Writing a Novel: The Plantsing Method

So last week I was super excited to report that I cranked out a draft of a novel in a tad over a week. And I mentioned part of my being able to pull off this feat was due to knowing what I was going to write ahead of time. This brings up the never-ending debate topic of whether an author is a panster (as in, no outline and writing from the seat of his or her pants) or a plotter (as in, plotting out all the details in an outline before putting pen to paper).

Few writers I’ve come across are 100% either way and most fall somewhere toward the middle. That’s me as well, I like having an outline, but I don’t detail out every scene and sort of let the words come as they may while hitting the plot points of the outline.

With this new book, I knew I wanted to draft it quickly, so I thought I’d try to be a more stringent plotter so I wouldn’t waste any time and could maybe avoid so much re-writing. In some ways, I’m really glad I took this extra pre-writing time. In other ways, I proved that teaching an old dog new tricks requires dog treats and I just don’t think I could bring myself to eat Milk Bones.

Hmmm, maybe a Scooby Snack would be a good motivator.

Starting Out – The Not-So Short Story

As I mentioned, this idea started out as a short story and quickly grew out of its short story pants. After writing out what will eventually become a few of the opening scenes of the book, ideas kept popping in my head for where I wanted to go with the story. So, while the short story never happened, I not only had a couple great scenes started, but was also on a good track for where I wanted to go with the book AND I had gotten a fair start on learning about my main character.

Outline Attempt #1 – Chris Fox

Before we get too far on this, know that I ended up doing three outlines. Each one built on the other and this REALLLLLY gave me time to flesh out my story and to understand my main character’s flaws and desires.

For Outline #1, I took advice from Chris Fox’s YouTube series on outline a novel. I recommend watching the series, if you want the full scoop, but basically he tells you to sort out how your book starts, its setting, and how it ends. You then fill in the middle (the dreaded middle!) by asking yourself questions regarding how to get your characters from the beginning to the end.

This question-and-answer thing didn’t exactly build my story’s guts, but it was a great brainstorming exercise and did provide me with plenty of plot ideas. It also started allowing me to build my character’s backstory, which, even though I don’t come out and explicitly use it in the book, does play a significant role in how she reacts to the other characters.

Outline Attempt #2

With my ideas from Chris’s videos bubbling in my head, I knew I needed to get that middle bit sorted out and to flesh out my beginning and end (I had a basic idea at this point for them, but no real course for my writing vessel). Luckily, Reedsy has some terrific (and free) 10-day email courses and one of them happens to be How to Plot Your Book with Three Act Story Structure. PERFECT!!!

Sort of. The course did help me nail down what I wanted to happen in the beginning and end, and I sort of kind of had a fuzzy idea that was coalescing into something more tangible for the middle, but it was still too vague to begin writing. Well, I could begin writing, but I didn’t want to come to that second act and hit a brick wall.

Again, even though this second attempt didn’t result in a fully fleshed out outline, I was building and building layers that were turning my little premise into something with some excellent character motivation, plot twists, and tension.

Outline Attempt #3

I love it when things just happen to fall into place. As I was going through my outline creation, I happened on a podcast where they were interviewing a guy who wrote a book on outlining a novel! Holy moly!! And he sounded like he knew what he was talking about. So, I shelled out a few books and downloaded Scott King’s Outline Your Novel: The How To Guide for Structuring and Outlining Your Novel

I read the book through once, then set about to going through it a second time and hammering out my novel’s outline. King also uses the three-act structure, but breaks down each act into basic plot points that need to happen in each act. This sounds formulaic, but it really isn’t if you think of them more as prompts for your book’s own outline and story.

With the first two attempts I had a really strong sense of my beginning, end, and my main character’s needs/wants/motivations (since I usually struggle with character development, I felt pretty kick-ass about how well I’d built up my main character). However, it wasn’t until King’s books and his cycle of Status Quo-Attempt-Fail-New Status Quo-2nd Attempt, etc that I was really able to build the middle of my book.

Trying To Go Deeper – The Pantser Takes Over

Now that I had an outline. It was time to look at the scenes that would happen with each plot point. Even Scooby Snacks couldn’t train me to do this one.

