I have been caught off of the main highway of writing and slowed down by the tempting editing side roads along the way. As I have learned to write I keep hoping the editing will get shorter, but now I’m not sure. I thought the fix was in plotting. You see I am a natural pantser. In fifth grade when Mr. Brown was trying to teach us how to write a paper, he showed us how to research, write note cards and formulate an outline. Then and only then would he give permission for us to begin the writing process.
I, naturally, was resistant to this controlled way of writing. Already enamored with story writing I didn’t love the idea of non-fiction, but was willing to give it a try. Research, that was fun. Can’t remember the subject, but I’ve always loved finding out facts. Note cards, yes I liked those. Short sweet and able to shuffle in any order I pleased. Note cards could even be color-coded, that was even better. But the outline, ah yes, the outline. There I failed.
I tried writing an outline, but I didn’t know how things would go together. How could you write a map of where you were going when you hadn’t been there. I struggled with it. Then I gave up. I ended up writing the paper in secret and drawing the outline from that rough draft then turning in the outline. Mr. Brown approved, I waited a day or two and handed in my rough draft. Sneaky.
Already a closet pantser I stayed that way through college, whipping up decent papers the night before or sometimes, if they were short, the morning they were due. I could have been a better student. I could have written better papers had I taken more time, or known how to really do an outline that worked for me. But once again, I found ways around it. And muddled through.
So now I am an adult. No one is asking for the outline, no one is grading me on it. My desire for good grades is enormous. I want that A. I want that editor or that agent to hand it to me on a silver platter. And now I know writing a novel on the cusp of the due date isn’t going to get me there. No, to do that, I need to hand in my best work. But how is a life-long pantser supposed to change?
My perfectionism forces me to edit. And edit. And edit. I have heard, and I’m sure its true, that plotting saves time in the editing stage. And I badly want this. So I started my new story (working title Blood Were) by Snowflaking. Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing fame is the author of this method and when I heard him speak last October at the Heart of Denver mini-con a light bulb went on. This was structure without structure. This was like the note-card shuffle. At this, I could be successful.
I started out well, but soon petered out. I could write a small character sheet, get my main plot points down, but when it came to filling things out I was stuck. It turns out that I can come up with inciting incidents, major plot points and even black moments, but when it comes to anything in between I need to write.
I need to write to really understand my characters, and I need to write to know why my plot goes the way it does. I like having some structure. I now have a sort of a road map in the Snowflake method. Lets call it verbal directions. “Turn right at that drugstore, you know the one with the blue roof, take your third left and when you see the Dairy Queen you’re almost there.” (I always navigate by food, DQ and donuts are the best.) I truly don’t understand the nuances of my characters or how they will interact until those words start flowing.
So here I am. I was hoping to become a reformed pantser, but instead I am embracing it, with a little dip into the plotting pool. I still like the idea of plotting out the main points. I like to know the general idea of where my road trip will take me, but I’ve found out that what I really like is the journey. Even when it means my newest 1,000 plus words need to be cut and re-written from the heroine’s point of view and not the hero’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for roadside attractions.
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