Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rolling Down The Proverbial Mountain (or, Writing By The Seat of Your Pants)

Karlie with you today!

Imagine this:

You're sitting at your keyboard, hunched over the computer, the light from the screen setting off those circles under your eyes. But you can't stop now! You're almost there, that elusive climax, the point you've been working toward since the beginning.

And then you realize the foreshadowing on page three has become completely irrelevant, and these characters are in the wrong part of the world for this amazing scene to happen, and you killed off  the one guy that could fix it.

Everything grinds to a halt.

Sound familiar? Then you're most likely Reckless Pantser - you jump into each manuscript with a whoop, picking up speed as you get closer and closer to the end. You might bounce off an unexpected tree or boulder along the way, but what a rush! You can always clean it up in draft two. And meanwhile what a ride! This is nothing like what you've set out to create, but you love it!

And then on the other hand...

You consult your notes one more time, read over your carefully planned outline, and type that final scene with euphoria and confidence. There you are - your perfect story, all lines tied up just right, everything exactly where it's supposed to be.
The thing is, you failed to be surprised by those delightful twists and turns that can only be uncovered in the heat of the moment. Is that a bad thing?

If you're nodding right now, then you fall under the category of Religious Outliner.

My question for today is - which are you?

Personally, I'm a Reckless Pantser. Outlines are my sworn nemesis - though believe me, I've tried to make peace more than once. Some days there are more boulders and trees than I want to deal with, and that can make for a very frustrating (and failed) attempt at writing.

But on the good days, it's incredibly rewarding. Not having a plan to stick to is liberating - you never know where you might end up next. Those loose ends can be a pain to deal with, but they can be dealt with.

And I have been known to plan ahead. :) I usually start out with a mental sketch of where I want to go, it's just subject to change at any moment.

Just remember, fellow Pantsers - feel free to jump outside the box; but don't forget to respect the box. It'll save you a lot of work later.

Lisa: I'm an outliner; however, I've been known to call my outline a guideline. It's there to show me the direction for the story that I've thought up, and it's there to keep me from going off on tangents and having to killing any darlings. I've written without an outline, and that novel has a very loose middle which I haven't fixed to this day because it has "darlings" that I'm hesitant to kill. In the next book, I wrote on outline and stuck to it like it was law, and the characters and novel fell flat. It's hard to explain what feels wrong with this particular story but here's the best I can do: it feels like it was built instead of created. Since then, I've learned to let my guideline guide me instead of stifle me. When a character no longer feels like he could make that decision or go in that direction that's listed in the outline, I don't make him. The characters are free to grow and I write away from the outline. Sometimes I'll change the outline to fit what I just changed, sometimes I don't. Perhaps when I don't go back and change it is when it's mostly likely the best decision. I'm too passionate about what's going on in the story right now to go back and worry about a silly outline. This, the novel, is what's important.

Of course you should let your characters grow but you also have to consider that you've grown, too, since writing that outline. Maybe you think of a better breakup scene, maybe you've matured as a writer and realize you've outlined a scene to unfold in a melodramatic way, or your decision to have your characters argue about a certain issue is more about you wanting to state your stance rather than simply tell a good story. Giving yourself permission to deviate from your outline curbs flat or uncreative writing. And, for me, having a guideline keeps me on track with plot-progressive scenes instead of wasting my time on tangents that I'm going to have to delete later. It hurts to have to delete those scenes and I try not to be a masochist.:) It's easy for me to go on tangents and write nonprogressive scenes if I don't have a guideline. Other writers have no such issue, and my hat goes off to you. Then again, there are writers that could benefit from outlining but pantsing fits their dream better.

I have one more reason to list then I'll shutup. Foreshadowing. It's so easy and it comes off so smoothly since I outline. That was another problem in my first book. I didn't know what exactly was going to happen, since I was pantsing it, so I didn't foreshadow any. When I went back and added foreshadowing, it was bumpy and stuck out.

Caitlin: I'm definitely an outliner but, like Lisa, I'm really flexible with it. I see it as more of a guideline. I honestly wouldn't even know how to pants a novel. (I've tried and stopped after writing 3-4 chapters...).  I also really like writing synopses before I get too far into a story. My writers group and my agent have indulged me and read many a synopsis for me, which is helpful because I can see the potential problems (both from story and marketing standpoints) before I decide to invest in writing the whole thing. But, for me, even with the outline, there's still tons to discover and create. The outline shifts several times over the course of the process and sometimes whole characters or plot lines are introduced that weren't there before.

Dan: I'm with Karlie on this: I'm a pantser for sure. Part of that stems from the event that first got me writing long-form fiction: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It's every November, and the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel during that time. That works out to 1,667 words a day. No time for outlining! Another reason I like to wing it is that I often have a big vision of the story's beginning and end, but no idea what will happen in the middle. I have to just write the characters and build momentum to get the job done.

A possible disadvantage of pantsing is that it often leads to more structural editing. I have to fix consistency/ordering problems and sometimes cut entire scenes or chapters. I'm OK with that, though, because I do what it takes to get the words out. For what it's worth, I know the advantages of outlining and I'm trying that for the as-yet-unwritten books in my planned series. Until the first book sells, I can't really spend time writing them, so outlining is the best I can do.

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