Are You A Pantser or Plotter?

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To Annabel, it doesn’t matter whether I am a pantser or plotter, only that I drop everything to pet her.

 

For most of my writing life, I have been a “pantser.”

For those of you not familiar, a pantser is basically a writer who writes by the seat of their pants, without doing a lot of planning beforehand. A pure pantser might be someone who just sat down in front of a computer or notebook and wrote whatever happened to come out, sort of a Jackson Pollack approach to fiction.

For me, it’s always meant that I start with at least a germ of an idea—usually, but not always, a beginning and an ending—and maybe a few markers in the middle. I’ll come up with new scenes and sequences as I’m going along, but I’m often only a few scenes ahead of my actual writing. I roughly know where I’m going, but I don’t know how I’m getting there until I’m well into the book.

The advantage of this, for me, has always been the rush of creativity while I’m writing. I often find myself doing things that I didn’t expect: killing characters, creating a conflict where I didn’t expect there to be one, inventing new things. The feeling of creative freedom is awesome.

But the disadvantage is that because I didn’t have a direction, my plots sometimes tend to meander or lose their focus, and sometimes my story just isn’t tight enough. When I was working on revising The Demon Within for publication, I ended up rewriting about 80-90% of it. Even after I submitted the draft to my editor, Bob Peterson, it needed a lot more work; the middle section got completely gutted, which was another 30,000 words I had to start from scratch. It was very frustrating, particularly since I’d already been working on the book for four years before I was contracted for publication. But when my editor and I started tugging on some of the strings, I realized there were some fundamental, structural issues and it had to be gutted.

The whole process, from the time I signed the contract to the time I turned in the final draft to Bob for copyediting, took 18 months.

For Embracing the Demon, my editor asked me to write an outline before I began the book. With only a year between the releases of The Demon Within and Embracing the Demon, I do not have the luxury of completely deleting the middle of my book and spending another six months on rewrites. Bob wants to make sure we iron out any story issues before I really sit down to write. (I suspect he also wants to have an idea of what I’m writing about so that when the folks at Rare Bird Books and Publishers Group West ask about the book, he has a better answer than, “It’s about…demons? And, uh…embracing stuff?”)

An author who routinely does this kind of prewriting and planning is called a “plotter.”

I’m in the middle of the outlining process now. Not gonna lie: it’s been tough. Basically, I’m trying to force my brain to work in a way it hasn’t before, and 25 years of writing habits are hard to break. But I can see the advantages. As I’m outlining, I’m getting that rush of creativity, that feeling of possibility. I get to throw ideas at the wall and see what works! And that’s my favorite part!

My first outline was a jumble of bullet points. Bob sent it back to me with a few notes and then asked me to break it down by scene, so he (and I) could get a better sense of the organization of the book. About a week or so later, I sent it to him: 6,000 words detailing major plot developments, character arcs, and set pieces. It was a thing of beauty. Bob was going to love it, and send me on my writing journey with his good wishes.

Or so I thought.

Instead, he came back almost immediately with comments, some of them pretty fundamental to how I had structured the book. Basically, I was starting out too boring, and the pacing of the first half was too slow. And once I stopped pouting and pulled my head out of my ass, I realized he was right. The pacing was too slow, and the beginning was never going to hook readers in—and it might lose existing readers.

I was still upset and frustrated. But then I realized that it takes a lot less time to fix a 6,000-word outline than it does to fix a 90,000-word book. This was some of the toughest stuff Bob and I worked on during the revision process of The Demon Within. I’m getting it out of the way before I actually start writing the book.

It didn’t completely cure my frustration. But it helped.

Since I haven’t started writing the book yet, I don’t know how the experience will be for me. Will I feel like the outline constrains me too much, zapping the process of its spontaneity and creativity? Or will I experience a sort of freedom by having a map of my journey: freedom from fear of failure, and freedom from blank page syndrome?

