In the writing community, people loosely identify as either a plotter or a pantser (sometimes spelled pantzer). Some people plot out an entire book before they write it, and others fly by the seat of their pants.
Here is what I said recently on a writer’s board:
I was going to stand up and be counted with the pantsers, but I realized it’s probably not entirely true. At the bottom of my working document is a couple paragraphs of “and then this happens.” Not really paragraphs, almost bullet points.(For example, the WIP – paranormal erotic romance, and I’m 6K words in – the plan currently says “Reunion sex. Next day road trip (his car). Estate sale. Dirty, ask discount. Saleslady strange – young/old. Looks through M., then agrees.”)
I don’t always stick to it – sometimes things happen to the characters while I write, and entire subplots bloom or die. I change the “and then this happens section” whenever the story changes. After I write a scene, I delete the item from the plan. So when I finish writing the reunion sex, I’ll erase that line and start writing the road trip… unless the heroine pulls a muscle during the reunion sex and decides to surf eBay instead of being active. Then I’ll change the plan to read “eBay. Looks dirty. Asks discount. Seller has same name as M’s great great grandmother.”
Doing it that way means I almost never get writer’s block. I always have a plan for what’s going to happen next, and even if the writing is pure torture and I end up trashing it later, *something* gets on the page.
One of these days I’m going to copy the original two or three paragraph blurb just to see how drastically it changes from concept to completion
As usual, the cherry on top came from another writer, a person I only know as “Tiff.” She suggested people like us be known as… plotzers.
My Jewish grandmother would have laughed. I sure did. Other writers rock!
I used to sit around and complain that gosh darn it, I’m a good writer, I could write books if only I had ideas. Then I would read books and interviews with authors, and see them say stuff like “the idea is the easy part.” One of them even said that her pet peeve was people writing in to say “I had this idea. Write the book and we’ll share the profit!” Now, while sharing the profit seemed silly, the concept of the idea being worthless seemed somehow unfair. And the idea wasn’t the easy part. My ideas all made for interesting first paragraphs and painted themselves into corners (or turned out to be complete ripoffs of whatever fantasy series I was reading at the time).
Now that I have actually finished manuscripts, I’d like to travel back in time and just whack myself over my silly, clueless little head. I wasn’t a writer. I was an idiot with a fairly decent grasp on the mechanics of writing. A brain used to writing breeds ideas. The first idea I had for a story that actually came with a middle and an ending wasn’t bad, but while I was in the middle of the writing, I had another idea. I opened a text file and pinned down that wild idea like a rat in a trap on the spot because I thought I’d never have another idea again. As soon as I finished the first story, I started writing the second. While I was writing the second, I came up with a handful of new ideas. While I was writing the third, I came up with a dozen ideas, two of which were so exciting that I abandoned the work in progress and started writing them instead.
The problem now is discipline. Put the ideas into the text file, and finish something. (Robert Heinlein again – you must finish what you write!) I’ve got enough ideas in the idea file to keep writing for the next ten years at my current pace, but the new ideas won’t stop coming. I haven’t yet had any ideas like wizard boarding school or angsty emo high school vampires, but who knows what’ll pop out of the fountain spout next.
There are some unwritten rules in erotic romance that I’m okay with following. The heroes are always well-hung, for example. TOTALLY okay with that rule.
But there are other “rules” that don’t sit so well with me. Hair, for example. Real men have hair. They have it on their faces, backs, chests, and bellies. I don’t go out of my way to describe a hairy back, mind you, although I personally like it (there, I said it) but all of my heroes have chest hair – crisp, curly chest hair that holds the scent of soap and warm skin – and that hair gives my heroines tactile pleasure.
I was just reading a study where women’s preferences can be correlated to local health. In areas where the overall community health is bad, women dig men with lots of hair, thicker bones, visible musculature. In areas where community health is good, women go for thinner bodies, more delicate features, and less to no hair. The conclusion is that the heavily apparent secondary sexual characteristics are survival markers – denoting men whose genetic health gives them an advantage in an environment without a lot of available interventions.
I wouldn’t want any man who couldn’t defend me during the zombie apocalypse. Some of my heroes are gentle, kind of nerdy men, but they’re still men capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lifting heavy things. My guys don’t just act like alpha men – they look like alpha men. That means hair. Down with waxing! Up with surviving the apocalypse!
I needed two of my characters to not have sex. Fear of pregnancy is certainly a very good reason. I thought about having my heroine count the days, but just for giggles, and by giggles I mean “because I am a hopeless research nerd,” I looked it up to make sure the Victorians knew about that tidbit.
