Pantsing Vs Plotting

It’s still Monday I swear!

Apologies for missing last week, with the holiday season looming I was beginning to lose track of my days and bunking down for the onslaught of shopping and family. Today was filled with adventures in blizzarding (yes, I made that word up) and I’m just now finding the peace and quiet to jot this down. Does it count as jotting when you’re typing?

Pantsing Vs Plotting

I used to be a pantser, but I’m a converted plotter. In the beginning, after creating the heavens and the earth of my new world (snort), I would just write away. I’d worry about those silly little continuity details later! The stories were alive and couldn’t wait! And then they were awkward. And, oh dear, are they hiding in the bathroom now? I could always begin with a flair, fireworks lighting up the first 10-15k words or so. Then it would peter out, and eventually die a slow death. Now, pantsing, I have in fact finished a couple of novels, but they’re disjointed and random. The stories are shallow and any twists I have in them are accompanied by the theatrical thrum of a small organ. Dun dun dun!

Do I think all pantsers have such experiences? Of course not. In fact, I have no idea the planning/not planning methods of any of my favorite authors. I don’t think that pantsing or plotting really matters, to each their own. I’m all about that really, doing your own thing–so long as it really works. I was convinced that by pantsing I was a free spirit and if I were so risky as to write down a solid plot, I would be limiting myself and destroying any organic element in my story. I have found the absolute opposite to be true.

In my previous blog about rewriting a manuscript, I briefly touched on how much detail I now put into my outlines. DB:C is in fact the first novel I did a truly detailed outline on. I originally pantsed it, to be honest, and it was going nowhere. I read it through, halfway through writing it, and realized that my world was horribly disjointed and plot holes were abundant. I was disorganized and, naturally, I created an outline from the story I already had to get myself back on track. It created a larger picture for me and with a sinking jubilation I realized I had been completely wrong for most of my life. I hated admitting I was wrong (who doesn’t?), but was elated to discover that I in fact blossomed with a detailed outline.

I’m sorry if I seem to be repeating myself, but I can’t help but to reiterate how much this discovery has simplified and changed my writing life. I’ve been writing most of my life. I’ve had a passion for reading and writing for as long as I’ve been capable of either, and to have discovered this fatal mistake at 31 was rather…fun? Exciting? Invigorating? Terrifying?

Not only did I see, clearly, the mistakes I had made but was able to impose and include more organic pieces to the story. Side characters turned into supporting characters, supporting characters turned into main characters. Originally DB:C  was to be about one man and one woman. Now it boasts a cast of at least half a dozen. With the detailed outline I was able to hone in on the main story arc as well as those roaming around in the background, who ultimately effected the outcome of the story.

Enough babbling about how this changed me. I’ll create an example of my outline and explain how each little bit helps me.

Part 3, Scene 13
Who: Mr. Example, Example Ladyface, Background Example
When: midnight, (moon phase 11)
Weather: clear, cold
Where: Mr. Example’s parlor
I. Mr. E and E. Ladyface, displeased with her recent service, are discussing B. Example’s potential firing.
II. B. Example listens in and decides she’ll quit before they fire her.

In place of the “Part 3, Scene 13″ some may have chapters. I personally, at least for my current book, have done parts divided up into scenes rather than chapters.

It’s a lot of detail, but having the weather and the time help me recall the setting of the scene. You can create great atmosphere with these little reminders. Since it’s midnight and the sky is clear, the room can be lit only by the moon (which is why we do our moon phases for accuracy, is it full? new? waning? waxing? the moon phase determines how much light it provides) or a single lit candle. Since the weather is cold, the windows could be frosted and a blazing fire in the hearth battles the arctic winds howling against the glass. What do you really want to say with this scene? Are you trying to create pity for Background Example? Or for Mr. Example and Ladyface? In the dim shadows their faces can be angular and harsh while talking about their help’s fate. Or in turn, she can be sneaky and in the shadows, further proving why they should distrust and be unhappy with her.

I’m not so simple minded that I can’t conjure up a setting on the spot, but a predetermined setting is efficient and more effective. Extreme temperatures can assist in the suppression or elation of a character. Cold with loneliness, heat with oppression, etc.

And I just realized this is more about the effective use of setting. Back to the point!

That’s an example of my outline. In reality, I say do what works for you, but it might not be a bad idea to try the other first. Though DB:C was the first book I truly put to outline (and in turn the story has evolved into a whole other, albeit wonderful, creature), I have used this method in plotting other titles I’m working on. It’s a world of difference. Nothing is set in stone and I can’t for the life of me remember why I felt that outlining was carved into granite. It’s a few simple backspaces, or crossing out lines, or erasing if you’re ambitious. It’s so much easier to see the big picture and in turn, the layers run deeper, and your characters evolve along with it.