I’m not the first author who’s contemplated this: Chuck Wending wrote an awesome blog post on his journey from pantser to plotter, and this Goodreads post quotes several famous authors on both sides of the spectrum. (Sidenote: That’s harsh, Stephen King. Seriously.)

Fellow authors: Are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

 

 

Carolyn Crane Blurbed THE DEMON WITHIN

Mind Games

USA Today bestselling and RITA award winning author Carolyn Crane gave an amazing blurb for The Demon Within:

This inventive and exciting tale had me breathlessly flipping the pages—and I loved every minute! Get ready for a sexy, twisty, dangerous ride that crackles with pure awesomeness.

I’m ridiculously flattered by this. Carolyn is an author whose work I’ve loved for a long time. Her Disillusionists trilogy (Mind Games, Double Cross, and Head Rush), about a woman who weaponizes her hypochondria to become a crime fighter, is one of the coolest, most unique entries in the urban fantasy genre.

As a fan of her urban fantasy, I was a little nervous when I found out Carolyn was writing a romantic suspense series. I’m kind of picky about romantic suspense. With some romantic suspense, I feel like I’m reading the same story (damaged sexy hero and TSTL heroine on the run from a serial killer) over and over again. But The Associates novels focuses on a quasi-legal worldwide spy organization–and of course, everyone involved is super suave and sexy. Think James Bond spy stuff meets The Thomas Crown Affair intrigue and sex appeal. Also, the heroines are as badass as the heroes. One of them is a not-quite-reformed criminal safecracker; another is one of the leaders of the Associates who goes undercover to infiltrate a drug cartel.

 

Basically, it seems like no matter what genre she’s writing in, Carolyn looks at the rules and tropes…and then ignores them altogether and does something completely different. It makes her books unexpected and awesome.

 

Carolyn CraneI interviewed Carolyn for the CC2K pop culture blog back in 2010, and I’ve spoken to her quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook since then. This summer, I actually got a chance to meet and speak to her during the Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. She was a wealth of information about writing and publishing, and the experience was one of the highlights of my year. (She’s also super sweet, and just one of the coolest, most generous people I’ve met in the writing world.)

 

 Thank you again to Carolyn for this amazing blurb!

Jenn Bennett Blurb, and Other Cool Stuff

Jenn Bennett, the author of the Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series and the Roaring Twenties paranormal romances, blurbed The Demon Within. (Basically, think of how, on most books you read, you’ll see quotes on the front that say things like, “This is the most amazing book since sliced bread!” — says Important Author.)

She said, “Engaging, old-school urban fantasy. Will appeal to readers hungering for spirited supernatural action with a dash of forbidden romance.”

This is my very first blurb, so I’m doing happy tap dances over here. Better, it comes from an author whose work I already love. The Arcadia Bell series is high-stakes and consistently fun, and it has one of my favorite book couples of all time: Cady and Lon, whose relationship always struck me as sweeter and more realistic (not to mention more equal) than a lot of other romances in the alpha-male dominated UF market. The Roaring Twenties books I actually read much more recently, and I loved them. Great characters, great world building, and a unique setting (1920s San Francisco). I had been hungering for historical sci-fi/fantasy that was NOT steampunk. Not that I dislike steampunk, but I’ve been seeing so much of it lately that no longer has that unique feel that made me love it in the first place. So the Roaring Twenties books really hit the spot.

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The old City Hall subway station in New York City, which has been abandoned since the 1940s and is featured in The Demon Within.

 

In other news, I am being featured today on the AndiLit Blog giving some tips for scene building and “setting the stage.” As a writer, this is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I tend to focus more on character and plot than on stage setting. It was also one of the things that my editor from California Coldblood pushed me hardest on during the revision process. I had to come up with some strategies to compensate for my lack of visual imagination. I talk about a few of the strategies I’ve learned to use. Thank you to Andi Cumbo-Floyd for hosting me 🙂

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! J (the fiancé) and I have been on vacation since Christmas Eve, and I currently have the world’s crappiest internet connection. But I wanted to wander out for a m-oment to say farewell to 2015, and get my 2016 resolutions down in writing.

