If you're not up to speed on a huge aspect of the writing community, there's an ongoing discussion about being a plotter or pantser. A plotter plans the writing process out, a pantser flies by the seat of his pants, planning nothing. Of course, most writers fall somewhere in between. I'm writing this post in response to a curious author's desire to know how a pantser actually writes. I could not explain it properly on Twitter in limited characters, so here we go.
Many plotters have asked how a pantser can possible write the way we do. The other way around is pretty easy for us pantsers to understand because plotters plan things out. True, there are many varying methods of how to plot, but these things can be researched or understood through different aspects of our lives--planning a trip/vacation, a child's birthday party, etc.--life is full of planning. But if you plot, you wonder how the hell pantsers are able to just write like these weird muse-driven demons. I'm going to explain my process with examples from how I wrote my novels. Forgive me being vague, since the first example is not out yet. Interestingly enough, they were written ten years apart so you might see how my methods have altered or stayed the same.
Quiver--publication date Feb. 2020--started in winter 2006
I had always planned out my writing when I was young but these were short stories or screenplay-type stories. My first two attempts at novels were planned out and left unfinished. I just deviated off the plan and ended up ruining them or getting stuck. I decided with the third attempt, I would simply use a prompt and plan nothing. I reread a Greek myth, hoping to recapture it in modern times, which is kind of cheating since the general plot is technically outlined. I sat down and started writing. I realized what I quickly ended up with was not a myth retelling, but a whole new story that used Greek gods alive today creating new stories. I kept on writing, not knowing myself what would happen next.
To describe the experience of one's mind when writing without a plan--I see my characters beginning to act out a scene. Perhaps in the back of my mind I know boy meets girl in this chapter, so I envision them in my mind as one would a movie. I don't have much control. My imagination plays the movie scene, and my fingers are busy recording it. I have little thought to the words I'm writing (that's what revision and editing is for), but just record this movie as quickly as possible. After I'm done that scene, I flesh out around it with needed info to make it a nice rounded chapter. I repeat this process.
Surprisingly, when I went to revise this completely unplanned manuscript, I recognized it had a legitimate plot structure and great character arcs; it was as solid as it would be if I had planned it all out. I did add a few chapters in here and there to connect my pantser scenes better, but then later on took a couple out. I do think a lifetime of plotting, reading many books, and my degrees in English did help me unconsciously write a solid plot, so if I tried pantsing without a background in writing, it might not have turned out so well. Regardless, I was onto a method that worked well for me.
Fyr--publication date July 2019--started in summer 2017
After I'd written quite a few pantser manuscripts, a couple published, a couple put aside for another day, I decided I wanted to write something new. A term popped into my head: the celestial spheres. I knew it was the ancient way to understand the universe, so I thought, maybe I could do a historical paranormal series. When I researched that term, I immediately knew I'd be writing a fantasy--not my strongest genre. Fyr is an elemental planet people had believed was there long ago, so this "planet" would be my setting. I was a no fantasy writer, so I pondered on whether to change genres or go with my instincts. Then I had a dream about a prince who had fire magic. One of my MC's was born.
I just started writing. I wrote his first chapter which inadvertently established his conflicts and that of his land. It would be too overwhelming to unload the entire land on the reader--one I hadn't fully developed yet--so knew the female MC would need to be us--someone entering this world unaware and learning. I added her chapter in before his. After that, I just wrote. I wrote scenes out of order, the climax before the middle, the romance peak and problems next, and exposition chapters last. I was stringing together scenes that my imagination ran like a movie again. A romance formed, lots of death-defying stakes, a villain appeared from what I had intended just to be a nuisance or roadblock character, and side characters became a bit more important inadvertently setting up plot threads for book 2. Checking back through, I had to add some transitional chapters between these scenes which opened more depth to my world building, but overall, again, a solid plot was there, character arcs were present, and for the first-time I had decently built a world. Fair play, the publishers did have to help me with a few aspects of my world, but as for plot, again the pantser method had worked for me.
What I hope I explained here was how this chaotic process can come together to make something brilliant. And I hope I clearly explained how my muse-driven imagination works by seeing the book play out like a movie, not thinking of words or plot points to get down. I hardly consciously think at all when I write. But I do think a lot when revising or editing. As always, the pantser method is no better or worse than plotting everything out. It is just different like all of our minds are, and if our minds are different, then it makes sense our imaginations run differently. I hope I shed some light on how the pantser brain works. Would any other pantsers like to add their methods, as I'm sure we all write differently?
