Displaying items by tag: creative process

Thursday, 26 May 2022 22:07

The Plotter Pantser Spectrum

Experienced novelists tend to lean toward one of two methods for creating their stories and sometimes these methods are viewed as opposites.

At one end of the development scale you have the Pantser, the author who gets an idea for a story and sits down and writes with no inkling of where it will take them. At the other end you have the Plotter who can’t set a word of their story on paper without a detailed outline to work from.

What’s in between these two extremes is a wide range of tools and techniques for moving any story forward. My strongest advice for anyone just starting out writing fiction: Don’t lock yourself into any one type. Experiment and be open to all.

The Day Dreamer – unconscious brainstorming

The first step moving away from the Pantser end of the spectrum, is what I think of as the Day Dreamer.

Even if you don’t consciously think about your story between writing sessions, it’s still kicking around in your subconscious with the high possibility of generating other related ideas, things that can happen within the story. These can be events, encounters between characters, snippets of dialogue, or whole scenes.

These light bulb moments may come to you in dreams or when you’re awake, the latter often when you’re doing something totally unrelated to writing like driving or taking a shower. (The second happens so often, some writers reportedly keep a waterproof notepad and marker in their shower for writing them down!)

The Dreamer is happy to let these off-shoot ideas simply float around in their mind, moving in and out of conscious awareness, and allowing them to impact the story however they will.

The List Maker – records their ideas

The danger in letting your off-shoot ideas simply float around in your head is that over time you can forget them. As you start to write and your story evolves, you may find yourself veering away from your initial idea. If you get stuck, it sometimes helps to go back and review your original inspiration.

List Makers guard against losing their ideas by writing them down. If you use this technique you don’t have to write the entire scene, just create a heading that will remind you of the idea you had.

From there you can simply go on pantsing and refer to your list whenever you get stuck. Often just reading over your list is enough to get you going again and can even generate new ideas so your story continues to grow organically.

Freewriting – kneading the dough

Another technique to use when you’re stuck – one that moves you a little closer to the Plotter end of the scale – is freewriting on your off-shoot ideas. If you get stuck, simply choose a topic from your list and explore it. If the idea is vivid enough go ahead write the scene. This will often generate new ideas for things that have to come before that scene and what might come after it.

You can also freewrite about your characters, exploring their backstories, motivations, strengths and weaknesses, and defining moments.

The Timeliner – putting things in order

Not surprisingly, the off-shoot ideas that come to an author as they begin to write are often their story’s highlight moments. Without any knowledge of or focus on structure, your subconscious will frequently give you the first act climax, the mid-point crisis, the act 2 climax and the story’s ultimate resolution.

The Timeliner takes whatever scenes are on the list, arranges them in a logical order and then simply writes from one to the next.

The Quilter - filling in the blanks

Taking this process a step further, you have the Quilter who looks at the timeline and fills in the blanks. Like piecing together a patchwork spread, the Quilter stitches scenes together by asking themselves, what has to happen to get me from point A to point B? What does my character need to know? What experience must they undergo? What information must my reader have?

The Outliner – adding the details

And so we arrive at true Plotter status. Yet even within the Outliner type there’s a huge range for how much detail an outline contains. An author might simply flesh out more of the Quilter’s work. Or every scene can be detailed in full, including whole conversations and lengthy description. (At which point the question in my mind becomes: is there really any difference between the detailed outline and a pantser’s first draft?)

Conclusion

Authors with multiple novels under their belt have a clearer understanding of their process and often identify strongly as one end of this spectrum or the other. However persuasive they might sound in extolling the virtues of their choice, don’t let anyone convince you that one of these methods is better than the other. Try them and find out what works for you.

No two authors write the same. In fact no two novels are written the same even by the same author! Though I call myself a Plotter, I utilize every technique on this spectrum, and each of my novels was written with a different proportion of methods.

 

Published in My Writing Room
Friday, 25 February 2022 10:54

Do Readers Care Why Writers Write?

Does an author’s motive for writing a story affect the quality of the end result?

Or, looked at from a writer’s perspective: Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is any one reason better than another?