I’ll just leave with this: When I had my story plotted properly, I flew through it. It was such a relief to know what was happening next, and when it came time to fix something, it was surprisingly easy to do so and continue with the correct flow of the story. When changing something, I rarely had to do it all the way through. My word count soars when I have a detailed outline. And in turn, I feel that taking off the extra stress opened up my mind for more possibilities within the story itself. It gave room for my world to grow and blossom on its own. And yes, I’ve said blossom several times tonight. I encourage you to do the same. Outline, not say blossom a million times.

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Music

Something you’ll occasionally see in the dedication of a novel are the names of a musician or group responsible for inspiration. Some people have to write in silence, some can’t write without music. So which category do you fall under?

Myself, I do a bit of both. When I’m writing, I must have absolute silence. I love music. I have it on constantly otherwise. I noticed though, no matter how much I want to write to music, it’s better if I don’t. It just doesn’t happen. I end up distracted by the song, accidentally type out the lyrics instead of what I mean to say, or some other variant. It’s not impossible, I just find that my voice waivers considerably when I’m listening to music and writing. It saddens me, I love music so. Occasionally I get lucky and start writing without being aware of the music on in the background.

However, when I’m plotting it’s a whole other animal. I can’t plot without music of some sort in the background. Sometimes I hear a tune that instantly takes me to another place and time, another universe or world with a few notes. It helps me with setting and visuals. Lyrics have the same effect on me, but not as strong.

So what kind of music do I plot too?

I have days and days (probably weeks) worth of music on my Ipod and a little cube set up next to my work space that changes color in an array of the rainbow. The categories range from heavy metal to classical to pop to folk music, but only particular musicians feed the muse monster. Not to say that the odd song or two doesn’t inspire something, these are the artists I can count on to get my creative juices flowing. I am moved not only during plotting and creative writing with these tunes, but in crafting, drawing, and any other creative aspect of my life.

These are some of the artists that inspire me the most and the following are examples of their music.

Tangerine Dream

Birthday Massacre

Type-O-Negative

Daft Punk 

David Bowie (+Labyrinth OST)

Karliene (she does a lot of covers for some of my favorite tunes, this song in particular, which I love the original, is one of those randoms I just don’t have room to place all of them here)

Beethoven

Soundtracks Galore

There are much more, but the previous were the first bunch to pop into my head. Hope you enjoyed and feel free to comment below; what inspires you?

 

Monday! Monday! Monday!

I hope you read that in an excited announcer guy voice, because that’s what I was picturing. This is going to be short tonight, I just wanted to say that to cut down on my daily work load I’m only going to post on Mondays from here on out. I’m sure my nonexistent readers are super sad. XD

By the way, Happy One Week Anniversary Blog!

Shameless Plug! Sci-Fi/Satire

On nights like tonight when I’ve started and scrapped three blog posts, I think I’ll take a moment to link to some of my favorite works. These will usually be friends or people I know, but whose quality is outstanding and I’m proud to promote them.

Brick Wilson: For Hire by Marq Truong

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Brick Wilson’s adventure takes the reader crashing through universes, galaxies, circuits and alternate realities where anything can and does happen. On his search for the lost (or was it stolen?) Pesnort, Brick is continually challenged by dangers real and imagined as he skillfully avoids the Ultimate Galactic Headquarters Tax Authority, dodges the increasingly menacing plots for his demise by arch nemesis Terd Murchison, and is continually stalked and mocked by the color Red. Can he save the Pesnort, the Universe and himself with a psychotic android in tow? Brick invites everyone to tag along on his chaotic ride through the Ultimate Galactic Universe. Well, not literally everyone. There are a few Yogalarian bookies he’d rather not find him and would appreciate if no one gave them a heads up, as he is sorely lacking the funds to make good on an ill placed, guaranteed sure-to-win wager. Always read the fine print, as anything guaranteed sure-to-win does not necessarily impart who will win, but rather explicitly states it will most likely not be the party placing the wager. Welcome to Brick Wilson’s universe. Cheers.

Manuscript: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

First, some advice: don’t you dare publish your work without it being thoroughly edited, read through, rewritten, edited again, and read through again. At least.

If you don’t, it’s easy to spot and makes your work look unprofessional. I think, and this is purely speculation on my part, part of the reason independent writers aren’t taken as seriously as the house publishing is due to quality control–or lack thereof. It’s very easy to spot when someone hasn’t read through and rewritten their work. There’s a lack of consistency, except in errors, and the flow is disjointed.

There is no reason, and quite frankly, no excuse not to comb through your manuscript multiple times.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you will never, ever, be completely happy with it. Eventually you will have to put it down and move on.

This is just another prime example of finding that perfect balance we face as writers.