YA Book Review:
Instinct, the sequel to Niki Cluff's Breed, and is an interesting, action-packed, continuation that leaves you wanting more. Spoilers! So please go back and read about book 1 if you have not, here
Kyle and her boyfriend Ichiro survived the meteor hitting Earth and the devastation of the end of the world as we know it. Feeling guilty about living while so many others have died, Kyle hacks into the compound's saved computers files only to find Hartman, their savior and nemesis, was tracking their families. What is strange is her family's last whereabouts were the caves and they might have survived after all; what is weirder even still is Ichiro's family aren't really dead--at least before the comet hit. Keeping this a secret from Ichiro creates a rift and they go their separate ways in search of their families. Kyle puts her life on the line escaping into the frozen wilderness on the dawn of a new ice age--with a murderer, a pregnant girl, and a crafty mechanic. Survival is slim when you have Hartman on your tail, survivors are desperate, and the temperatures are plummeting. Will Kyle ever find her family? Will she live to see Ichiro again? Will Ichiro make it back from his own quest to find his family?
Cluff continues with her penchant of well-told action sequences and strong plots that create page turners. The reader can tell it was heavily researched and crafted to persuade us this future world is real. Everything made sense. Kyle and Ichiro had to have a fight so they could plausible split up to look for their families as well shift their relationship into a new territory. The novel also grew the characters, developing them even more. The only negative thing I have to say is that I wanted more. It was over too soon, but I guess that is the point. At the end of Instinct, it is unclear whether a third installment is coming, but I know readers most likely want there to be. It remains to be seen if Cluff will return to it after her current project involving monster folklore haunting village kids which sounds equally tantalizing too.
If you like fast-paced books, check out Instinct here (after you've read book 1 Breed here).
Tales in Publishing:
I've spoken about my newest series in passing, and announced how it was my first completed novel (the story of how it got published a decade later here). However, I have gone silent about details since. A little backstory here. Quiver, book 1 of The Immortal Transcripts, was my first finished novel after lots of false starts. I made many revisions, had too many betas whose advice I listened too--all of their advice--destroying the book; then I had a student editor who helped me revamp it developmentally and grammatically. I still wasn't satisfied so I shelved it, pulling it out thinking of how I should revise it. As the article mentioned above outlines in more detail, it was queried, almost picked up, but I chose to stick to my vision rather than change everything just to get published. Back to the shelf it went.
Fast forward, I published a novella, and two novels. Even though I'm currently working on the Celestial Spheres series with my publishers, I wanted to see how they'd feel about The Immortal Transcripts as well. At this point, amazingly, I did not have to query--for the first time ever. I got to directly submit to the publisher. It was a heady feeling. It was accepted, and we've gone through developmental edits, making a few changes that don't alter my vision, a round of edits, and awaiting the last stage of copy edits, then proofing. We've discuss the cover, and it is being drawn up as we speak. Soon will be entering the marketing part where blurbs will be drafted and ads will be discussed. It's almost wrapped up, and I'm so excited for the world to see it.
In the meantime, in future posts, I'll release the pitch and query for the novel which I had used in the past and saw results from both. Even though the representation and I did not line up at the time, I had great results in sparking interest through my pitch and query. Stay tuned as I reveal details about the series, and I hope it alleviates the wait for those of you who are "dying" for the next Celestial Spheres book (July 2020). Quiver will hit shelves February 2020. Can't wait? Then check out my website for news about it here.
Tips for Writers:
Again, I love getting topics via Twitter's #writingcommunity. There's constantly talk within this community about the way in which writers generate their ideas. Basically, there are plotters and pantsers, and everything in between those two camps.
Plotter: a full-on plotter author will painstakingly plan everything out, chapter for chapter. I've seen spreadsheets, charts, outlines, post-it notes, etc. There are programs used, patterns followed like the snowflake method, books on plotting, and more. There's a stringent process that is created before they ever start writing the novel. Everything adheres to this pattern and is planned out with careful attention to characters arcs, plot lines, timelines, etc.
Those who know me might think that this is the type of author I am, since it is the type of person I am. I hate canceled plans, love routines--cannot function without them--and honestly, I'm anxious a lot. However, when it comes to creativity and writing stories, I've always been more of a loose cannon. Any rigidity is life-threatening to my creative juices. I think this stems from how my stories began--daydreams from an atypical kid.