Women didn’t know about counting the days from one’s last period to determine the fertile window until the 1920s.
This was made worse by the fact that condoms were not widely available, and in some places only sold to married men.
You don’t think about just how liberating birth control was, just how great a degree of freedom is conferred by managing one’s own fertility, until you get smacked in the face with it. I have never known a time when I couldn’t just bop into 7/11 for condoms, or wander into a clinic and emerge with birth control pills, or at bare freaking minimum count days and say, eh, the curse starts tomorrowish so we’re probably clear. Also, while the consequences to getting pregnant unintentionally and outside of marriage would have had a massive impact on my life, I would not have had to cope with any societal disapproval, nor would my single mother status have any impact on my ability to be employed or rent an apartment.
What an impact this would have on a sexual relationship!
This is why good historical fiction isn’t “girls like us but in costume.” Some aspects of being a woman are universal across time and space, but other things are so anchored in context as to be meaningless without it. I hope I’m up to the challenge…
I have a pair of jeans in my closet, one I bought five years ago or so. I usually buy classic cuts, but in this one case, I bought a trendy style. I really did love them, and when they started getting that velvety horse nose texture on the knees, I stopped wearing them regularly. That was to save them for special occasions, like nights on the town or meeting new people who wouldn’t yet realize I didn’t have a trendy bone in my body.
Then they went out of style, and became errand running pants. But my brain was used to grabbing them for special occasions, and between that and other things, the pants were completely forgotten until I was purging the closet. When I found them, I was briefly confused – why did they look so unfamiliar while at the same time bringing up happy memories? Then something clicked, and I remembered, oh, hello favorite jeans. I’d put them in the wrong part of the closet when we last moved… two years ago. Also, the jeans are closer to ten years old for all I thought it’s only been five years.
At any rate, that feeling of “huh? Oh, YOU, I used to love you” washed over me when I got my copyedited manuscript back from my editor. (Her Heart’s Divide, on sale this June ) It felt familiar, comfortable, wonderfully fitting… and like it belonged to someone else. Seriously. I could have been approving changes to a stranger’s manuscript, and at the same time I know I loved this story and these characters like no one has ever loved before. That bit of distance made me fly through the final edit copy.
I’ve read on various writer workshop sites that it takes six weeks for the forgetting/distance process to happen. According to the time stamps on my computer, it took me five. I wouldn’t have believed I could forget one of my children so easily, but not only is it possible, but it’s better for the story. I’m glad I didn’t do that between draft one and draft two – knocking the rust off the part of my brain that lived with the characters would have taken ages. But the next time I get stuck on a story that I want to save, I’m totally going to do what the experts have always suggested and trunk it for five weeks.
I finished the revise and resubmit material on the Widow and the Gentleman story. As much as I would like to think that my original story was a thing of beauty, with rainbows sparkling off every golden word, the revised material is about one billion times better.
The final stretch of rewrites went hard, though. Not the writing, the ignoring my own doubts part. The revised piece is 12K words longer, and I was/am terrified I’ve done harm to the pace the editor liked so much. And of course, the reason the suspense subplot was so puny in the first submitted version was because I am positive I’m a terrible suspense writer.
That’s a ridiculous statement, mind you. I haven’t written suspense before this story, so I have no outside opinions as to if I’m terrible or not. Guess I’ll find out… in a month.
But as soothing as it was to go back to characters I knew well, I’m relieved to have it off and done, and I feel much more confident about my ability to plot a longer story now. Heck, at the rate my word counts are rising, I might even write a novel someday. /snort
If it sells, I’ll write a post about the before and after and show you the story charts, but meanwhile, I need to cleanse my brain of Vanessa and Derek, and get back to figuring out my new characters.
I was doinking around on Absolute Write instead of writing last night, because my story sucks. I still met my word goal for the night, but those words were all boring. The story is boring. No one could ever possibly want to read it. Fortunately, there’s a chart for this.
The AW poster said this chart is courtesy of a science fiction author named Maureen McHugh. I am now going to purchase one of her books because A) science fiction author, B) I owe her one now.
There is a middle ground, when it comes to letters from a publisher regarding your latest manuscript. (If you are an old writing hand, skip on down to the *** bit.)
One end of the spectrum is “hello, we would like to buy your story.” That doesn’t mean you’re done. That means you’ve got a couple rounds of edits, cover consultations, and six months minimum before you have a book in your hands or in your digital reader.
