Sunday, 31 August 2014

Plotter or Panster?


This question comes up frequently on writers’ forums and most explore the pros and cons of both approaches.  For those of you not familiar with the terms, basically plotters are those who map out their stories in advance, pansters begin with a kernel of an idea and fly by the seat of their pants, letting the story go where it may.

I’m not sure I fall neatly into either category and I suspect many writers feel the same.  In last week’s post, I shared how the arcs of two stories “showed up”.   I get a general sense of where the story is going far in advance.  This usually consists of a single page of point form notes and random thoughts, although one of the plots last week basically fell on the page in the form of a full synopsis.

So, I do begin with the end in mind.  That makes me a plotter.  But, when I sit in front of the computer, the journey from point A to Z is not mapped.  I let my fingers, my mind, my heart dictate the direction.  When I began working on my first novel, Raven’s Path, my characters arrived at Fort Oswego.  In my plotter’s mind, their visit was to be a few pages long.  Well, weeks and many chapters later, they remained at Oswego.  So much happened there that exposed deepening layers of my characters.  I would have lost out on those revelations had I forced myself to adhere to my timeline.   So, in that, I am a panster.

I’m not sure I could ever truly be a full panster—I am a bit of a control freak and would find that a little too intimidating.  Nor could I ever be strictly a plotter.  I like surprises.  It is exciting to veer from the plotter’s path and discover what is around the next corner or hidden beneath the imagination’s foliage. 

Perhaps we can coin a new phrase for those of us who cannot commit to one approach or the other.  A plotster?  Planster?  Who’s with me here? J

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Free Your Mind

I don’t sleep well.  I haven’t since my mid-twenties—half my lifetime ago.  If I could unscrew my head and put it on the side table, I have no doubt I would sleep like the dead.  Or a discreet off switch.  That would work too.  Unfortunately, unable to access either of these methods, my brain continues to turn, the little gerbil on the wheel running full tilt when I least want it.

I actually like this state when I am in creation mode.  I used to keep sticky notes and a pencil at my bedside, in my car, on my desk.   Thanks to my ever-supportive husband, I now have a digital recorder which is much easier to access when groping around in the dark.  No less disruptive to my husband’s sleep but certainly more efficient.

I have struggled with the synopsis and query for Love Denied.  Writing the novel pales in comparison to these two tasks.  My already busy brain becomes jumbled and the resulting incoherency is quite painful…and discouraging.  If you’re familiar with the fast forward sound of a cassette tape, you’ll have a sense of what happens in there.

Through many walks around the lake, daily Zumba and the help of online friends, I finally managed to sweep the brain litter aside enough to get a semblance of both the query and synopsis completed. 

I rewarded myself with a day off.  No writing, no researching, no online hunt and pecking.  Nothing except lying in the sun.  Diet coke in reach, Diana Krall’s soothing voice lulling me into a stupor, I stretched out to let the sun work its magic, warming my body and emptying my mind.

And BOOM!  The entire plot arc for the next novel revealed itself.  Did I grab my recorder?  No I ran into the house and typed up a storm.  An hour later, I felt amazing.  And, there was still time left to go back to that R & R I so looked forward to.

Fifteen minutes into my next session, BAM!  The subsequent novel teased me.  My husband just shook his head as I headed back into the office.

It seems I should have just taken in some sun while struggling through the query and synopsis.  Who knew that En Vogue had it right?  Free your mind and the rest will follow.

Oh, I do believe I have seriously dated myself in this entry. J 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Ro Bought Me A Pen

I have never owned a pen beyond the standard mass produced lying side-by-side in a box ball point BIC type.  Not that there is anything wrong with those.  They have a purpose and they serve it well.  This one is different.  It is a MONT BLANC.  It lies nesting cozily, wrapped in satin, waiting.

We gathered as friends, celebrating a momentous change in my life.  I was leaving the sphere of our friendship, venturing away from the safety net of a career that connected the four of us.  I thought I might get a bottle of wine to toast the occasion.  My incredibly generous friends did not disappoint—gifts of wine and picking up the tab.  

There are people in this world that draw others to them.  Ro is one of them.  She is gregarious, generous and funny.  But it is Ro’s depth, hidden behind the light-hearted fa├žade that is the true magnet.  She recognizes my dream and honours it.

Ro bought me a pen.  To sign my first book.  Thank you Ro, for believing.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Scourge of the Synopsis


I write this from the depths of hell.  I have been banging against the sides of this particular pit for days.  I am battered and bruised but determined I will climb out, a glorious light shining on the finished parchment clutched tightly in my grasp.  Dear Lord, is that an adverb I used?  Let me strike that before the hounds of writers’ville wrest it from my psyche! 

Only a fellow sentence parser, one striving to make their writing the best they can based on the myriad of wise advice, will find that last sentence remotely amusing.  That line actually belongs in a musing on purgatory—the revision stage—where you look at the same words over and over, hoping that some day you get it right and will be released.  That’s the stage directly before you slide into hell. 
Synopsis.  Simple right?  It is your story.  You know it inside out.  Just sum it up.  But there are hidden traps.  How much is enough?  How much is too much?  What is the perfect balance between plot and characterization?  And, oy, the compendium of advice!  Who to follow?

I checked out some of my favourites. 

Janet Reid, gives thorough concrete advice on a regular basis.  She states:  A synopsis is like a recitation of facts in a lawsuit. It doesn't have much verve or style. The purpose of a synopsis is NOT to entice someone to read on (which IS the purpose of a query). 

Okay.  She’s a successful agent.  I need to take her seriously despite the fact that I know she is an anomaly, an agent who dislikes a synopsis.  At least I can deal with this approach.  Dry but doable.

Diana Gabaldon—if you did not pick it up from my previous post is one of my heroes in the writing world—suggests:  If approaching an unknown agent who doesn't know you from a hole in the ground, then you probably want to keep it fairly short and punchy--because the point isn't to explicate the whole plot or demonstrate your skill at world-building; it's to demonstrate a) that you can write, b) that you have a decent premise and characters, and c) that you probably know what a story looks like, at least ("knowing what a story looks like" implies that you understand the use of conflict (change/growth/whatever) and theme, btw).  So you'd go for the 1-2-3 pages type, because really, it's just bait to make them ask for more.

Okay, I can marry these two.  Similar except that Diana says to pump it up a notch.  Got it.  Then I read Diana’s synopsis for A Breath of Snow on Ashes.  The earth that was slowly solidifying beneath my feet crumbled.  I can’t write like that!  Back into the pit for me.

 Jo Bourne, who weaves a great tale and generously shares her pearls of wisdoms on a regular basis, shone a flashlight over the edge.  A synopsis is you sitting down and telling the story to a friend.  She breaks down components and gives a simple list of do’s and don’t’s.  It’s not a how-to manual but an amicable guide. 

I’m still in the pit, groping at the sides.  But the light shines from above and I am moving toward it.  I will emerge one day, synopsis bloodied by torn fingernails in one hand and Jo’s advice clutched tightly in the other.  And, yes, I think I’ll keep that adverb there this time.