Sunday, 5 June 2011

WIP Update: Pantsers CAN Prep

Post-it Heaven For Stationery Addicts

When it comes to writing I am an unashamed pantser. I do the minimum amount of plotting required and let the story write itself. For me, writing is an organic process. If I work out all the elements in detail - plot, chapters, scenes - the writing that follows feels awkward and forced.

With my first novel, Dreaming Of Sleep, I spent two days during the second week of NaNoWriMo working out a detailed plot. I did the opposite to when I write a short story because I discovered writing a novel is a lot harder; there are so many elements to balance, such as characters and timelines. I've been trying to work from that plot ever since but it has never felt a comfortable process. I do not want to repeat this method with my Cosmic Seed trilogy.

I have a basic idea of the plot for all three books - where I want them to start and finish. I know who most of the main and minor characters are for the first book, but I could fit all this information onto two sides of paper. My instinct is telling me not to plot Cosmic Seed in detail; my rational brain is telling me to find other ways to prepare or I'll mess up.

These are some of the ideas I've had so far:
  • Create a mock cover (done).
  • Write a back cover blurb (working on).
  • Write a tagline.
  • Create a collage of visual and written prompts, including the mock cover and blurb.
  • Start a file or notebook for all ideas related to the book(s). Sub-divide into key elements - plot, characters, and so on.
  • Get to know my characters by asking them questions. Create a character C.V.
  • World build. As the two planets of Velika and Vita are central to the first book, get a detailed picture of what both worlds are like. How alien are they to Earth? How different are they from each other?

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between? Do you know of any other ways a pantser can prepare without stifling their creativity?


  1. My jaw totally dropped at that picture. Is that yours? I'm impressed if it is. I tend to be a panster (or discovery writer as I've heard some people call it). Usually I'm a very organized person, so it's still surprising to me that I'm like this.

    For my NaNo project last year I did what's in that photo (not as big though as it was supposed to be a mg fantasy story). I found out that using my computer to type the info into and then printing it onto the post-its made my hand very happy and it was also then easy to copy and past that portion in and tweak if I wanted to. I'm going to give it a try again for this year's NaNo on the same story that's decided to be YA fantasy instead. My problem was that I did the whole outline and then got 30,000 words into it and had a discovery moment that negated all the rest of my post-it notes. Haven't written a word since.

  2. Ooooh I can feel a plotter eager to burst through - aliens stylie - from your pantser soul! LOL!!

    Yay for you!! Me - I pants all the way with bits of plotting too! LOL!! Makes for a very messy wip!!

    Take care

  3. For someone who isn't a planner, that's a lot of planning! I create the characters and write down details. I let the story play through in my head and then write down the highlights in an outline. Any more and I'm over-thinking it. Any less, and I won't be able to write because I don't know where I am going.

  4. Yay pantsers! I know where I'm starting (inciting incident) and know where I'm going (climax/resolution). Everything in between I like to discover through character development and research as I go. I like the organic way the story fills in.

    I've never created a mock cover for a book. I should try that. :)

  5. If I plan too much I get impatient and rush or I get bored - and if the writer is bored, there's no hope for the reader!

  6. I'm a bit of both, I think. I have a vague idea, then pop in characters, flesh them out, then hope a plot develops out of the vague idea!

    For NaNo I worked on 3500 words per chapter as I had to have some structure having never done anything like that before. It worked very well and I'll do that again this year.

  7. I guess I'm half-way in between, and from the kinds of preparations you describe I'd guess you are too.

    I can't write in a vacuum. I need at least a sketch of an outline to tell me where I'm heading. I also need to know characters (up to a point) and setting so I can place myself in the scene. But I only flesh out what's needed when I need it. Sometimes that will involve charting out a whole planet like you describe, because so much happens there that I want to be able to anchor myself and the reader there.

    But I still let the writing itself take me where it will, and sometimes it surprises me and suggests new directions to add to or modify the outline.

    Is that plotting, or pantsing?

  8. In between. I have a basic concept/outline and go from there. I split my writing day into two parts: writing the story and developing ideas.

  9. I really can't function without some sort of outline. It's great you've outlined (pun intended) some ways pantsers can organize.

  10. With BuNoWriMo, it's the first time I've given novel writing a proper try - and I'm pantsering all the way (and so far it's working) All I have is one page of rough plotting. I don't know all of the key points and I don't know the ending. I do have 3 major twists though. Than that, I'm not revising or letting my inner critic out to play until I've a full first draft down.
    Maybe that's your key prep - ways of drowning your inner critic!

  11. By coincidence my latest post is on this very subject. Not sure if it will be the answer you're looking for, but you might find it of some use.

    Moody Writing

  12. I'm a pantser. I do a minimum amount of outlining and character sketching. I do, however, have a special notebook which I keep to jot down random ideas that pop up during the day and night. They don't relate to anything at all, but I know that one day I will want to use them. It's broken up into "Scenery" - I might see a tumbledown house as I drive by and write down a description for later use. "Characters" - I jot down descriptions of interesting people I see on the street, at work, waiting for the bus. "Words and phrases" which just pop into mind out of nowhere - heavy and ominous in its prophecy sat on a page for months before it found its way into a story.

  13. I'm more of a pantser, but not completely. I tend to start with my characters and the world, while I gather any kind of information that seems useful in files (laptop and paper ones).

    Before I begin to write, I know in which ways I want my most important characters to change, and have a vague idea of what they'll need to experience in order to get there.

    From then on it's just a matter of filling in the rest. ;-)

    I use yWriter and I find it's helping me to plot in a very flexible way: I roughly outline chapters, name key scenes as I think of them, and then I end up swapping them around, adding new ones, deleting, ... as I go along.

  14. a notebook is a great idea for a panster. (i guess i'm a plotter cause i start w/an outline sentence or two for each ch and i have all my reference stuff on a spreadsheet, but i dont always stick to it)
    write down your stuff, scenes, names, definitions, etc, as they come to you. i had to get each name down so when a minor character or gadget or weapon came up again i remembered what to call them!

  15. I think the Botanist above said it best, "I can't write in a vacuum...", and Alex. J. C. as well--I need to know where I am going.
    I do plan pretty thoroughly, but I give the characters permission to stay true to themselves.

  16. I'm something in between. I find it depends on what I'm writing. I'm trying to be less of a plotter and just let the characters write the story, but I find I need to know the beginning and the end if not what happens in the middle. But I suppose for some intricately plotted detective story (say) it would have to be carefully plotted wouldn't it?

  17. Maybe you're a plotster? Seems like you do some planning but leave the rest up to the process. I'm a little like that myself, although I'm probably heavier on the plotting side.


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