I’ve asked myself these things many times and never settled on an answer I like. A part of me thinks, what does it matter why you write? Yet somehow I sense the answer’s important and so I keep asking.

Below is only a partial list of reasons authors choose to write:

  • purely to entertain themselves
  • to escape their own world
  • to entertain others
  • to help, educate, or enlighten others
  • they feel they have something important to say
  • to become rich and famous
  • to understand themselves through the stories and characters they create
  • to prove to themselves/others that they can do it
  • for love of the creative process, the feeling of being ‘in flow’
  • they love mastering new skills
  • to expose wrongs/truths
  • to record history
  • to see their name on a book in a bookstore
  • to share their feelings with others, to communicate what’s inside them
  • to create experiences in their imagination that don’t exist in their own lives
  • to live vicariously through their characters
  • for the sense of power they feel as controllers of their own fictitious world
  • to have a lasting impact on the world

I’m sure others could add to this list. The question I’m asking is… From a reader’s point of view, considering the quality of the finished product, is any one of these author motivations better than another?

Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, whenever she hears an author say they wrote their book to help others, her reaction is, ‘Oh, please, don’t.’

Marketing gurus advise authors to write to the market. Creativity experts say if you aren’t passionate about your story it’ll show and anything less is being untrue to oneself as an artist.

James Scott Bell takes a middle-of-the-road approach, telling writers to find the sweet spot where their personal passion intersects with marketability.

But in the end does it makes any difference? Even the most egotistical creator who wants nothing but to see their name in lights can still create something of value, can’t they? Possibly even something extraordinary.

Most classical musicians I know simply love the music they’re playing and want to share it with others. At the same time there are those (and I have to admit they’re mostly violinists!) who thrive on standing center stage, being applauded by adoring audiences. Taken to extreme you get the egotistical rock star who cares little for the music itself and wants only to be worshipped by fans.

Whether an author writes for self-entertainment, to make millions, enlighten others, or change the world, does it matter to the reader?

Right now I’m leaning toward the answer: anyone who writes for any reason can produce a story others would want to read. But don’t hold me to that! I might change my mind.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. Readers and writers alike!

Published in My Writing Room

One of the things I'm still struggling to get my head around as a writer is the strange phenomenon of writing a novel and then, maybe weeks, maybe years later, seeing that same plot written in another author's book.

I'm not talking plagiarism here. Though the plot lines might sound remarkably similar these stories get treated in very different ways by their various authors.

Years ago I wrote a novel I called The Violin, inspired by my experience playing a Stradivarius at college. The thought of all the emotion that had passed through that instrument throughout its 300-year lifespan stayed with me long after my experience and formed the basis of my novel about a violin haunted by the ghost of its original owner.

I spent a year writing that book. I loved the story and couldn't wait to submit it to an editor. I was convinced it was totally original.

The week I finished the manuscript I walked into my local book shop and there on the shelf was Anne Rice's latest novel, The Violin - about a centuries-old haunted violin. What were the odds?

A couple of years ago a book came out that had the exact same climax scene as one of my earlier manuscripts.

Recently I came across a book that has nearly the exact same story line as my first published thriller, Run To Me. My version: A woman suffering PTSD after the death of her son saves a runaway boy from killers. His version: A woman suffering PTSD after losing her entire family, saves a runaway boy from killers.

How does this happen? Are writers clairvoyant? Is it evidence of Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious? Do ideas float around in the ether and get picked up by more than one of us at time?

Elizabeth Gilbert touched on this subject in her book, Big Magic:

"I believe our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses but also by ideas....Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest....but if you are not ready or available, inspiration may indeed choose to leave you and search for a different human collaborator.... This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book or...produced your movie...or patented your invention..."

Certainly an interesting way to look at it, but I'm not sure it fully explains the phenomenon.

They say no idea is truly original and that all stories have been written before. But every now and then the similarities in what authors produce lead me to wonder if some greater power is at work in our psyches.

Is it just me, or have other authors had this experience? Have you ever written a story and later stumbled on a similar plot line written by someone else? Do you have any theories on how this happened?

Readers: Have you ever come across a story notably similar to another you've read? Did the similarities put you off, or did you enjoy the different take on the subject?

Published in On writing