an emotional reaction to the conflict created by having their goal blocked and either overcoming or failing, deals with it and transitions into a new mindset in order to face the next scene.
A scene has three elements:
The term disaster is used to describe the new negative state of affairs that must be overcome. Swain calls it a hook that pulls the story forward. The goal in a scene is a short-term, focused goal, small in scope and immediate. The conflict is the obstacle keeping your character from attaining his goal.
One example of these elements is found in the opening scenes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones has reached the golden idol in the temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors. His goal? To take the idol. The obstacle? The pedestal is booby trapped. The disaster? The temple collapses around him.
Enter the sequel. Swain’s three elements of a sequel are:
Reaction: Indy’s smug confidence turns to anxiety as he realizes he’s about to become a permanent part of the site. Dilemma: He doesn’t have the time to carefully negotiate his way back through the booby-trapped floor tiles. The ceiling is falling, setting off the poisoned darts. Decision: He makes a mad dash through and prays he makes it without getting hit by a dart or falling rocks.
Of course, Indy makes it through unscathed, stops and turns, adjusts his hat with a little relieved smile and the wall behind the idol shatters as the giant boulder crashes through. New goal, new conflict, new disaster.
That is an oversimplified explanation of scene and sequel, but you get the idea. Sometimes, it is possible to have several scenes in succession before bringing in the sequel, but the sequel must come into play. The sequel not only lets the character internalize the emotional impact of the action, but it also lets the reader figure out their own emotions as well.
Evoking an emotional response is what good fiction is all about. And that in a nutshell is how scene and sequel work together towards that end.
Are you conscious of scene and sequel in your reading and writing? How do you keep track of scene and sequel?
When I was a very young and inexperienced writer, the best advice I got from published authors of my acquaintance was to pick up a copy of Dwight Swain’s book, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. Yes, this book has been around that long. Actually, this book has been around longer than I have. Before I had a chance to snag a copy from my local bookseller, I received a copy from my Great-Aunt Gladys, who was also a bit of an angel, encouraging my literary aspirations from the time I was two-years-old.
I consumed the book. I devoured it. I internalized it. I made its advice part of my subconscious. I refer to it frequently. My ancient copy is bright yellow, which makes it easy to spot on a crowded bookshelf from far across the room.
The power of two sentences changed my life as a writer.
One of the most difficult tasks for novelists is to condense their story down to less two hundred words. When someone asks you what your story is about, the temptation is to give all the backstory, the world-building and the details you painstakingly created. Nobody wants that. They want to know what the story is about.
Swain said that the heart of your story contains five elements, which can be reduced to two sentences: one a statement, the other a question.
I’ve found that keeping this in mind when creating my own story summary helps immensely. When someone asks me what SOVRAN’S PAWN is about, I tell them –
When convicted traitor Bo Barron’s father is kidnapped, she has to go under cover on an interstellar cruise liner at a gambling tournament to steal plans for an illegal weapon that are being auctioned off to meet the ransom demand. An attempt on her life by a mysterious methane breather, and the timely intervention of a handsome Inner Circle agent leave Bo wondering whether there is a weapon at all and will she survive the cruise long enough to rescue her father?
That’s a seventy thousand word book condensed into eighty-two words.
- Character – Convicted traitor Bo Barron
- Situation – father is kidnapped
- Objective – (There is a dual objective here) Stealing the plans, but also recovering her father
- Opponent – Mysterious methane breather (stated) Kidnappers (implied)
- Disaster – getting herself killed, or losing her father
You know, if I were brutal about it, I could trim it even more.
Let’s take a story you’re probably more familiar with, like STAR WARS (ANH)
When Luke Skywalker learns he’s in possession of stolen plans, he joins forces with Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi to turn them over to the Rebellion. But can he rescue the princess and keep the plans out of the hands of Darth Vader, who is determined to destroy the Jedi and recover the plans no matter the cost?
Or this movie?
