Posts Tagged ‘pantsing’

You ever find yourself doing something casually, thinking it’d be a fun hobby or just a way to pass a couple of hours, and then it ends up becoming something much bigger than you could ever have imagined? That’s happened to me a number of times. Reading Harry Potter as a child and then reading Stephen King’s It as a tween led me to become a writer and a horror writer, respectively, when I’d only been looking for something new and fun to read. Likewise, reading books about the Holocaust while traveling through Israel during the summer before senior year of high school led me to want to study the Holocaust along with creative writing in college.

And just recently, a story I started writing in-between drafts of Rose back in spring has quite possibly become my next novel. And I have no fucking clue how that happened.

Let me explain. Back in late winter/early spring, right after I’d finished another draft of Rose, I started a story I’d been wanting to work on for a while, both to pass the time and to experiment with writing by the seat of my pants. I didn’t think it would be a very long story, maybe twenty-thousand or thirty-thousand at most (so a novelette or novella), so I thought it would be a good side project. I named this story River of Wrath, as it deals with a certain aspect of Dante’s Inferno, and I went at it.

The writing by the seat of my pants didn’t work out so well, and I only got about nine-thousand words or so in before I had to do another draft of Rose (still impressive, but I felt like I could do better). I got that draft of Rose done, and then sent it to the imprint that would become my publisher. I worked on other stories while I tried to figure out how best to edit River of Wrath. After I sent the latest draft of Rose back to Castrum and did a few other stories, I decided to write an outline for River, and then go off that.

Whoo-boy, did that work! Writing the story went a lot faster, especially after I went through the initial thirty pages or so and tried to clean them up a bit. I was enjoying the story, and I found it challenging in a fun way, which is usually a good sign.

And then I got past ten thousand words.

And then fifteen thousand.

And then twenty thousand.

Thirty thousand arrived before I knew it.

I reached thirty-five thousand around Sunday.

And last night, I reached forty-six thousand. Yeah, I wrote around eleven thousand words over three days. I’m not sure how I did that either. On the bright side, I think I can do it again and write stories a lot faster now.

But back to point. Defining novels by word count varies from person to person. Mine is usually around sixty thousand (for clarity, the first Harry Potter is seventy-seven thousand words, give or take a few), but many people and quite a few publishers consider forty-thousand words or higher a novel. As I said, this novel’s upwards of forty-six thousand, so some would definitely consider it a novel. And I have a feeling River’s going to be at least fifty-thousand or higher by the time I’m done.

Like I said, I did not intend for this story to get so long. I thought it would top out at twenty-thousand. At the outside, it might reach thirty-thousand, too long for a magazine but perhaps good for a future short story collection. I never thought it would get this long! But parts of the story I thought would be short as heck became entire pages, complete with dialogue and inner thoughts and a couple of crazy scenes for people have to fight for their lives! And I felt that if I was going to do this story justice, I’d just have to go with the flow and write till I finished it.

So yeah, I’ve got another novel in the works, one called River of Wrath, and one I didn’t even know I was writing until it got as long as it did. And if I’m lucky, I’ll finish it by Halloween (which, coincidentally, is also when this story takes place). And afterwards? I plan to hand it off to some beta readers and do some edits, of course. And hey, if Rose sells well and Castrum wants to continue working with me afterwards, maybe they’ll take on River of Wrath and publish that as well.

But I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them. First thing’s first, I’m going to finish River. And when I do, I’ll celebrate with a drink and let you all know about it (whether or not you want to know or not).

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed and think of more scary stories to write. Expect a review of the new Halloween movie at some point this weekend. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

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Just like the last time I posted about this subject, I’m pretty sure someone is reading that post title and is very, very confused.

So if you’re unaware, there are two styles of writing fiction that most writers can be divided into: pantsers and plotters. To put it simply, plotters like to plan out as much as they can before and during writing, while pantsers tend to plan out only a few things, and leave the rest up to whatever they come up with in the moment. Some people do a mix, but for the majority, they usually fall into one camp or the other.

I’m a big plotter, but for a while I’ve been experimenting with more seat-of-my-pants style writing. I wanted to see if that led to situations within stories that felt more natural, more “organic” than something that might feel forced for the sake of the plot. And my experiment yielded an interesting conclusion: except for some short stories (and not many, mind you), I can’t pants for the life of me. And believe me, I tried. I tried to let situations rise as organically as possible and go with the flow. However, what ended up happening more often than not is that I would just sit there in front of my computer, trying to figure out what comes next. Then I’d get distracted, and I’d end up watching a few videos or reading clickbait articles, and then I’d realize that it’s time to make tomorrow’s lunch and get ready for bed, and only a little work has been done, and that just sucks!

I didn’t fully realize how bad I was at pantsing until I was writing an email to my publisher. We were discussing changes I could make to Rose, and I mentioned that I’d really have to think about what changes I would make, as, and I quote, “I can’t pants to save my life.” It wasn’t until I really wrote out those words that it dawned on me how true they were. I can’t pants to save my life. Except for the rare short story, I need an order and an idea of where I’m going. Otherwise, I just can’t write, let alone make a compelling story.