In 2016, I resolve to:

–Publish a book! (Okay, so that one’s kind of a gimmie. But I needed an easy one.)

–Be nicer to myself. I tend to be very hard on myself, and my confidence sucks. I don’t deserve it. I will treat myself, and my body, better.

–Read books I wouldn’t normally read. Time to expand my mind!

–Write The Demon Within, part 2, which is tentatively titled Embracing the Demon. I need to have it to my editor by about November/December 2016 for a spring 2017 publication date.

James MarstersI can’t believe 2015 is over already. It’s been a big year. I got engaged, bought a house, finished my book, and met James Marsters and David Tennant. I got to tell them both how much their work means to me, which was awesome.

Next year, I will get married, publish my book, and maybe I’ll shell out the cash to get a picture with David Tennant. Worth. It.

Guess what I got?

Galleys!!!

To put it into layman’s terms: the galleys are a typeset mock-up of the book so you can see what it will actually look like. Back in the good ol’ days, those mock-ups were usually printed, but now they’re often created electronically.

And because they’re electronic, I can post screen shots!

I am completely in love. So amazing.

It still doesn’t feel real to me.

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Seriously, for reals, almost done this time

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I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for The Demon Within.

It’s been a productive weekend. I’m ironing out the draft, making sure all the transitions are clear, smoothing out scenes. I’m proud of myself, because I managed to work the title of book 2 into one scene 😉

My final deadline is December 1. I’m sure my editor will make tweaks after that, but that’s when I have to get my final in to him. That’s the version that will be going out for review. I’m hoping to be done sooner than that.

Part of my problem is that I’ve been going in the marathon pace for so long, I don’t know if I have the energy to sprint to the finish. Nonetheless, the finish isn’t far away.

After that…I think I’ll need to work on some other stuff, away from the Dale world for a while. Sort of a palate cleanser. I’ve been wanting to write a holiday romance. Obviously, even if I manage to accomplish that, it wouldn’t be out until next year, but I might as well take advantage of the spirit of the season and all the Hallmark movies for inspiration.

Problem is, I don’t know if I can write a straight romance without killing a whole bunch of people.

(Note to any law enforcement entities reading this: I only kill fictional people, I swear.)

(Addendum to note to any law enforcement entities reading this: …but I do kill a lot of fictional people.)

I miss writing for fun. I miss writing with no pressure. I need to do that for a minute before I can give myself back to Dale and company.

As for what comes next as far as The Demon Within goes…I’m not exactly sure. Promotional stuff. Reviews and interviews, I hope. Maybe a release party? This is the first time I’ve done this, folks. I am flying completely blind–and largely panicked.

This is what my next several months look like:

December 16–closing on a house
April 12–my first book gets published
July 2–I am getting married

Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag.

NaNoWriMo

This is me at the end of NaNoWriMo 2009. DONE!

This is me at the end of NaNoWriMo 2009. DONE!

So it’s National Novel Writing Month again.

I am not participating this year. Much as I would love to try it again, I’m still finishing up edits on The Demon Within. My final deadline is December 1, and I’m hoping to get it done sooner.

But I have participated a couple of times before, and I won back in 2009. Although that particular story never went anywhere, I always look back on that month and that time with fondness. I consider it the beginning of the “modern era” of my writing. (That sounds horribly pretentious, doesn’t it?) I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, so I had more time to write. Moreover, it was the first time since I had graduated from college that I really gave myself permission to write, and permission to live my life the way that I wanted to. I realized that the only person keeping me from the writing career I really wanted was me, and that I needed to live my life on my terms. I couldn’t let a day job or unsupportive loved ones stop me. I needed to do this for me.