During WWII, American ex-pat Rick Blaine finds himself in possession of stolen letters of transit and no easy way to rid himself of them. When the Nazi occupying force, an underground leader, and Rick’s ex-girlfriend all conspire to recover the letters, who will get the letters and who will end up dead or in a concentration camp?
See? Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.
Pick a favorite book or movie…any story really, and try it! Let me know how it works for you!
In my last post From Bones to Hair: Building a Story, I talked about how I build a story layer by layer, building on each draft and adding more details and “fleshing” it out.
I also enjoy drawing. I’m not very good at it, but when I was a child, I chose to devote my energy to learning how to write rather than draw. My aunt was an artist who kept me supplied in Walter Foster books, charcoals and pencils from an early age. It wasn’t until I was expecting my second child that I took a formal drawing class at the local community college to learn better technique.
By that time, I’d been a professional writer for more than ten years and had decided to take time off from writing to be a full-time mom. In that class, I found that drawing is much like building a story.
Recently, I was looking at videos on You Tube, and I came across this one. It illustrates how layering and tweaking and not being afraid to make mistakes is vital to the construct of artistic works. I’m sure if I kept looking, I’d find another video that illustrates the same layering technique for music. This time-lapse video offers a fascinating look at how to build a lifelike drawing. The results are impressive.
When I write a new story, I approach it like constructing a building or a living organism. First you lay the foundation (premise), then you build the framework, which I envision as the bones. At this stage, I have the main plot points down and the major scenes are in their place to push the rising and falling action to the climax and the denoument. Some scenes are fully realized, others are brief narratives that describe the action and the purpose of the scene. Anything goes at this point. Anything, no matter how bizarre or disjointed is allowed. That’s the first draft.
The second draft is where the meat and connective tissue are added. In the second draft, I focus on transitional scenes and place the actions and dialog that foreshadow coming events. I beef up and write the scenes that are simple narratives and I look for plot holes and dropped plot lines. Simple scenes that were mostly dialog get blocking and characters start moving around the space. Scenes that do not serve to advance the plot in any way are cut, but saved for reference or re-purposing.
The third draft gets skin. The “skin” hides the technique. Scene and sequel should flow seamlessly. Transitions are smoothed. Passive voice is removed. Grammar is analyzed for consistency. Character reactions are analyzed and tweaked for appropriate response. Stilted dialog is reworked to sound more natural. Characters’ mannerisms and subtle gestures are tweaked. Setting and descriptions take center stage.
The fourth draft is the hair, makeup and clothing. In the fourth draft, typos, overused words and phrases come out. The fourth draft is where the little details are added to ensure that readers are emotionally involved in the story. Everything that doesn’t create immediacy or place the reader in the middle of the action comes out or gets reworked. This is the devilish draft because it takes so long to complete and the results are not readily apparent to anyone but me. The devil is in the details and the fourth draft is all about the nit-picky details. Upon completion, this is the draft that goes to the beta readers for a final look.
A fifth draft goes to the editors for a figurative photoshopping, and becomes the final draft that makes it to publication.
I don’t know if all writers work this way, but this technique has worked for me because it allows me to write cyclically. Once I have the main points in, I can jump around in the story as details for plot threads solidify in my mind, returning to key points to make sure there is a coherent flow from one to another.
The first draft of THE BROKEN WING is complete and revisions have already begun on the second draft. Still no concrete date set for its release.
I miss the good old days before I supposedly knew what I was doing.
Back in the last Century, at the end of the 80’s, I was a happy wannabe writer. A new invention had sprung up and I was having oodles of fun using my secretarial skills that I’d made a point to learn in the 9th grade to help me in my future career as a writer. My skills as a touch typist landed me clerical jobs and my boundless curiosity drove me to learn various computer programs. My dad enlisted my help keeping the books for his company on his brand-new TRS-80 computers. One of the perks was that I could have one of those 8” floppies to store my writing on, and print it up on his dot matrix printer for editing and archival! Those computers spoke TRS-DOS and I became proficient with the language. (If you’ve read SOVRAN’S PAWN you’ll understand the significance of that.)
