Monday, July 11, 2016

Plotter? Pantser? Pole Dancer?

I have two weeks to write the first draft of a novella. 25K in 2 weeks is a little more than 2K words per day, which is totally do-able. I'm not a fast writer, but even I can eke out 2K in a day -- and beta read for a critique partner, plan promo for my upcoming release and do all the non-writing-related things life seems to demand. Can't I?

The answer is yes, yes I can -- but only if I plot a little first.

Plotting used to feel like a waste of valuable writing time to me. I have a window of uninterrupted time to write every day and I need to get the words in! The story will flow and I'll follow.

The problem comes, of course, when the story DOESN'T flow and that valuable writing time morphs into tweeting and Facebooking and taking BuzzFeed quizzes. And, for me, nothing kills my word count like frustration over not getting in my word count. (Sounds like a bad T-shirt slogan, doesn't it?) Thus a plotter was born.

My usual method is to outline, complete with Roman Numerals (because there's not enough use for Roman Numerals in adult life, quite frankly.) It's not pretty, but it gets the job done and I end up with a beginning, middle and end -- as well as a few key plot points in the middle.

I have a good writer friend who does character worksheets -- everything from her MC's favorite food to how she responds when that cute guy finally texts her. When she gets to the point in her novel where the cute guy finally texts her MC, she's already got the scene pretty much done. Result!

Another popular method is beat sheeting. I admit I tried this and it felt a lot like writing the nuts and bolts of the story but sans voice. This doesn't work for me because I get lazy. I mean, if I've already got a story, so what if the main characters all sound the same? Does anyone really notice? (Hint: Yes. Yes they do.) But, for a large number of writers, beat sheeting helps them draft really quickly.

There's also the contingent of writers who swear by the Save the Cat method. This actually has its roots in screenwriting and is a type of beat sheeting within a three-act structure. I like it because it includes "Bad Guys Close In" and "Dark Night of the Soul" as plot points. As a romance writer, it doesn't feel like "Bad Guys Close In" is really part of my story, but it is if you look at it instead as "MC is about to lose everything" Not surprising, the next piece of the story is "All is Lost" which applies regardless of genre. This is a great method to use for writers who struggle with providing enough conflict in their novels that then results in character growth.

Finally, there's what I like to call the pole dancers for beginners method, which is what I'm going with this time around. I have a solid start to this novella and I know where it ends, but the middle is one big fat mystery. I keep sitting down to write and getting caught up in the details of how the characters move -- both physically and figuratively -- from scene to scene. So, I'm abandoning all transitions and capturing the key moments. There are snippets of dialogue when I feel inspired, but basically I'm working on the middle so when I go back to work on it, I know what I need to do next.

What does this have to do with pole dancing, you ask? Well, let me ask you a question first. Have you ever tried pole dancing -- as a dancer, not an observer? It's become a popular form of exercise, despite its seedy undertones, and with good reason. Pole dancing is HARD. Anyone who thinks they're going to spin around a pole and look like an exotic dancer on their first go is in for a shock. And no doubt some bruises. Anyone who doesn't have a minimal fitness level to start is going to be in for an even bigger shock. And more bruises.

I confess my pole dancing experience was just one class -- a freebie from a studio down the street from my office. I'm a runner, so I had the minimum level of fitness down. It was the rest of it I struggled with. A lot. Although, strangely, it didn't make me feel inept and awful. I couldn't do the choreography and my "ability" to actually leave the ground and climb the pole was in name only, but when the instructor assured me that if I kept coming to class, I'd gradually fill in the gaps and be able to do the moves with ease and confidence, I believed her.

As is the way with the pole dancers for beginners method of outlining. (See what I did there??) I've got a baseline, the solid beginning of a story. I'm going to put pieces in place that might work or might not once the whole story is written, but it doesn't hurt to try them now. And the more I go back and build on those key pieces, the closer I am to the end, which I can see clearly even if I can't execute it quite yet. As I get further in my story, less needs to be discarded because I know my plot better and I'm not wasting words or effort. By the end, I know exactly where I'm going and how I got there. In theory, it's like executing a flawless martini spin. Except, for this non-pole dancer, with more martini and far less spin. :)


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

With each book, my process changes. I've plotted extensively, just to scrap it. I've pansted, just to need to plot. My best strategy is breaking up the book into 4 acts, writing, outlining, writing from the hip, outlining. Seems to work. For now.

Mary Fan said...

POLE DANCING IS SO FRICKIN' HARD! OMG I got so many bruises from falling off that damn thing... and then there's the frickin' floor burn... I don't think I've injured myself so extensively attempting anything else hahaha (except maybe skiing).

I've always found that the more I plan out beforehand, the faster I write. And it's because I like to know everything before I start typing actual words... that way, by the time I'm writing-writing, I'm really just being a scribe for things that have already happened in my head (and not trying to figure out what's going on as I'm going along). That being said, I think I actually do pants a bit... just in the outline stage. That's when I type out everything as it comes to mind, not necessarily knowing where it's going. But it's a lot faster than pantsing actual words, since fragments and incoherent sentences are no problem at all :-P

Brenda St John Brown said...

I think it's true that your "method" is always evolving. What worked 2 books ago definitely doesn't work now. For that matter, what works during the school year doesn't work now when The Boy is on break. Stealing time to get words in is HARD!

Brenda St John Brown said...

Pole dancing is so hard. And I agree about the skiing. At least pole dancing isn't outside in the snow! I'm good at the incoherent sentences, too! My favorite thing seems to be stopping writing for the day in the middle of a sentence. When I go back the next day I always wonder what the heck I was even thinking!

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