I’m going to post, in order, my own method for working and reworking my own manuscript. I’m very thorough, which, I can honestly say I’m guilty of never putting it down.

Pre-1st Draft: Detailed Outline. (I used to be a pantser, but no longer!) I put every little thing into this outline. Including, who’s in the chapter, where it takes place, even the time of day and weather. I also mock up calendars and moon phases, it’s a lot of work at the beginning but it really gets you in the mood for the world you’re building (if you’re building one) and if nothing else ensures that you will be consistent. I also make up character binders for consistency (I have a tendency to forget eye colors for some reason). I create a simple map and a draft of basic culture (gods, holidays, etc.). Then a very brief history of the world (unless it takes place in ours). Yes, I think that’s it. I know, it’s a lot! But it makes for less of a headache later on, believe me. The outline alone is over 30 pages on DB:C, but it has helped out so much.

1st Draft: Just write it, seriously. If you veer from your outline, it’s more than okay. Go with what’s natural and keep going, you can make adjustments to your outline later. Try to do 1k words a day, you’ll pop out a novel in a couple of months without realizing it. On the days you go for more than 1k, celebrate a job well done. On the others you don’t, that’s okay. Just pick it back up. If 1k a day is too much, try 500 words instead.

2nd Draft: I make final changes on my outline that reflect any notes made while writing the 1st draft. Then, I look at the overall picture. I take a lot of time to read over the outline for each character, watching for inconsistency of place and time. Do I have any large gaps between sightings of main characters? Then, is this scene necessary? If I have two scenes together in the same place with the same people, I merge them together. I check for plot holes and action. I read through, thoroughly, and make notes of what I want changed and improved on. Such as, lack of detail, fluidity, plot holes, etc. I gather all of those notes together and make the changes to my outline. I also see if I have left anything out, such as an important plot point. I make room for new scenes and I make decisions on cutting out those that are slow and unnecessary. Then, I prepare for the rewrite.

3rd Draft: By rewrite (as advised by M and M), I mean a sit down, start from scratch rewrite. But wait! I just wrote out the first draft and tidied up the 2nd. What do you mean? Well, the easiest way to say it is this: have your 2nd draft opened up on the left and your 3rd on the right, each taking up half the screen if you can. Side by side, begin to rewrite it. You can copy down (not cut and paste, but retyping) what you have on the left to the right, but in doing so you catch things. Things you wouldn’t have noticed just reading. Something may feel strange, or out of place. You fix it. Rewriting in this manner ensures fluidity and that your voice isn’t disjointed throughout the novel. We all know that our voice can change in the span of a year. When your novel is very long (like mine) it’s best to do it this way. Be sure to read some of your work the previous day to get back into your voice. Is it more work? Heck yeah it is, but it will absolutely pay off. I resisted this version of a rewrite because it felt so intimidating, but I have no regrets. It has increased my time spent on my manuscript but goodness, the difference is huge! The 3rd draft/rewrite is also the time to add in those extra scenes, and they fall right into place naturally. Continue to edit and cut, make the changes as needed. Do this to your whole novel. Start on the first page and end at the last. Some people mistake rewrites as only rewriting portions of your novel that need work, but this is a different creature. It’s a whole makeover.

4th Draft: This is the time to do line editing. Read through checking for spelling errors (not just using word spellcheck either), grammatical errors, formatting, and anything else you may catch. This is the final stage before sending it to an editor/beta reader. Then, you wait.

5th/Final Draft: Once you get back your work from your editor/reader, time to set about making those final changes. No matter who reads your book, they should realistically have constructive criticisms and point out inconsistencies and problems throughout your novel. As always, you can take or leave whatever advice is given. Something to be said though, is if more than one person brings an issue to your attention, odds are you should look at changing it.

Five drafts seems like a lot, but if you’re going for quality it isn’t. You have to be your own team of editors to crank that baby out for publication. If you’re like me, and don’t really have groups of people at your disposal to ensure the success of your novel (I do have a hardcore handful of people though <3), it’s really up to you. It’s always best to clean it up as well as you can before handing it off to anyone to read. Not just professionally, but even a local writer’s group would appreciate a sweep through on the most basic level. It’s a courtesy. Show yourself and your hard work more respect than that.

I know, it’s your baby. It’s mine too. My debut novel isn’t out yet and I’m mentally bracing myself for bad reviews (not everyone is going to like any novel). There are bound to be some, if not many. I comfort myself with knowing that even the most successful of authors get bad reviews. The most beloved of worlds aren’t appreciated and that any attacks on my book aren’t an attack on me (even if they are I’ll tell myself they’re not). That being said, I can rest well knowing that I did my best. Combed through every detail and prepared my manuscript. If I seem a bit preachy, it’s because far too many times (as a reader, not just someone who does this daily) I have seen wonderful stories with the best potential ruined by poor editing or grammar.