In those days, I just told stories. I didn’t worry overly much with “hopping heads” or “pacing” or “plot reversals.” I just threw things at my characters and let them deal with them, developing along the way. It was raw and it was fun. It was also very, very bad writing but I didn’t care. Ignorance was bliss.
The 90’s rolled around and computer disks shrunk. WYSIWYG replaced dot matrix, and a magical little thing called Windows appeared on the horizon. That was when I lost my innocence. I went to my first writer’s meeting and I had my very first critique – not only by published authors, mind you, but authors whose books I had read and enjoyed. I was intimidated and terrified. By the time they finished their very gentle, but honest critique, I felt stripped bare, humiliated, dejected and a complete failure. I wanted to crawl away and lick my wounds in private.
I will be forever thankful that my then-husband had the foresight to accompany me to that meeting and sit through the critique at my side, listening to every word. When it was over, he could see how shattered I was. Putting his hand over mine, he leaned forward and said, “May I ask you a question?”
I cringed. He wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic sort. At their nods, he picked up my submission and set it on the table in front of him.
“Please be honest. Do you think she has talent to pursue writing, or do you think she’s wasting her time?”
The question took them by surprise, I think. They looked from me to my husband and then to one another, shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Slowly the nodding began.
“She has talent…”
“This is an excellent beginning. She only needs to learn a little more about storycraft.”
Then they explained to my husband and to me, because I hung on every word, that the things they had pointed out in the critique were common among newbie writers. I was guilty of passive voice, shifting from one POV character to another within a scene, letting the reader stay just outside the action as an observer and not a participant, telling and not showing.
That was the beginning of my professional writing career. Starting that day, I threw myself headlong into learning everything I could about story craft. From that day, the sheer joy of writing and spinning stories diminished a little more every time I sat down to work. Now I spend more time thinking of my writing as rising and falling action, goal-conflict-disaster-repeat, scene and sequel, plot points, inciting incident, dark moment, resolution, reward, than I spend just telling a story.
I do hate the middle part of the story. That’s where you torture your characters to prepare them for the grand finale. You have to move them ever onward towards that grand decision that makes the climax worthwhile.
Fast forward to 2012. SOVRAN’S PAWN is the first book in a series. It’s Act I and as such, was fun to write. BARRON’S LAST STAND is the Final Act. The big finish and also a lot of fun. Book Two (let’s try out the title THE BROKEN WING) is Act 2 in the overall series arc. I hate the second act. This is where story craft is vital and plot and pacing are of primary importance. The action MUST rise and fall. The plot MUST reverse at the right time or the reader will lose interest.
I stared at my storyboard until my eyes crossed. I filled index cards with scenes and notes until I ran out of them. I had a beginning and an ending, but a convoluted path between the two, with holes large enough to fly a Tau-class cruiser through. I was beginning to despair ever making sense of this story when the advice came in from another writer to stop planning and just let the story unfold.
So simple, yet sitting on this side of the last twenty-two years, it’s much more difficult than it used to be. I sat down, put my notes aside, and just started writing, letting my characters tell their story without worrying about how many words I was racking up or how passive the voice. Since I started doing that, I’ve added more than ten thousand words to the manuscript and I’m falling in love with the characters again. I know much of it will be cut and revised in the editing process, but for now, the story is unfolding and it’s poignant and funny and lovely and sad. I hope I can stay out of my own way long enough to tell it all the way through.
How has learning the “proper” way to do things changed your outlook on your work or hobbies?
One question writers get asked a lot is “planner or pantser?” First time I heard this, I stared at the person like they were from another dimension. Pantsing, or being pantsed has a completely different meaning in my world. I have three older brothers. Being a pantser in my house was being the person who went around catching ususpecting victims from behind and yanking their pants down around their ankles.