So I’m back on mainly plotting out my stories. But I’m not sad about that. Like I said, I’m a plotter, so it feels good to be writing in a way I know that works for me. And I’m happy for another reason: this experiment in pantsing was a success in a different manner than what I expected. Thomas Edison once said that his thousand failed light bulbs weren’t actually failed light bulbs, but discoveries on how not to make a light bulb. Similarly, I discovered some more of my limitations when it comes to writing, and how I can improve in the future. Far from a complete and total failure.

And if you have a specific way you write, don’t feel pressured to change it because other writers write differently. We all have our areas and our methods that work for us. If you want to experiment and try something new, go ahead and try it. You never know what’ll happen. But never feel that you have to change how you do things. You could end up going from quality work to not getting anything done at all.

Have you tried both pantsing and plotting? How has it worked out for you?

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I know my posts have been a bit more spaced out than usual lately, but I’m hoping to have more to post about in the new month. Hopefully even a couple pieces of good news (fingers crossed). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Voice. Sometimes, I feel this can be the hardest thing to create in a story, especially when you’re writing in first person. You, as the writer, have to create this unique person, someone with a personality, desires, fears, likes, and pet peeves. And then you have to give them a unique speaking voice, including vocabulary and word choice, syntax, grammar, accent, and all that can be really difficult. A lot of us have that distinct writer’s voice* in our heads that is always arranging our sentences on the page (or on the blog post) in a way that reads like what we consider good literature.

And it’s even more hindered when you consider where our writer voices come from. You see, I have this hypothesis that every writer’s storytelling voice is born when they read a great story and the narration resonates with them on a deeper level. This could be their own voice reading their first chapter book as a child, a parent reading to them a fantasy novel by their bedside and making the story come alive, or an audio book narrator with a great speaking voice behind the words. No matter how many other stories we may read or listen to later in life with their own amazing narrative styles–the childlike humor and observations of Alice in Wonderland, Stephen King’s odd characters and descriptions, or the three women from The Help and how they each view their situation from vastly different backgrounds and dispositions–it will always be this original narrator who contributed the base DNA for your writer’s voice, and whom a part of you will always spend a good amount of time both trying to emulate in power and break away from so you don’t sound like a copycat.

For me, I always go to Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter audio books. Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood, and caused me to start writing in the first place. My first attempt at writing was something like a Harry Potter gender-bend fanfiction. And Jim Dale made the text come alive, in ways the movies and the books alone couldn’t. Whenever I wrote, in the back of my mind, I was comparing and contrasting to Jim Dale’s work. And while I’ve managed to develop my own voice, it’s still a fight that goes on in the back of my head up to this day.

So basically, I’m fighting Jim Dale in my head while trying to create an original narrator’s voice on the page.It’s an image perfect for a Family Guy cutaway gag.

Struggling against this guy in my head every time I write.

So what can you do when you’re trying to create a distinct voice for your narrator or narrators? What do you do when you want to make Skeeter sound different from Abilene and Abilene from Minnie, or Cormoran Strike from Harry Potter, or Lestat from Louis? And can I come up with any other characters for comparison? The answer to the latter question is yes I can, but I’ll stick to the former if you don’t mind too much.

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a new story while I wait to hear back from my beta readers. And as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a more organic approach by writing this story without much planning and seeing what evolves from that. And weirdly, that approach has allowed me to tap more fully into my narrator’s head. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it might have something to do with the plotting vs. pantsing thing I talked about in that previous post. When I’m plotting, I think out every detail of the story, not leaving much room for change or experimentation. Thus, the narrator’s voice becomes secondary to telling the story I want to tell, in the way I want it to be told, and the narrator’s voice ends up as something close to default writer’s voice.

But while I’m pantsing it (or plantsing it, as my friend Kat Impossible informs me), that particular mental clamp isn’t in place. Thus, without having to worry about getting my story from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F (I’m not even sure if I have a Point F at this point), I can focus more on my narrator and develop her voice. I’ve actually discovered through, just by letting my character be herself and make her observations about the world, she’s a pretty frank and kind of funny. At one point, after saying “her heart fluttered,” she says she sounds like a romance novel, which she hates reading, and her friends consider that a horror “on par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” I wrote that in, and I ended up laughing!

I might have to pants/plants my stories more often in the future.

But what if you already write by pantsing or plantsing, or plotting is the only style that works for you? Well, I might have a few suggestions:

  1. Write out the traits of your narrator. If your narrator is a character in the story,  then obviously they have a personality (unless this is an 80’s movie, in which case they’re bland and white). Think about them and what their role is a story. What do they want? What do they stand to lose if they fail? What’s in their past? Who do they hang out with? Figuring this out can give an insight into the character and therefore to the voice that they give.
  2. Have a conversation with the narrator. I forget where I got this, but it’s a good one to use. Grab some paper and a pen, and have a conversation with your character. Ask them questions, and then write down what you’d imagine their responses to be. It seems a little mental, but it’s pretty effective, and can be used for other issues in a story (motivation, plot holes, etc).
  3. Spend time narrating scenes in your head. I’m the kind of guy who spends a lot of time planning the story in my head before I write it (the consequence of having a full-time job and only one me to write). Consequently, there are scenes I’ve written and rewritten several times over in my head. During that time, a character’s personality, worries, beliefs, and of course their voice will emerge through several mental revisions. By the time you get the actual writing, you already have the narrator’s voice down pat.