I’m hardly an expert. I’m not an award winning or New York Times bestselling author. This blog is about my own journey towards what it takes to get out there and just do it. I’ve been writing for as long as I could hold a pen (no exaggeration, I have proof via sloppily written stories on wide-ruled notebook paper). It’s a big step to go from the privacy of my own mind to letting others read and scrutinize. I’ve been a writer all my life, and now I’m hoping to share some of what I see, some of the places I escape to in my darkest times, with the world. It’s a very vulnerable and terrifying experience. It’s not just about supplementing an income or trying to be a recognizable name, (in fact, success terrifies me truth be told), but about following in that tradition of most sacred kindergarten rules: sharing is caring.

Summaries

I had to come up with a summary for my novel, and I have to say it’s difficult. I mean, not that it’s shocking news or anything, but you don’t realize just how hard until you actually do it. Trying to squeeze the most basic of details into a few sentences or a short paragraph is difficult. What do you put in? What do you leave out? On top of that it has to be compelling.

I’ve heard the term “elevator pitch” too many times to count, and I’m afraid I just wouldn’t do well. Then on top of the summary for the back, you have to come up with a short blurb, or motto almost, for the cover, bookmarks, etc. So then you’re left with coming up with a hook in six words or less! I know I make it sound dramatic, but I have a tendency to do that at times.

This is where you begin to walk the fine line of writer/marketer/…branding? You can’t help but to think, “Dammit Jim, I’m a writer not a PR agent!” Welcome to being an independent author! You must hone your skills of charisma and self discipline! Marketing through social media is just a small portion. All our lives it’s driven into our heads that we must not be egotistical and talking ourselves up; and then what must we do to sell our books? Just that. We have to sell ourselves. I don’t know about you, but it’s a very difficult task for myself.

It’s a hurdle I still have to clear. It was strange to write the summary, describing my own work in such a positive manner. I’m from a society where you humble yourself, whether or not you truly believe it (Don’t worry, I follow in that old timey fashion of insecurity and self doubt about my work!). Even authors who publish traditionally have to go sell themselves. Interviews, book signings, etc., and there’s no escaping it! I know! I know! The dream is to sit in a haunted castle in the middle of nowhere and write all hours into the night (okay, maybe just me) and the only human contact is the pizza guy you tip a ridiculous amount of money to drive out.

I know, I got very sidetracked from talking about summaries.

That being said, I do consider myself lucky to have found myself amazing mentors (M and M respectively) and a connection to LeeLoo Publishing. So, I’m not alone. I’m not traversing this sea of good advice, bad advice, and absolute confusion by myself. I have friends versed in self-publishing, small house traditional publishing, and large house traditional publishing. If you find this blog, you’re not alone either. You can feel free to contact me with any questions you have. I’m not an expert, and I will never claim to be, but I will be a listening ear…or reading, eyes? You know what I mean.

Web Presence

While collaborating with LeeLoo Publishing, I am still an independent author on the long arduous journey to publication. I was told early on that I need to establish a web presence before I can even begin to market my debut novel and so I’m doing just that. Establishing.

I’m not ever truly sure what to blog about, what interests people, or can peak curiosity in a sea of so many choices.

I think I want to make it clear, however, that my stream of thought differs from my writing style somewhat. Some days I’m more casual and conversational in my writing, others I have the voice of an 18th century poet. Though I strive for fluidity in my book, I don’t feel as much of a need for voice consistency here. The struggle is real.

For the most part, I think this blog will be a reflection of the process I endure to get my novel out there. I don’t plan on being an advice column of any sort. I have no advice to really give. Well, that’s not true. I do but it’s only one thing: heed advice carefully. I know! Doesn’t make sense, but all I can say about it is that through the thousands of blogs and articles and “authorities” on the subject of what does and doesn’t work, most advice is conflicting. Whether it be on marketing, or editing, or even the writing itself. For every article you can find endorsing only using “said” or “says” after all dialogue, you’ll find just as many saying to do the opposite.

In the end I feel the best advice is to find what works for you. A couple of things I can agree on are to write everyday and to know the rules so it’s okay when you break them. That being said I end up writing in droves sporadically and when is it that it’s okay to use a semicolon again? You’ll end up just stressing and occupying yourself with everything but the natural flow of your writing. In the first draft, just write the dang thing. That’s what rewrites and editing are for.

I hope I remember to update regularly enough (I mentioned my sporadic tendencies, yes?). Some days I’ll post three times and not another for a week perhaps. That being said, I’ll be sure to update my progress as it comes without any spoilers. My book, Dragon Bloode: Covet, will be released in the early spring of 2016. So I imagine this blog will fill up fast and furiously. I anticipate/dread the journey ahead.

Cheers.