Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Confessions of a Pantser.

I’m relatively new to this writing gig.  After starting classes in 2000, I took a break, writing when the muse hit. (Which as all of us knows is every other day with an ‘r’ in July.)

In 2007, life slapped me up against the back of my head.  I had breast cancer.  (Some of you know this story, so feel free to skim.) And I realized that my ‘dream’ of writing someday, could be in trouble.  What if someday never came? Was I building a bridge to nowhere?

So I got serious.  I sold two essays that I’d had floating through my head for years. And then I started a novel.  I wrote about four chapters and determined I wasn't a thriller writer.  So I started what I thought was a young adult story. Four chapters in, I decided I wasn't a YA author.  So I started a romance. 

You’re sensing a pattern, right? 

I didn't know what kind of writer I was because I never finished anything.

Then a friend stepped in and said – finish a book.  Any book. That was the magic push I’d needed.  Once I slogged through the murky middle once and wrote THE END, I knew I could do it again.  And again.

Then my critique group asked me to do a plotting brainstorming on another author’s book.  She gave us the set up, then we brainstormed plot points.

I was clueless.  Lost without direction. And I’m afraid, not much help.

And now, looking back, I know why.  I didn't know these characters, so I didn't know what they would do.  Now, I’m not so woo-woo that I think my characters live in my head, but until I've played with them a while, I have no idea what the next scene is because I haven’t written them there yet.  And every writer knows if you change something that happens to a character midstream (like a new job or an emotional loss) it changes everything.  Because just like in real life, the events of a character’s life mold them into the person they could be.  Their essence.

I need to know my characters before I can throw out scene ideas.

What’s your take on brainstorming?  Can you play plot monkey for your friends?  Or are you more like me and need to let the story flow? 



Peggy Bird said...

Like you, Lynn, I've mostly been a "pantser." But recently I had to do synopses of the next series I'm proposing and my flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants had to go in favor of actual plotting. It'll be interesting to see if I revert as I write these 4 books so carefully plotted and the characters assert themselves.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I wait for the characters to give me a nudge as to which way they plan to go. Often I'm quite surprised.

Anonymous said...

for my darkly humorous short stories, I am a seat-of-the-pants writer because I am capturing moments from my own life in fictional form. Since historical events play major roles in my crime novels, that is usually my starting point and I build from there. Thank goodness I found Scrivener to keep track of story and character and Personal Brain to contain my research.

Lynn Cahoon said...

Peggy, I'm trying to learn to plot more. Really. I bought The Plot Whisperer.

Marilyn, I love it when my characters take off.

John, I hear Scrivener works magic for writers. :)