Tips From a Pantser


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

Tips From a Pantser

Nandy Ekle

I am most definitely a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. I usually have an idea for a story, and idea for a character, and an idea of a twist when I start. But planning much more than that before beginning to write seems to take all the fun out of it, sort of like having a fill-in-the-blank test. I rely on the television inside my head to fill it in as I write.

There have been times when I’ve had to plan a little more deeply because I get to a place where the character looks at me and shrugs his shoulders about what he’s supposed to do next. That’s when I get out a piece of paper and write what I know, where I know it’s supposed to go, where it’s been, and what have I not done. A lot of times this happens when I’ve just finished a very thrilling and revealing scene and I know we need a slow down breathing moment. But I don’t want my reader to get bored. 

Sometimes I’m the one whose stuck and I have to rely on my character to tell me what happens next. For example: my current WIP. I have three characters, each one has to face a task designed just for them. Which means I have to know that character well enough to know what would be a good task for them. The first character was easy. She was an expendable character and was destined to fail. So her character didn’t have to be extremely deep. She had to be deep enough to connect with the reader, but still could be pretty shallow. I knew the third character inside out. He’s been in my head for years, his passion, his motivation, his fears, and what he is willing to pay to accomplish his goal. He’s a deep character, very solid. The problem I had was my middle character. I didn’t know him very well and wasn’t particularly fond of him. So I took what I did know and just began writing that. Then there came a moment when he had to face what he didn’t want to ever face. And the inside of his head came tumbling out on the page. It was exhilarating!

Another place I was stuck and looked to the character was in a past work. I knew the story, knew all my characters, knew the conflict and the twist. What I didn’t know was who the villain was (it was a paranormal story, so the villain was not clearly visible). So I continued to write what I did know. As I’ve said before, writing a story is, for me, like watching a movie in my head. So I had the characters in one room and one of them got on the floor to check under the bed for the boogie man. As he began to stand up, he turned to face me and wink. And I knew he was the villain! Another exhilarating experience.

So pay attention to your characters. A lot of the time, they know exactly what they’re doing and what comes next—it’s their story, after all. And if they don’t know what’s next, look at what you have and remember, your job is to make the reader love your character, then torture them with any and everything you can think of. So what have you not done to them? That’s what comes next.

 

River Valley Writer’s Workshop, Canadian, Texas


River Valley Writer’s Workshop, Canadian, Texas

Natalie Bright

Sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance and Texas High Plains Writers, we had a good mix of brand-new newbie writers to multi-published hybrid authors in April. In addition to local writers, I met people from Lubbock, Shamrock, Abilene, and San Antonio. This was the first ever workshop sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance.

One of the most interesting talks that really made an impression on me, was by young adult fantasy author, Kathleen Baldwin. She talked about the differences between two writing methods: pantsers vs. plotters.

Pantsers vs. Plotters

If you’ve been writing for a while, these terms are probably familiar to you. In case these terms are new to you, I will clarify the difference.

Plotters plot.Plotters work in a more controlled creative process than pantsers. Some begin with an outline, scene diagram, timeline, or even a lengthy book bible with character profiles and meticulous setting details. Some have visual storyboards with a guideline for which chapters they will work on that day, or a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline posted on a wall. They usually know the ending and take their characters on a journey to that point.

Pantsers Wing It.They are in the zone, writing and creating and following their characters where ever they go.  They might begin with a great character or no more than a seed of an idea for a first sentence, or descriptive imagery for a unique setting, and then they’re off. The story takes over and they don’t stop to research or question why, they just keep going to the end with a complete book.

The Secret Life of Pantsers

The session in Canadian was nothing like I had ever heard before regarding the pantser vs. plotter method. Kathleen introduced us to our creative brain. We took an interesting quiz to determine if we lean more towards being a pantser or a plotter. Our personalities have a lot to do with influencing our creative process.

