Monthly Archives: March 2012

Finding Yourself as a Writer: Plotter or Pantser?

Over the past three or four years I feel like I’ve been on a journey of finding myself as a writer. I’ve been learning how to tailor my writing time and projects to fit my natural instincts, and sometimes trying to overcome my instincts if I feel like they aren’t serving me well. I’d like to share some of that journey with you, and maybe it can help you along your own journey.

Today I feel like revisiting a topic we discussed in one of our earliest podcasts, at the beginning of last year: Plotting vs. “Pantsing.” In other words, do you plot out your stories ahead of time, either mentally or in an outline, or do you write by the seat of your pants (a technique sometimes called “discovery writing”)?

I’ve experimented with both styles over the past few years to see which works best for my writer-self. For years, ever since my creative writing classes in college (no—I won’t admit how long ago that was) I’ve been attempting to write by the seat of my pants. I’d get a great idea, sit down, write a chapter or two, and get a little lost. Then I’d get frustrated. And then I’d think the whole story through in my mind until I’d figured out the most important details. But by then I’d be bored with the story or unhappy with the chapters I’d written and I’d give up. You’d think I’d have learned a long time ago that I’m more of a plotter/outliner, but instead I just decided that I needed to put up with a crappy first draft and push my way through it.

So that’s what I did—I started another novel, I stopped editing as I went, and I pushed my way through seat-of-my-pants style. But, as I wrote, I found myself making notes about things that needed to happen in future chapters so I wouldn’t forget. Before I finished even half of the manuscript I had a brief chapter-by-chapter outline.

I kept following inspiration as it struck—in true pantser mode—however, if my new inspiration altered the flow of the story I’d go through and update my outline before continuing. By the time I finished the manuscript and faced the daunting task of revising a manuscript that was written half by the seat of my pants and half according to an outline, I’d learned my lesson. I’m a plotter. I should have been a plotter all along. And nearly two years of laboriously revising that manuscript has solidified that realization. If I’d planned beforehand, I’d be done by now.

So with my latest projects I’m outlining and planning before I begin writing. So far my first draft of my latest novel is coming out more fully formed and polished the first time through, thanks to my outline. Even with some short stories I recently wrote, extensive pre-planning helped me churn out a more polished and effective first draft that needed only minor revision in just a few hours. The writing happens faster, and I’m way more satisfied with the result.

I think the key to this stage in discovering myself as a writer was being willing to experiment. I didn’t get stuck on the idea that I had to be a pantser or a plotter. I tried both ways until I found what worked best for the way my mind and my writing process works.

So don’t be afraid to experiment—don’t think it will waste your valuable time. In fact, it might just save you time in the long wrong.

Have you discovered whether you’re a plotter or a pantser yet? Share your stories in the comments.

Survey Part 1

I started reading on an adult level almost as soon as I started reading. By age seven I had discarded the children’s books at the library and was reading almost entirely adult books. (At the age of ten I was shocked to realize that there was a section in the library for older children, what would now be considered YA. My fascination lasted about a week.)

Even then, the bookshelves were crowded with things I don’t want to read. I ran into a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t understand. I don’t want to have to worry about this happening when another child picks up one of my books.

At this point, most of what is published (I won’t way “written” because many things are written but not published) is in the category that I would hesitate to purchase, if only because my nieces and nephews peruse my bookshelves. Sex, profanity, and graphic violence seem to be pervasive.

I know there is a market out there for “clean” adult fiction. I know it because I’ve talked to people who have told me so, and I would purchase more books if I could be certain they were safe for a child who picked them up (even if they wouldn’t understand the themes).

So here are my questions. 

1   Would you read more books if they were clean (by the above definition)?

2   Would you buy more books if you didn’t have to worry about your children / siblings / nieces and nephews finding them on your book shelf?

3    Do you hide some books because you don’t want people to know you’re reading that?

4    Do you buy e-books because you can lock (or hide) your e-reader?

5    Do you ever alter what you write (or not write certain topics) because someone you know might read it?

My answers:  Yes, Yes, Yes, Would if I had one, Yes

On Editing, with Heather Moore

heather moore

In our second interview with author/editor Heather Moore, she shares her insights on editing. Listen to learn about the qualifications for editors that work for her Precision Editing Group and how to self-edit your own and other people’s manuscripts. Find out where to place hooks, how to determine chapter length and pacing, and how to choose which characters’ viewpoint to use for each scene, as well as common mistakes writers make. If you struggle with viewpoint, as a lot of writers do, Heather mentions examples of books to read such as Orson Scott Card’s “Characters & Viewpoint.” For good examples of omniscient view point, which is one of the hardest viewpoints to write, Heather suggests reading Lemony Snicket; Alcatraz, by Brandon Sanderson; The Book Thief; and Jennifer A. Nielson’s middle grade series. She discusses the differences between editing for content and line editing and common plot problems she sees in the books she edits.

