Don't miss a freebie, deal, or new release.Join Now!
banner with headshot and name

Pillars of the story

A copy I found in the Westminster Abbey gift shop in London.

I'm munching on deformed peanut butter cups and brainstorming for my next book. There are three ideas swirling in my head right now (or maybe four), but I think I've finally picked one and so I'm figuring out the basic plot points.

Yes, I've said I'm a pantser, mister–or whatever you want to call it–who doesn't work well with structure. I've gone back and forth on plotting versus pantsing and somewhere-in-between so many times your neck probably hurts from watching. But I think my failed experiment with plotting had less to do with the act of creating a structure, and more to do with not having found the right one yet.

But I was recently re-inspired.

My husband and I are watching the Starz! production of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (on Netflix instant play via Wii–LOVE my technology). He's one of my very favorite authors in any genre, and that book is up at the top of my list of best books ever. It's been years since I read it, so the mini-series–which is surprisingly well done–has been an excellent reminder of what an incredible storyteller Follett is. And I've noticed a couple things.

Follett's not afraid to put his characters through hell. In fact, I cringe at what they go through and at how evil some of the antagonists in his story are. As events unfold, I can almost imagine Follett asking himself, “What's the worst thing that could happen to this character now?”

Also, the character's goals and motivations are very clear, and they act accordingly without fail.

So as I move forward with my next book, I will try to incorporate these elements and create a framework on which to build my story, while still honoring my need to “wing it” from plot point to plot point. The major plot points are the pillars, and the fun is in creating the arches that connect them.

Wish me luck on my journey from apprentice to master builder. And, good luck in your own journey!

A kick in the pants

If you've been keeping up with my posts the last few weeks or months, you're probably starting to think I'm schizophrenic. One minute I'm lauding the wonder of structure and pre-planning, and the next I'm lamenting the missing magic when I write within a structure.

Basically, you've been watching me try to find myself. I cannot regret having any knowledge of structure, and I will admit the lure of it is great for a logic-minded person like me. However, I've come to the conclusion that I may have to fly by the seat of my pants in order to find my best story. I can work the structure back into it later, or keep it in mind as I go.

I hate admitting that, but it's better than struggling to force a method that doesn't work for me right now. (I'm always hopeful for the future.)

Just over a year ago, when I started writing seriously, the time spent writing was pure joy. Yeah, I struggled and backtracked and cut, but overall the process was (mostly) fun. The story just came to me as I went, like brainstorming on the go. All three of my completed works (one which is never mentioned in public) were written that way.

My left brain rebelled and demanded that there had a to a better, more efficient way to do it. And there is. But (apologies to one of my favorite gurus, Larry Brooks) it's not my way. Not now. When I tried it, I couldn't get more than 4-5000 words before I lost the spark, lost the desire.

Today, I read an article that helped me come to terms with my “pantsing” ways. It was written by Jo Beverly, and it walks us through her “process” of writing from scratch. She calls it “Flying into the Mist”. I highly recommend it to all writers who won't or can't pre-plan, and to the people who love them. 😉

Writing by the seat of your pants doesn't mean you can't incorporate GMC, characterization, and good story structure. They'll still be on your mind, but the story will unfold as you go, and you may have to go back and strengthen it in the edit/revision process. Or after you write each scene.

The whole argument about the right way to write reminds me of the working mom vs. stay-at-home mom debate. I've been on both sides of that one too. There's no right or wrong answer. There's only what's right or wrong for you, right now.

Be true to yourself, embrace your own method, and, as always, write on.

UPDATE 2/25/11: In case you haven't been following along, After an incredibly successful trial run for NaNoWriMo, I'm back to outlining to give myself guideposts, but flying through the mist in between. What I've found is that I have to give myself time to play with the (really basic) outline to make sure the story is solid before I start writing from it. This has worked really well for me now, and I might just be sticking to it. 🙂

The traveling pantser

There’s this notion that every writer is one of two types: plotter, or pantser.

In the extreme, a plotter plans out the whole story from start to finish before she sits down to write. She knows how the story begins, what happens in the middle, and how the story ends, and probably has a detailed outline or synopsis written out before she starts the book. All she has to do is write the full scenes as she moves from A to B to C.

A pantser, on the other hand, sits down to a blank page–maybe with a ghost of an idea–types Chapter 1, and makes the story up as she goes along.

In reality, of course, most of us fit somewhere in between, but we usually lean in one direction or the other. Kind of like politics.

The most surprising thing for me is that in spite of my technical background, and my rather logical, organized approach to life in general, I lean much closer to the pantser end of the scale.

I know who my main characters are, how they meet, what the conflict is–though it's subject to change :-)–and I even try to plan the major milestones along the way. But, in the end, I go where the story takes me as I write.

I like to compare it to a cross-country trip. If I’m on the west coast, and I want to get back east, I know my goal. How I get there is the adventure along the way. Do I take I-80, I-40, or I-10?

For each new book, I start with a general idea of where I’m starting, who’s going with me, and where we’re going, but only a vague notion of how we’re going to get there.

It’s not always the most efficient method, and I’m trying to instill more structure to prevent backtracking, but in the end, it’s the adventure along the way that I enjoy the most.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Does it surprise you?