King’s book has templates for each scene such as setting, character motivation, what happens, etc. I tried to do a few of these, but things quickly fell apart. Turns out I can only plan so much. When I start writing, I honestly don’t know what is going to happen within a scene. This can get me in trouble sometimes and does lead to some rewriting, but it also adds an element of play into this work.

For example, I didn’t know my main character was going to develop an interest in a rather creepy character. I didn’t know her landlord was going to be a complete jerk. I didn’t know my villain was going to turn out to have a special talent. I didn’t know one word of all the conversations that were going to take place. I didn’t know my main character was going to nearly burn down a doctor’s office.

It was fun discovering all of these things and kept me eager to come back to the notebook to see what would happen next. While I did know where the story was going and I knew where I needed to steer my characters, I didn’t know the exacting details of how to get them there. And that’s how you become a happy plantser.

Sorry for this incredibly long post today, but I hope it was insightful. I’ll be back next week to start sharing with you the myths that went into making my upcoming book The Bonds of Osteria: Book Four of the Osteria Chronicles and there’ll even be some sample chapters to gobble up!

How about you? How do write? Plotter or pantser, or something in between? For you non-writers, how do you tackle big projects? Break them down? Attack full on? I’d love to hear how you approach your work so be sure to leave a comment!!!

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The Beatles Schedule of Novel Writing

So last week, after entertaining you with a bit of mythological humor, I teased you with a hint of exciting news to come this week. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull off what I intended for the subject of that exciting news – which would have left me making up something exciting like winning the Pulitzer Prize (totally believable).

But because I knew you’ve come to expect brutal honesty from me, I somehow scraped my nose along that proverbial grindstone and managed to accomplish what I set out to do. And what might that be? Drum roll please….

I drafted a novel in a week! Okay, it was eight days, but if eight days counted as a week for the Beatles, it can count as a week for me.

How did I do it?

Um, I have no idea. I normally draft books quickly, but in the past “quickly” has meant three weeks at a minimum. Still, I have a few clues as to how I pulled this off.

  1. I knew (mostly) what I would be writing. I came up with the idea for this story in February and spent most of March jotting down ideas about the main character’s background, the basic premise, and how I wanted the book to begin and end. In early April, I outlined the book (which I think deserves a dedicated post next week).
  2. I busted my butt the week before and especially the day before I began the draft so I’d have as much time as possible to write. I still had a few chores to do, but this “clearing the plate” of any big chores meant my workdays over the past week were mostly dedicated to writing.
  3. I LOVED every inch of this story. Except for some hand cramping and achy shoulders, this book was so much fun to write, it didn’t feel like work. I’d even intended to give myself the weekend off from writing, but I just couldn’t tear myself away from the project.
  4. There was that sense of getting ahead. I hadn’t scheduled writing the first draft of this book until June, and I even gave myself two months to do it. Now that first draft is well out of the way, I have that smug sense of thumbing my nose at my Production Schedule!
  5. I know how I write most efficiently, but I was willing to experiment (see Testing Out New Writing Methods below).

Let’s look at a couple of these a little more closely….

Going With the Flow

In #2 up there, I mentioned clearing my calendar to allow as much time for writing as possible.  Why did this help? Because the absolute worst part of my writing day is putting down those first few sentences. They’re usually awful and stilted and I waste a lot of time mulling them over. But I know if I can just get them down, things will start flowing.

Grumpy Cat has a different take on going with the flow.

Since I only had eight of these starting hurdles to get over, the flow was only interrupted a few times. Most days, I spent about five hours (in 30- to 55-minute sessions) writing, but each time I’d start a new session, i was simply continuing with the momentum I’d already gained in the previous session (there were even a few instances where I stopped in mid-sentence when the timer went off, but this was mainly the hand-cramping, not to maintain the flow).

Testing Out New Writing Methods

I’ve heard wonders about using dictation to write a book. How it speeds up production, how it allows you to move around while working, etc. Always keen for new experiments, I tried it for a few scenes. Those scenes are the worst ones of the book. Words simply would not come to my brain, and those that did were pretty bland. I gave up on dictation and went back to my usual method. That method is writing long hand in a notebook. But this time I gave it a little twist.