Getting an education in Theater and English and becoming a college Lecturer taught me all the dynamics of what goes into character and plot. I know the structures and arcs necessary, but every time I tried to follow something plotted it was ignored for the greater attribute I had: imagination. I started calling it "the muse" because there was no other way to describe HOW I wrote. I pretty much see a movie in my head that I haven't ever planned out and record it in words. From my discoveries, this seems to be the same mentality as a lot of pantsers.
Pantsers: they fly by the seat of their pants. They're authors who just write and slap that imagination down on paper without worries or hindrances. They simply write and see what happens. Sometimes there may be a premise or not, or an idea of how it should begin and end. Sometimes they write their dreams down.
I'm a pantser and proud of it, but I'd never speak discouragingly of a plotter. From my study of writing in school and out of it, the quality of the final outcome isn't affected by how it began. Plotters seem to take much longer to write a draft, but draft 1 is usually much more polished than pantsers' draft 1. What it all comes down to is the author's ability to revise (plot, character, etc.) and editing (grammar, sentences, etc.). I've noticed the best writing I come across has had an ample amount of developmental revision as well as editing.
I have not talked about the in between process, which I would say the majority of authors fall into. They plot but the imagination sometimes leads the way. This, to me, seems like the perfect combo, but I could never emulate it. I've been flying by the seat of my pants--in only this aspect of my life--and I will continue to do so. But authors should do what they're most comfortable with and what works for them. One method is not better than the other; the debate simply shows us how creative minds vary.
So what type of first-drafter are you?
YA Book Review:
The Inevitable Fate
of E & J
The Inevitable Fate of E & J is an interesting story about past lives echoing into the future, showing great potential.
Elizabeth and Jimmy, former childhood friends who had a fallout, suddenly and inexplicably are drawn to each other after she turns sixteen, despite her having a boyfriend. Aside from this intense attraction, they have strange dreams, phantom pains, and hallucinations of what seems like someone else's past. Their personalities begin to change as well where Elizabeth casts aside the fake popular life and Jimmy works to prove himself worthy of her. Their love seems to blossom until a psychic tells them they must stay away from each other or something terrible will happen. They must decide whether or not to play it safe and break up or to risk everything for love.
There were some great things about this book and some things that I was not a fan of. Let's start with the cons, as there are only a couple. To me, the dialogue at times felt contrived, like an episode of Full House--you know, at the end, when everyone talks about their feelings/problems and sort through them calmly and therapeutically. Although this information is great for teens to read and emulate, people rarely sort through their feelings/problems easily and not everyone can spout out self-help advice to others who will calmly listen. I admit, since he had been through years of therapy, that Jimmy could have this allowance in his thoughts, but these heart-to-heart aloud conversations were a bit frequent to be believable. Second, there was repetition of characters' thoughts in the narrative. For example, both Jimmy and Elizabeth think about their fallout several times, rendering more detail each time about what happened, instead of just having one of them reveal the details earlier on. This happened with a couple other things in the novel as well. However, neither of these issues detracted too much from the overall enjoyment of the story.
The pros of this novel outweigh the cons. The concept of the entire story was neat and unique. One could say I've done a spoiler by explaining the past lives concept but this is clear in the first couple chapters. I love dramatic irony, so seeing the characters grapple to figure it out, when readers already know, keeps us turning pages. It makes sense it would take them a while to figure it out since the supernatural would never be anyone's first assumption, making this pretty realistic. I liked the character of Jimmy. He had a great backstory to explain his maturity and good nature. He was sweet, adorable, easy for Elizabeth to fall in love with. I disliked Elizabeth due to her treatment of Jimmy, and even though she acts like she's not comfortable with the superficial crowd she's in, her actions are very superficial. However, there is a great character arc where she changes for the better due to these past lives and Jimmy's positive influence over her. I love a good character arc and this one was done superbly. The dual POV was done well and the characters were believable. I'm a sucker for romance that has he said/she said views and this was done in an engaging way. Last, although I was not a fan of the self-help dialogue, the psychological aspects and understanding of therapy is well studied or researched--the author definitely knows what she's talking about. And I can see, despite my qualms for realism, that this would be beneficial for teens to read and sort out their feelings in positive ways.
Overall, I was delighted by the novel, and on learning this was a debut self-published novel, I was impressed with the execution (and I'm highly critical). I would recommend people give this novel a chance, particularly due to the entertainment value mixed with a fantastic price. Pick it up here.
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