No, no, no, silly writer! Planner or pantser is the question about your writing process. Do you plan your story out with outlines and notes first? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go, like Indiana Jones chasing after the lost Ark of the Covenant?
Ah! I see now. It has nothing to do with adolescent pranks at all! Am I an organized linear thinker or am I a free-wheeling free-spirit?
I had to think about this one. For many years, I had what was jokingly referred to by my family as my “neverending story.” It was pretty much the equivalent of a television series in that my characters dealt with one crisis after another, resolving one only to have another one hit them after a short commercial break. This is not uncommon among pantsers. The problem with this for me is that story craft and construction suffer as the tale rambles on and on without any real buildup of tension, but it can be a fun ride!
The alternative is to have every move planned out and outlined with few, if any, surprises to the writer. But this way, you can be assured that the story builds at the appropriate times and advances the plot towards the climax… and all that other nuts and boltsy storytelling stuff that writers must master if they hope to find any measure of readership. Learning to write is something we all do in school. Learning to craft a story is a skill most writers spend a lifetime learning to master. Story craft without skillful wordsmithery or vice versa is what separates mediocre writing from stellar writing. Both disciplines must not only be studied, but mastered.
That’s one reason I (and many other writers) hate reviewing books. I see all the technical flaws. The most common flaws are*:
- Misused words
- Backstory dump
- Passive voice
- Telling not showing
- Flat characters
- Lack of tension
- Plot points in the wrong place
- Poorly developed middle
- Unsatisfying story resolution
- Sudden inexplicable character change without reasonable explanation or foreshadowing
- Unsympathetic or unlikeable main characters
Historically, editors have caught these issues before they ever saw the light of day. Now, with the ease of self-publishing and with smaller press publishers, I see more and more of these issues in books on the market. Most of these issues can be resolved before the second draft if only the writer had done a little more planning and a little less pantsing.
What do I do? I know my flaws as a writer. I know my tendency towards passive voice. I know that I tend to info dump and miss the key moment to introduce a major plot point. I am guilty of every manuscript flaw on the list and several more I can’t think of at the moment. I write in a combination of first pantsing, then planning.
Plot points are key pivotal moments that change the course of the story. They’re the moments that take your characters out of their comfort zones and send them after the larger quest. They’re the scenes that are required to drive your story in the direction you want it to go. They happen at pretty much the same place in every story. You can see them if you know what you’re looking for. These are the scenes I try to write first. They tend to get revised several times before the end of the story, but they are the vital joints that propel the story forward.
Once I have the major plot points worked out, I make sure I have them at the right place in the story. If my first five chapters drag on without introducing the first plot point, then I’m starting the story in the wrong place.
Once the bare bones of plot points are laid out, I start pantsing. This is where I let my free-spirit soar and unleash my creativity. I let my characters go and just have fun with them following them from one plot point to another. I know I’ve got to get them to a certain point and I ask myself how to accomplish that. Once I get the pantsing urge out, I put my planning hat back on and look at the story, analyzing it for pacing, coherence, holes, dropped plot threads or missed opportunities.
I go back and forth between the two until it’s ready for the beta readers and finally the editor.
It’s not the way I started writing. It’s not the most fun way to write. It is the result of decades of story craft study, countless writer’s workshops, and numerous critiques that stripped my manuscripts bare and exposed their flaws for all to see. In short, it’s the way I’ve learned to write professionally.
I need a combination of planning and pantsing because for me, without the planning, if I presented my writing to the world, I would feel exposed, as if I had my pants down around my ankles, waiting for someone to point and laugh. By the same token, if I didn’t wing it every now and again, my work would fall flat and be too mechanical without any spontaneity or fun. Some of my favorite lines and scenes have come from just seeing where the spirit takes me. One method is not superior to another, but in utilizing both, I find that my writing shines brightest.
How about you? Are you a planner, a pantser or some combination of the two?
*Note: Fifty Shades of Grey was guilty of all of these technical flaws which is why writers everywhere hold it in such contempt.