Comment to enter a contest to win Heather’s LDS fiction novel, Abinadi. Contest will end one week after we post our final Heather Moore interview.

Download here

Writing Prompt: Spicy with a chance of indigestion.

Bullying. We hear a lot about it. We’re all against it. And more than likely, most of us participate in it. Me? Not me. I’m educated. I’m civilized. I’m a good person! And yet . . . if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you may just be a bully. Even on a minor scale.

In this exercise we’re going to downplay the act of “bullying” and call it “social conditioning.” Now before you start sending me hate mail, let me state my official opinion: I am strongly opposed to bullying. I don’t know how I made it to the ripe old age of . . . ahem, 25 (hehe) without the safety and protection of the anti-bullying bubble. HOWEVER, somehow I survived the isolated incidences that might have been considered bullying by today’s standards. Back then we called it . . . wait, we didn’t call it anything. We just had to deal with it.

“Social conditioning” is a necessary part of life. Whether we like it or not, it ensures people conform to social norms. Rules. Expectations. Standards. You want to go a week without bathing? Too bad. You WILL get shunned. You want to monopolize every conversation by bragging about all your accomplishments? Go ahead. You WILL be loathed. You want to wear a suit made out of fur? Real fur? You MAY instigate a demonstration. Sure, all you really want is to “be yourself.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But the truth of the matter is, without social conditioning there would be way too many freaky people out there.

Your job: Take the stance I’ve just developed and run with it. Put your protagonist in a difficult situation and force him to face and/or reveal his tolerance, his support of “social conditioning” —through action and dialog, of course.

Done? Surprised? I thought so.

By Nichole Jarnagin

Leap Into Books Giveaway Winner!

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By Hook or by Crook part 2

I’ve got a thing for hooks right now. I pulled a bunch of books off a shelf at random and looked for hooks in the first page, filling in the “who-what-when-where-why-how” and paying close attention to when my focus wandered or was piqued. This is what I found:

In “Pebble in the Sky” by Isaac Asimov, the hook is the implied disappearance. He uses the phrases, “two minutes before he disappeared”, and “the face of the world he knew”. The why and how are left as questions, or hooks, in the reader’s mind.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “A Fistful of Sky” used a hook that surprised me. The word “We” is used repeatedly, giving a sense of unity against outsiders, against ominous forces: “the force we supported each other against was right in the house with us”, implying a currently unseen—and imminent– threat. “I” is not used until the last paragraph of the first page.

Mary Higgins Clark’s “Pretend You Don’t See Her” and Anne McCaffery’s “Renegades of Pern” had no strong hooks, no risk, no questions raised without an immediate answer. These two authors being the names they are, I wondered if they were relying on their already substantial readership to sell the books. A simple evidence of this was the fact that I also looked at Anne McCaffery’s “Dragonflight”, (one of my personal favorites). This is one of McCaffery’s first published books, and the hooks were obvious: “Lessa woke cold.” This is a cryptic question that lends to the atmosphere of discomfort and fear, foreshadowing the recurrence of a familiar terror. The cold of the early morning is only the beginning.

All in all, these are some of the hooks I found:

*Mood: recognition of danger, sense of fear or threat, mystery and unanswered questions. In every case, the “why” and “how” went unanswered.

*Implied danger to the family or society.

*Implied social difference: “Special child destined for greatness”; a misfit or underdog in society.

*Humor or personality in the authorial voice or the characters.

*Repetition of an emotionally evocative idea, as in “the reaping” in “Hunger Games”, and the “We” in “A Fistful of Sky”.

What are some of the hook techniques you like to use? Or ones that stand out to you when you read?

By Ava Mylne

In two weeks Lauren will be posting a blog on why we read what we read, and asking for your input in a poll. Here are some of the questions ahead of her article. Be ready to tell us what you think!

1. Would you buy more books if you didn’t have to worry about your children / siblings / nieces and nephews finding them on your book-case?

2. Do you buy e-books because you can lock (or hide) your e-reader?