What is My Main Character Doing Now?

August 20, 2019

I’m a pantser when I write; I’m a plotter in most other aspects of my life.

When I wrote the previous sentence, I believed it; however, by the time I finished writing this post, I realized it’s not true, so I left it and added this sentence. Just like a pantser.

People in the writing industry know the terms “pantser” and “plotter”. Early in my fiction writing, I went to a writing conference session led by Dr. Stanley D. Williams. According to his web site, he’s an international award-winning video producer, filmmaker and show creator.

Although Williams is a movie guy, his expertise translates easily into book writing – it’s all about the story, after all. During his presentation, he mentioned pantsers and plotters. My writer friend and I immediately said to each other in unison: “What did he say?”.

In my own words:

scribbled notes

“Pantsers” begin writing with only a few ideas of what will happen in the story They may have a main character and conflict and determine the rest, or they may just sit down and write, see what character is formed, what conflict develops. This is the way I write.

“Plotters” outline the entire book from start to finish. They know all the characters, all the conflicts, in what order these conflicts will occur, who will do what to whom, and how the book will be resolved.

writing outline

There are variations within each. Most people are somewhere in the middle but lean toward one or the other.

A thousand years ago when I had to write papers in college, all the professors insisted we turn in an outline first. They didn’t care (or didn’t believe me) when I told them I didn’t use outlines. I wrote all my papers well ahead of the due dates so I could then write the outline from the paper. I guess all my professors were plotters.

I don’t like word counts – I often say “it’ll be as long or as short as it needs to be” although when I’m writing a novel, I do keep an eye on word count so I know when to put in conflicts or resolve them. I’m guessing that plotters know the exact page on which they introduce or resolve a conflict. I have no idea how to do that. Plotters probably can’t conceive of how I write either.

According to Williams, there are drawbacks to each approach. Again, in my own words:

A pantser may have to rewrite if the story goes somewhere unexpected. They may have to change or add characters, add foreshadowing, change some plot lines. I once had a character change from a bad guy to a good guy halfway through so I had to change all the bad guy foreshadowing early in the manuscript.

I’m often surprised by what the people in

my stories do.

A plotter may be so bored by writing what they already know is going to happen that it can be difficult to see the writing all the way through. Also, if they want to change something, then they have to change the whole outline.

So, how do these terms translate into other areas of my life? Ten minutes ago, when I started writing this, I would have said I’m a plotter. But I’m not. I do a general plan but leave some things open. Exactly like I write.

When I vacation, I book the flight and hotels and a few activities. I leave plenty of time open for the unexpected. I once took a train across country at the last minute – one of my best trips ever.

My work is strategic planning, marketing and outreach. I begin with a definite plan and, even though I have years of experience determining what motivates people to buy or give or come back, you can never say for sure what people will do. So, I allow time and room to adapt the original plan after it’s launched.

As for relationships in my life, well, um, you can’t plan those, can you? Lol.

When people are involved, you can’t plan in detail. At least I can’t. Just like in real life, I’m often surprised by what the people in my stories do. This can be good or bad, but it’s most always fun – at least in stories.

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Photos by Fabian Grohs, Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

 

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Nature AND Nurture

May 28, 2019

I started writing stories as a child. My first story was about Bennie the Green Bean, and I decided I was going to write children’s books. I eventually majored in Journalism in college. At that time, it never occurred to me to try and make a living writing fiction.

green beans
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

After more than 20 years working in communications, marketing and public relations, I decided it was time. Time to write my novel. I wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, I had honed my writing skills for years, so knew I could whip out great novels in no time. Ha.

After writing a few days, I began pulling books off my shelves and analyzing them. How much description? How much dialogue? How many characters? Where do you put in the backstory? How do you start the backstory? How many words are in a novel?

 These are just 2 of the many bookshelves in my home office.

I was shocked that I didn’t inherently know these things; after all, I had been a voracious reader my entire life. This was harder than I had expected.

As I wrote, I had more questions. How long are chapters? What point of view should I use? Can I write male characters convincingly? I sought out advice and kept writing.