The other end of the spectrum is “thank you for sending us your manuscript but it doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” It might not be that exact phrase, but it’s polite, short, and unambiguous. That’s a rejection.
One step up from there is the rejection letter, along with a line of personal feedback. This is a great sign. You can write well enough that someone working a fifteen hour day took some time to say something you can use.
Two steps up from there is the rejection letter with a ton of specific feedback. The editor does not want to see this story again, but you could use that feedback to rewrite and possibly sell that story somewhere else. And this editor really liked you/your voice/your story. Send her your next manuscript with a nice note thanking her for all that great feedback last time.
Three steps up (or more cheerfully phrased, one step down from acceptance) is the revise and resubmit letter. Tons of specific feedback, along with a disclaimer that reads “making these changes doesn’t means we’re going to buy it, but we’d like to see this story again if you decide to try.”
I got one of those last week. It’s funny, but at first I was more bummed by it than I’d been by a flat rejection. It was like missing a potential home run by an inch, or missing the qualifying time by a millisecond. So close, and yet so far. I’m rational enough to know it’s a good sign (and that I have friends who would kill for this, and kill me for whining), so I just put the email down, thanked the editor, and noodled for a couple days.
Three of the suggested changes were cosmetic, trifling things. The other items were all deeper, and it is my private belief that I’ve spotted the difference between “acceptance, now here are your developmental edits” and “revise and resubmit.” My first novella is almost through her editing process, and all the suggested changes were things that tightened the story. The suggested changes on my R&R are things that will change the story. There are ripple effects from these suggestions that run through the entire manuscript. It’s a lot more of a challenge than throwing in a few lines of description or giving the lead a bit of interior monologue. I don’t have a track record as a fiction writer yet, and no one knows if I can pull off this kind of challenge.
*I* wasn’t sure I could pull off this kind of challenge.
Something broke loose like a boulder in a flooded river. Yesterday I sat down and poured 4K new words into the manuscript. Seriously, I could have written all night. I DID write all night, I kept waking up and writing notes for more stuff on the pad I keep by the bed. I couldn’t turn on the light without waking my mate, so let me tell you how thrilled I am that I can read my own notes this morning. See, yesterday, while I was cleaning up dog poop, I thought of a single solution that will solve all of the plot and motivation problems at once. It means changing about a third of the manuscript and adding at least two more chapters, but it works, I really think it works.
It’s a little scary because one of the things I get most often about my work is that my stories are well-paced. Adding so much material can be risky, but I think this is going to be so worth it. Someday, I hope to write a blog entry on what I did wrong, and how I saved it. But first I’ve got to save it!
I swear that writing is like a crossword puzzle. You want to use the perfect word, the exact word that will fit. The perfect word will enhance the story with nuance and flavor and subtext. But the search for the perfect word can bring your writing flow to a halt while you fart around trying to remember the word that is sort of like “strive.”
Strive, but kind of sounds like astride because it has an “a” and an “i” in there and anyway, it’s an active word that suggests hard work and not just daydreams. Hrm, maybe I should change that book he’s reading to one about patent law to foreshadow the ending. Did they have books about patent law then? Maybe I should Google that… NO INTERNET DURING WRITING TIME. Focus on the word, striving, reaching, climbing, do I have a thesaurus? Where’s my thesaurus? I could just use the online one… NO INTERNET DURING WRITING TIME. Where is my stupid thesaurus? Oh, hell with it. Next paragraph. She was attired in brown velvet, trimmed in… no, I can’t say attire, too close to the last sentence where I said aspire.
Aspire! I meant to say aspire!
See how much faster that would have gone if I’d just written “strive XXX find synonym” and moved on? (The XXX tag doesn’t mean hardcore porn in this sense – it gives me something to search for later on in order to find all my notes. I find the margin note feature less than helpful with first drafts.) I’d have thought of the right word within seconds.
Honestly, the hardest part about writing is learning to get out of your own way.
Some days, I want to be a Writer. By that, I mean “one who has written, and is now collecting royalty checks.” The whole “Writer” thing involves fuzzy daydreams and interviews with magazines and has nothing to do with reality. I know in reality, we’re writers with a lower case W, and that means we have to write. It’s a slog, sometimes. It’s not hard work in the sense that digging ditches is hard, but it’s still work. This morning I don’t feel like working. But if writing were my paying job, I would have to do it whether I felt like it or not. And I want it to be my paying job. It could be, if I put in the time and stop getting wrapped up in daydreams involving elegant hats.
But this morning I’d much rather be a Writer than write.