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Plotting Or Pantsing? (Part 2 of 3)

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March 28, 2010 by Renee

Okay, so while I didn’t get a lot of comments, (a fact I’ll put down to shyness) we have a lot of writers who try to do a little of both. And we have some bloggers who are total Pantsers. Interesting. I write my blogs with a bit of an outline because I tend to ramble, although I’m sure you haven’t noticed.

Paul was kind enough to expand on his outlining process, which is one of many. So for those of you who are Pantsers simply because you’re not sure how to outline, I’ve found a few handy tools and techniques used by what I like to call the “OCD Plotters”. Just call them Nutters for short.

One technique I’ve heard raves about (but don’t use myself as I find it too restrictive) is the Snowflake Method. I’m sorry all you Flake devotees, but I’m with the pantsers on this one. Holy, long time just to start writing. Just reading it gave me hives. I did try it though, and this method does have some good points. It encourages the writer to know their characters and their plot. This, I believe, is a very important starting point. To write without that knowledge means risking flat characters and plot holes the size of, well, pot holes. I think for writers struggling with horrible first drafts or plots that go nowhere, this is an excellent resource to help you ask yourself the right questions in order to get back on track. I have used parts of this method, though not in order and definitely not on the same timeline that the author suggests.

Oh, and remember the dialogue post where I asked for a Dialogue for Dummies book? Well scroll down the page on the Snowflake site and you’ll find the book I’ve long searched for but never thought I’d find; Fiction Writing for Dummies. Seriously? Anyone who thinks such a book would make them a ‘writer’ deserves the title of Dummy. Just saying. Ouch! No projectiles on The Edge, thanks.

Let’s forget my personal opinions, as you already have, and get back to plotting. I’ve known many Plotters who use Character outlines. Of course these vary, from rough to extremely detailed. For instance, some authors interview their characters. Really. They have a detailed Q & A between themselves and their ‘character’. Imagine sitting down with your handy-dandy notebook (crayon optional) and asking yourself questions, then answering them ‘in character’. Some swear by this method. I’ve tried it and again, it’s not a favourite. I feel as though I should take some meds when I’m finished. But, for writers who have trouble creating characters, I see how this might be a useful tool. As long as no one is around to see you doing this; you don’t want to look like a tool as well.

Others use outlines like this one. To me, once again, a tad on the crazy anal side. I’ll admit to using some of it. I like to make notes in a spreadsheet for my characters. But all I include is name, age, connections to other characters, and possibly some points I want to remember later. If I make them a lefty in chapter two, I might want to remember that in chapter twenty when they shoot the messenger. Hey, mind like a sieve here; I’ve said this many times.

So how do I plot my stories? I’m so glad you asked. Thanks for caring.

I make an outline, very rough, that reads like a crazy synopsis. That’s first, just to get the idea out on paper and figure out where to go with it. Then I break that outline down into chapters. Characters and such emerge at this point. I add them to my little spreadsheet as they appear and make my notes. After that, I read it through to make sure it actually makes sense and modify if I need to. Sometimes I send the outline to cool writer friends who don’t mind boring themselves to tears reading it over for me. They offer suggestions, comments, offers of marriage, etc. and I change it again, politely ignoring the proposals. Once all of that is done, I write. Rarely do I write out of order. I like the linear method; beginning, middle, and end. If I write a scene out of order, and I have done this, I get antsy. My chest hurts and my head spins and all I can think about is writing the chapters to get to that damn scene so nothing is out of order anymore. I know, and I have the audacity to call other people weird.

After doing my research, (with Mr. Google) I’ve discovered there are too many plotting tools and techniques to list here. I’ve been trying to keep these babies short and to the point. I think I may have failed again. Sorry. I won’t list them all. But I will ask two questions in order to write the last post.

Plotters: Any methods you’d like to add? Tips? We’re all ears….er, eyes. Whatever.

Pantsers: What do these methods mean to you? Were they helpful or did you run away when the Snowflake fell? And since I heard little from the Pantsers out there the first time round (except you, Charles, thank you.) I’d like to hear how you write. Are we mistaken in thinking you ‘just do it’? Please, expound (fancy word for explain, you like?) the benefits of pantsing for us.

I look forward to hearing from y’all again.

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11 thoughts on “Plotting Or Pantsing? (Part 2 of 3)

  1. Paul Mitton says:

    I think that interviewing your characters is rather strange. Imagine…Author: "So what is your response to Skeletor's attempt to rule the known universe?"Character: "Scream and emigrate…"I mean, has that helped the author know the character at all?Ditto with some of the character sheets. Favourite colour, favourite food – come on, how's that going to help? We base characters on people we know, or combinations of. We know more about them than we can possibly write in a 1,000 page biography. We have a gestalt overview of them; we can picture them in our mind's eye. We can see them and watch them interacting with each other in dreams. You can't? I can and do. Oh, is that another sign of, let's say, eccentricity?So rough notes are all that I use for characters. All scenes though, I outline on index cards.