A few other writers attempting to transition from business writing to fiction writing scoff at my advice-seeking and learning the craft of fiction writing. They’re not going to classes or reading books on craft. They’re writing. They say that’s enough. And maybe it is for them.

Other friends expect me to churn out novels because I’ve been writing my whole life. I know they don’t understand it either. “You’re such a good writer,” they say. “How come your books aren’t published yet?”

writing-monsters-book.jpg

I’ve attended writing conferences, devoured books on plot, description, character development, and more. Recently, I read a book on how to write about monsters by Philip Athans.

Books and conferences are my candy. I soak up the advice and fully engage in the conference sessions, determining what works for me. My friends laugh and their eyes glaze over as I explain the elements that go into creating a scene or writing dialogue. I enthuse endlessly about what I’m learning. I can’t get enough of this stuff. My fiction writing is so much better than when I started out a few years ago. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve learned.

stephen-king-book.jpg

One of the books I read early in this journey is “On Writing” by Stephen King. He mentions that he is always reading a book on craft. What? Stephen King? I think he is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted writer. When I read that, I thought, “I should do that, too!” That book was published in 2000, so I don’t know if he still does that.

Writing speeches, articles, white papers, strategic plans, press releases and web site copy is not the same as writing fiction. That’s not to say all those years writing don’t help me now; they do, in so many ways.

Of course, I wish I could have sat down and written the great American novel without advice, books, classes or conferences, but it didn’t happen. That’s okay. I’m slowly finding my way. This is an unexpected journey and I am enjoying the ride.

Do you think writing is a talent or a learned skill? What writing resources have you found to help you in your journey?

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Describe, Qualify, Modify, Alter, Delete

May 14, 2019

Some common advice for writing fiction is to use very few adjectives and adverbs. This is additional advice I don’t like, and I didn’t understand it at first. How could I describe settings and scenes and facial expressions? Plus, I was moving from writing press releases, speeches and business reports, to writing fiction, so I was excited to use adjectives.

writing report

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

As I pondered this disappointment and continued writing, I began to understand the directive, although I phrase it differently. Instead, I use adjectives and adverbs judiciously. A friend put it better: “You use them sparingly, and they are very visual”.

Examples abound online, so I’ll just include a short example of an unnecessary adverb.

#1.  “I don’t care,” he said angrily.

#2.  “I don’t care,” he said, pounding his fist on the table.

Which one is more visual?

I also use the words “very” and “really”, and I have to go back and delete them. “Very hot.” “Really big.” How about scalding and gigantic. More descriptive.

I’ve heard the overuse of modifiers called lazy writing. I get that now. There are so many more ways to add description – through dialogue, action, and backstory, to name a few.

As I learned to limit my adjectives and adverbs to make them more effective, I discovered other writing devices. Metaphors and similes and onomatopoeia and analogy. These are fun! So, now, I probably use these too much.

eagle

Avoid clichés. “Soar like an eagle.”

A metaphor is a comparison to add description. A simile is another descriptive comparison but it uses “like” or “as”.

Analogies compare things more directly. — “My house is as important to me as play-doh is to my 5-year-old daughter.”

Personification gives human traits to an inanimate object. — “That pie is calling my name.”

 

Onomatopoeia

{On-uh-ma-tuh-pee-uh}

And my favorite: onomatopoeia. These are words that sound like actions. — “The horse clip-clopped down the path.” “Waves sloshed on the shoreline.” I like the way onomatopoeia is spelled, the way it looks when written out, and the way it sounds. It’s a cool word.

horses

Photo by Jorge Dominguez on Unsplash

Waves sloshed on the shoreline as the horse clip-clopped through the pebbles. The rider felt free, out of the desert at last, like she could spread her wings and do anything. The award meant as much to her as spaghetti and meatballs meant to her Italian mother-in-law. The sun celebrated with her, warming her face, and causing the water to sparkle like diamonds.

A good day.

What literary device is your favorite? And what word do you use way, way, way too often?

Note: My apologies to the English and grammar police if I have misrepresented any terms in this post. I’ve described things as I understand them.

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