This longhand approach shocks most people, but I simply can’t create well on a computer. The words don’t flow and if I get stuck, I seem to just stare at the screen instead of trudging on as I will do with pen and paper. However, I did find that if I could get things chugging along with pen and paper, I could spend a little time at the computer and keep up the momentum. I still only wrote about a quarter of the book on the computer, but it was a good tidbit to learn about my work methods.

Not Done Yet

Even though I wrote this book quickly, I’m not one of those writers who can (or want to) crank out a novel in a month or less. There’s still rewriting to do, areas to flesh out, and all the other little tidbits I like to fiddle with in subsequent drafts. Still, because ideas are bubbling in my head of the exact spots I want to change, I’m not dreading the rewrite stages like I have in the past.

When will I begin the next books in the series? Who knows? With this much excitement for the story and the characters, I may be whipping through that Production Schedule faster than I anticipated.

What about you? How do you tackle big projects? Have you learned anything about your work methods? Anyone out there still prefer to write longhand? I’d love to hear from you so be sure to leave a comment!! Oh, and Finn will be stopping by Saturday with a little exciting news of his own. See you then!

 

That’s My (Writing) Life Sorted

I’ve been working on something crazy the past few weeks. Something that looks far into the future. Something that most people (including myself) will look at and shout, “Are you mad, woman!!??” Something that has me a little scared.

But isn’t that the sign of a great invention? Just think of when Edward Jenner started going around saying, “Hey, let me inject you with this little bit of cowpox so you don’t get the smallpox.” Who wouldn’t think he was crazy?

Granted, my creation isn’t going to save mankind from disease and disfiguration (or will it….?), but I am hoping it will save my writing career.

Because, like a dorky girl with a crush on the football captain, I’m desperately trying to get Amazon to “notice” me. And to do this I need to get more books out in a more timely fashion (this equivalent of the montage scene where the dorky girl gets a makeover). Putting out one or two books a year may work for some super awesome writers, but it’s not working for me especially since I write in a pretty competitive genre.

And so, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen I give you, The Production Schedule. Continue reading

Everything Old is New Again

So now that I’m on the downhill slope of releasing The Bonds of Osteria: Book Four of the Osteria Chronicles, I’m sure you’ve been kept up at night wondering what my next project might be. Sorry, I need a break from the series, so it’s not going to be book five. However, fans of the world of Osteria, shouldn’t dismay because there’s a whole heap of Osteria coming your way (ooh, that’s almost poetic).

The Never-Ending Project

My current work-in-progress has been “in progress” for about six years. Okay, I haven’t actually been working on it for six years, but I did pen the first word of it way back in 2012 when I was still fumbling around trying to write a book I felt good enough about to release. From the various colors of ink that have made their mark on the manuscript, it’s obvious I’ve come back time and time again to this book but kept getting tossed off its track to completion.

And what was derailing me each time? Research.

Why do you refuse to become a novel!!!???

Continue reading

The Quick and Dirty (and Funny) Blog Post

With the proofing and editing of The Bonds of Osteria, the editing and rewriting of a new book series, creating some ad copy, and writing an article for Horticulture magazine, this week I’m absolutely drowning in work. As such, I’m wimping out and doing a quick and dirty (and hopefully funny) post for this Wednesday’s look into my writing world.

First off, if you find you simply can’t get through the week without reading more of my words, I highly recommend signing up to my email list. Just for typing your email address you’ll get two books that include gobs of short stories by yours truly as well as a peek into the world of the Osteria Chronicles. No pressure, but all the puppies and kittens and baby sloths of the world will suffer if you don’t sign up.

Please don’t let me suffer.

Alright, now that the begging is over, here’s this week’s quick and dirty (and funny) post…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been scouring the Google Images files for silly glimpses into the world of Greek mythology (on which my Osteria Chronicles series is based) to share on Twitter and Instagram (up yours Facebook, you don’t deserve my funnies!). If you follow me on social media, you may have already seen a few of these, but I’ve mixed in a some new ones just to keep your funny bone on its toes (wait, is that even anatomically possible?).

Enjoy (some of these are tiny, just click on them to see them a bit bigger)… Continue reading