In other words, NaNo 2009 was the equivalent of opening a dam. I think, had I not participated in NaNo that year, I would not have completed–or maybe not even begun–the books I’ve completed since then.

I don’t know what my words of advice will be worth, but I can tell you that a few things helped me that year. Since we’re already a week into NaNo 2015, I don’t know how much they will help. However, there’s always 2016…

Have an idea ahead of time. You have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Nothing is more intimidating than staring at a blank computer screen, knowing you have 1,556 words to get in, and having no idea what to write. I’ve always been more of a pantser than a plotter, but before I start writing anything–regardless of whether it’s NaNo or not–I have to have some kind of idea of a beginning, middle, and end. Your month is only limited to actual story words. You can do as much thinking, as much plotting, as much outlining, as much inventing as you want before November 1.

Try to get ahead of the game early. The first couple of days, when I was all pumped up and motivated, I got a LOT of words done. That helped me later on, when I was in the sludgy middle section and couldn’t manage to force the words out.

If you don’t live alone, prepare your family for what’s going on.  I had just gotten out of a relationship when I started NaNo that year. For the first time in my adult life, I was living on my own, and it was amazing. Living alone gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and be answerable to no one.

Fast forward six years, and I am now living with my fiancé. Oddly enough, he enjoys spending time with me. As I’ve been working on the edits for The Demon Within, I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him, which is kind of a bummer. Luckily, he’s very understanding (which is, I think, a must for your partner when you’re a writer). NaNo is like that: you’re on tight deadlines, and you have you schedule your date nights and Netflix and Chill times sparingly. That said…

–Don’t forget to have personal time. It can be very tempting while you’re doing NaNo to write to the point of exhaustion, forget your friends and loved ones exist, and basically kill yourself for 30 days. Don’t do that. The point of NaNo is to get yourself writing, not to give yourself a nervous breakdown.

The year I won NaNo, I went to Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Kermit almost ate my head. I wasn't sure whether I should go, but it was a unique opportunity and I didn't know when I'd have a chance again. Worth. It.

The year I won NaNo, I went to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Kermit almost ate my head. I wasn’t sure whether I should go, but it was a unique opportunity and I didn’t know when I’d have a chance again. Worth. It.

Take chances with your writing. You may have a plan. Maybe you have a detailed outline and character sketches and notes galore. But don’t be afraid to toss it all out the window, say, “Screw it,” and kill someone unexpectedly. Or whatever. This is a lesson I continue to employ in my writing now. I can’t tell you how many characters in The Demon Within ended up dead who weren’t originally killed, how many scenes popped up unexpectedly, how many characters developed out of narrative necessity. You may have a plan, but sometimes plans change. And that’s okay. If it doesn’t work, you can always go and change it back later. Don’t self-censor at this point.

–Have fun! This seems so obvious…but at times, it’s oh-so-difficult. Writing is work, and no matter how much I enjoy the process, it’s not fun all the time. But NaNo, I feel, is more like skydiving than neat, orderly novel writing. I don’t even know that you should be thinking about publication while your writing your NaNo novel (though I totally was). I feel like it should be more just getting out the words, letting them fall on the page where they may. We all started writing because we liked creating people and worlds and stories. Maybe this 30 days should be about bringing the joy back into writing again.

Like I said, that novel I wrote back in 2009 never went anywhere. I’m tempted to brush it off one of these days to see what I can make of it. But I have never regretted the process of writing it, because I know if I had not, I would not be where I am with my writing today.

One Line Wednesday: Dale Learns The Truth

In honor of finishing (!!!) the bear of a rewrite on the middle section, I decided to post something in honor of one-line Wednesday.

I’m cheating a little bit, because it’s actually two lines.

John opened his eyes. I met his gaze. “Are you a demon?” I asked.

He laughed. “You mean you don’t know? I’m not a demon. You are.” Then he passed out.

What is it with men? Always falling asleep at the most inconvenient times, like when you want to cuddle, or when you need more information on your demonic heritage. How rude!