Voice is always difficult to get right for any narrator, but there are a variety of ways to help you get that voice. Whether it’s writing something differently than usual, or having an imaginary conversation, you can discover your narrator and their voice. And from there, you can make your story that much better.

What do you think of finding a narrator’s voice? Do you have any tips for doing so?

*The writer’s voice, by the way, is very different from our speaking voices. I’m never this eloquent in real life. I actually stammer a bit, my mind racing to get the best sentence out while my mouth is already saying the words. It’s quite annoying, and sadly the only time I’m not plagued with it is probably when I’m telling a joke (usually a stupid one). Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could speak like we write blog posts or stories? It might make a few things easier.

Someone is going to read this title and be very confused as to its meaning. Most likely, my parents. Or any juvenile who thinks pulling down a classmate’s pants is the height of comedy.

So, if you are wondering what the hell that title is about, it refers to two different styles of writing stories. Plotting is when writers plan out every part of the story. Everything, from beginning to middle to end, is planned and…well, plotted. Obviously, not everything is done according to a plan. A lot of stuff, like the wording in the story, is decided upon while writing. But the major elements–plot, characters, grisly character deaths involving giant monsters ripping deceitful high schoolers in half (no wait, that’s just me)–are decided upon before the story is even begun.

Pantsing is the exact opposite of that. Writers write by the seat of their pants and just make it up as they go along. There is some planning involved (for more on that, read this article by my friend/colleague Ruth Ann Nordin), mainly what sort of story arc you want to go through, what sort of characters there are, and perhaps some scenes you hope to include in the story, but for the moment it’s pretty much whatever comes out of your fingers at the moment you’re writing. The dialogue, action, and the descriptions are created spontaneously.

Plenty of writers have their own preferences. Stephen King is definitely more of a pantser: in his memoir On Writing, he compares writing stories to unearthing an artifact from some ancient civilization, revealing a little more with every dig of the shovel and brush, never knowing what you’ll uncover. JK Rowling, on the other hand, is probably a plotter. After all, she spent years putting together the seven books of the Harry Potter series, laying groundwork and hints of what is to come.  And you don’t just come up with stuff like Hallows and Horcruxes like that on the spot. No, she had those planned for ages and ages.

Personally, I’m a plotter. I usually have every scene planned out, especially with novels, where I tend to outline the story, and then do several drafts of the outline, before I get to the actual story. I’m not sure why. It might be I’m a bit of a control freak who takes being the “God of his fictional universe” a little too seriously. Or I just learned to write like that, and it’s done me well so far. Either way, it’s what I’ve done since I was a child, and it’s worked for me.

Writing by the seat of these, LOL

So why the hell am I talking about this? Because for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually writing a story and pantsing it!

I mentioned in the post I wrote after I finished editing Rose that I was going to work on a couple of shorter works for a while. The first of these stories involves a bunch of people being trapped within a relatively small space, and this is going to be the meat of the story. In a confined space, tensions can get high, and the scenario of the story will probably raise those tensions a lot higher. So, I decided that it might be better to write this story by the seat of my pants, rather than plot the whole darn thing.

I figure that, rather than planning out that entire part of the story, I might instead plan only a few scenes and some plot points that I hope will come up in the story, and see what happens. I feel that will be more organic than just planning out who will lash out at whom when and what that leads to. The conflict will feel more real that way, not just to readers, but to the characters themselves, and to me too. If the conflict in a story feels fake, no one will buy it, and the story will suffer because the reader will disengage. Hopefully I can avoid it by changing things up.

I’m also kind of hoping I can experiment a little with humor in my stories. As I said in a previous post, I don’t include humor in most of my stories, and one of the reasons I think that might be is because I’m a plotter, so I keep in mind how dark my stories are from beginning to end and don’t insert humor because of how dark they are. I’m wondering if writing by the seat of my pants will give me more room to insert my style of humor, which is very situational, and make it not as forced as it might be under other circumstances.

It’s not a big reason why I’m trying pantsing with this story, but it’d be a perk if it happened.

So I’m trying to pants my way through this story, with only a few scenes planned, only eight characters fleshed out, and just a general idea of what I want to happen with this story. I have no idea what will happen, if this will be something I’ll do more often, or if the work I produce by pantsing will be any good. However, like every good writer, I have to be brave enough to keep pushing boundaries and to try new things. At least some of those new things have to work. Am I right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a few more blog posts I want to put out this week before I start on this story I’ve mentioned and fall into a proverbial rabbit hole, so I’m going to be putting those out one after the other this week (and maybe next). Hopefully by the time those are done, you won’t be sick of me.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!