  2. Renee Miller says:

    Exactly Paul. Phew! I'm glad I'm not the only one who dreams about them. I felt like a whackjob when I tried the interview method, but some really do feel it works to make more believable characters. I suppose whatever works, right? The data sheets were just plain tedious. Really long and boring and by the time I got to the end, I hated the damn character. Index cards? Interesting. I find a spreadsheet handy, but I've never tried cards.

  3. Henry Lara says:

    *Hides Snowflake printouts* Hi! Interesting post, Ms. Miller. I heard about the interviews and character sheets. Don't like them. I prefer notes, like physical appearance and else. I admit I am trying the Snowflake exercise, although I am sure as hell not doing every step or trying them in order. I just don't think that way. More often than not, stories start with something I see in my head, a scene. I either make a note, or try writing it out. If I like what I have, then I built from there. (e.g What's this about? Characters, else.)My biggest challenge thus far is that I need to SEE the whole project. I can do that in my head for a short, but for a longer work? No success thus far. I like your outlines (no, I am not the one proposing marriage, I only asked her out for coffee) e-mails a lot. There is story boarding, where you make drawings (stick figures are good) of the whole story. Basically you make a small, comic strip like box of major parts. Very good for visual people (thinking in pictures) like me. I was thought this at a workshop, but I've yet to try it out. I am trying the scene spreadsheet next. I let you know how it works.

  4. Renee Miller says:

    Coffee? Is that what they call it these days? Okay. I've never heard of a story board for plotting. Stick figure would be about all I could do. Let me know how that works for you. I can just see you with the crayolas a week later because the pictures 'just aren't right'. Sorry, I'm teasing.

  5. Henry Lara says:

    Hey! I would be deeply hurt by that crayola comment if it wasn't so truth. Wait, we were talking about coffee right?

  6. Henry Lara says:

    Oh, I forgot. Check out http://celtx.com/overview.html for a look at a software packet for story boarding. It was recommended at the class. Looks like it helps with the stick figures…

  7. Gwen says:

    Character profiles and things like that come in handy when you're world-building and planning a series of books where character identities can get lost in the shuffle, especially if they're not in each of the stories.Patricia Wrede wrote an excellent outline for SFWA… you can find it here:http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/LIke Paul, I prefer the index card method, though I use an electronic form of it…http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.html

  8. My outlines are simple beasts. Generally, I write two-three lines that describe each chapter, making sure that there is a beginning, middle and end to each chapter.I don't over think outlines. As long as I know the direction, the details will come out during the process.I'm on novel #4 and it's worked for me so far. My CPs hardly ever draw blood any more. I belong to a group of very brutal critique partners. If there's a problem with the story, they'll find it.

  9. Renee Miller says:

    That's a lot like the way I do things. If I overthink, I'd never begin to write. My chapter outlines are basically what will happen, not much more. Generally I like an overall outline, a crazy synopsis as I mentioned. Aren't critiquers supposed to be brutal? It hurts a little, (okay, sometimes it hurts a lot) but the finished product makes you want to kiss their feet and feed them chocolate and whatnot. Even if you cursed them and their parents while rewriting. I read somewhere that if the critique hurts, it's probably right.

  10. Wendy says:

    Hi, My name is Wendy and I like character interviews. Whew! glad I go that off my chest. It's hard for me to get back into the swing of writing after Harvest sucks my brain out along with all the pumpkins, corn, and field trips through my farm. This last year, it was an interview from some random internet character interview sheet that helped me out of the funk. I learned that my character is a recovering nail biter, that chewed all her nails off after the Ghost dog started hunting her, and that she is still unable to talk about her attack even months after. She could to, say, her mom, but not to some random person asking her questions.Silly as it sounds, if it gets the creative juices going, then go for it. That's what I think.

  11. Renee Miller says:

    Welcome to the group, Wendy. There are cookies and coffee over the corner, if you and your characters would like some please, help yourself.Just kidding, I agree. Whatever works is what you should do. I felt really silly doing the interviews, but I don't have to leave my work like you do. So, it's easy for me to get to know them and not forget their little quirks. And a nailbiter? Get the girl some Tobasco, that'll fix her.

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Renee

Renee

I like to write stuff. Sometimes it's funny. I've published some novels and short fiction. I also battle an addiction to cake and potato chips, and I sometimes have inappropriate fantasies involving Kevin Spacey.

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