Pantserslove adventure and not knowing where their characters will take them. If they know the ending, they are bored. A pantser plots on the fly, relies on their subconscious creative mind or even on their dreams.

Plotters are brilliant planners who like working from outlines. They rely on the power of conscious creation, and usually like structure and order in their lives.

Studies have shown that there are just as many bestselling authors who are pantsers as plotters.

The main point of her talk is to know your brain. How can you maintain balance in your life? How do you minimize stress? One way is to write at the same time every day because we are wired to respond to habit/repetitive behaviors. When are you the most creative? Your creative mind blossoms when you reward it for brilliance. Give yourself emotional strokes for your creative accomplishments.

Try these Magic tricks for your brain: aim for ten ideas, state the most obvious and then state the opposite of that. For example, If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is walking through a graveyard at midnight she might see: a vampire jumping out and attacking her. The opposite of that might be; a happy clown pops out of the headstone. The second idea is very different, but too weird and doesn’t work for the story. List five or more opposite ideas, but less obvious. What works best? 1) An old lady sits in a rocker, knitting. 2) Buffy’s dead mother floats up singing a ghostly warning. 3)Buffy finds a baby sleeping. 4) Maybe the baby is a toddler, and it looks like Spike. 5) Little vampire Spike is trapped in a time warp, and is crying, lost, alone, hungry. Does this idea make sense for your story, characters and theme?

I have several friends who are pantsers and their stories are amazing. I felt very frustrated when trying to understand their writing method and put it to practice. My day job involves numbers and deadlines, and now I understand that my brain likes that sort of structure. I like having an outline for my story and realized that I don’t feel ready to write until the story has come together in my brain. I usually know the ending. It’s at that point that inspiration strikes and I am able to put words on a page, which is the exact opposite from the pantser method. After taking Kathleen’s quiz I discovered that I exhibit qualities of both processes, which might explain my hyper, squirrel-chasing work habits. I can never settle on one project. There are too many things going on in my head at once.

What about you? What process makes you feel the most creative?

It was a great weekend of inspiration to learn story craft, eat some great food, and meet some awesome creatives. If you ever have the chance to visit the beautiful town of Canadian in the Texas Panhandle, stop in at the Stumbling Goat Saloon for a burger and a beer, or The Cattle Exchange for a steak. So many other great places to dine along with unique boutiques for shopping. A must is The Citadelle Foundation which houses an amazing art collection.

 

Story Exploded


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Story Exploded

By Nandy Ekle

It happened again. I woke up listening to a voice telling me an adventure. As the words scrolled across the great movie screen in my head, I realized that would make an amazing story. Probably ten or fifteen pages, a nice juicy short story at best.

As a “pantser” (one who writes “by the seat of their pants”), trying not to do so much planning that all the fun turns into a fill-in-the blank, essay-ish type of work, I took out my trusty computer, opened the word processor and let my fingers transcribe the scenes playing out in my head.

And then I came to a decision-making moment. Sometimes this is where I get locked down, waiting for the characters to tell me what comes next. Most of the time I can see the scenes clearly, but the transitions between the scenes is the muddy white noise part of the brain-feed movie going on. So I have to think for a minute. This is usually not wise if I want a short story because a lot can happen in a decision-making moment.

In this story I began to see twists and turns multiply to look like a roller coaster gone haywire. The hidden truths I will build to are good ones. In fact, I broke out in goosebumps and giggled like an insane madwoman every time a new twist popped up.

Research. I needed to research a couple of things I knew nothing about. And I had to research some things I knew a little about, and one or two things I completely understood, but wanted to find a way to connect to the new things I would be learning. And all the while a new secret would wink at me and I would giggle a little more.

So now I look at my “short story” and realize it’s a good tale, but it exploded into an outright novel. Only, I absolutely don’t want to say it out loud because the muse will pack up and leave me holding a paper cutout of my character in one hand and an dry ink pen in the other.

So, for the moment, we will continue to call this a short story.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.