Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Problem with Pantsing #amwriting #scifi #romance

Green Chaos by Piotr Siedlecki
For those unfamiliar with the term, pantsing refers to the art of writing without an outline ie rather than plot out the structure and events of a story, you just sit down and write, going wherever the muse takes you. In my case the process is even more chaotic because I don't write linearly either. Quite often a story begins with a handful of random scenes that may or may not include the opening and closing acts. Some may not even make the final version. In a bizarre way, I suppose that could be considered a form of plotting since I lay down the bare bones first, but I'd probably deny it to my dying breath.

I have tried plotting. My problem seems to be that a) I don't know where the story is going until I actually start writing, b) I get bored quickly so I need to have all the shiny stuff written down fast so I can then get down to the harder task of filling in the gaps to make a coherent story. The two times I've tried plotting I not only veered well away from the outline within a few thousand words but also found myself trying to write two very different stories within the guidelines. The second attempt killed all my interest and enthusiasm for the story, and it never got written.

So plotting hasn't worked for me. I no longer feel a failure because of it (seriously, too many people out there are willing to tell you you're doing it all wrong. Try things but in the end go with what works for you. It may change over time - I'm not saying I'll never try plotting ever again - but your writing and methods aren't set in stone or dictated by others. Don't think yourself a failure because one system didn't work out for you).

But pantsing does come with its drawbacks. When I first completed the draft for Keir's Fall, it was a MESS. The timeline was all over the place, it was full of writerly sins like headhopping (some people don't consider that a bad thing but it personally drives me a bit nuts to read it), way too many POVs, plot holes, overly done purple prose...the list goes on. It was very early in my publishing career! But the chaotic timeline was the worst of it. After hours moving chunks around trying to fix it, I still wasn't getting anywhere. So I had to print it off, cut it up, rearrange it all on my living room floor, then literally stick it back together in the right order (I think a lot of authors like Scrivener for that reason, but I've tried a similar piece of software and couldn't get to grips with it). Once I had it all sticky taped back together, I could see where each scene needed to go and rearranged my Word doc accordingly.

That wasn't the end of it. After going through professional edits for Keir and learning oh so much, I went back and stripped a secondary storyline from Keir's Fall to cut down the other POVs before working with my editor to fix the other faults. It's taken three years since book one's original release to finally put out book two, but it's done.

Do you think I learned my lesson? *Yoda laugh* It would seem not. Sometime this year I hope to release a collection of short stories--new and old titles--and take down the separate shorts (because they just don't sell, and I'm ticked off at Amazon because they only pay 35% royalties on them. They have to be priced $2.99 and above to earn 70%, and while I've seen publishers charge that for a short, I just can't justify it. The collection will be priced less than all the individual shorts to compensate for the older titles and to give everyone a fairer deal). One of the new titles is a winter SFR, started after Hallow's Eve to give me a collection of holiday themed shorts. Right now, that short is heading into novella territory, and is in as similar a mess as Keir's Fall once was. Each scene is a countdown, so specific things need to happen in order, building up facts and occurrences until the final act. Of course, I've got them a bit mixed up. Ooops? This is where writing random scenes doesn't work so well. But rather than the physical cut and paste job, I've decided to work backwards through the story instead (yeah, I'd written the final scene already). Hopefully I won't have to do anything quite so drastic as with Keir's Fall...though the scissors and sticky tape are close at hand...

So sad to hear of the death of Alan Rickman last Thursday. I posted a short tribute on my blog HERE, but right now I still can't face saying it out loud.

Status Update
I have good and bad news, depending which way you look at it. Sadly my hot SFR short Quickshot is now homeless after the anthology I sent it to failed to reach the required number of submissions. Sigh. This is my fifth anthology submission that hasn't made it. Three didn't get enough submissions. One was pulled after authors withdrew due to a horrible contract. Only one was purely rejected. I don't think I'm willing to write for and submit to another after that number of fails because I could be working on bigger things in my Travellers Universe instead. I self pubbed two of the shorts myself, but considering cover art costs are the same as for a novel yet the small price tag on a short story means it takes longer for the short to make a return, they aren't a reasonable use of my still small budget. In the case of Quickshot, I have the advantage that it's already been professionally edited. But the cover would be a complex ask. >_<

At the time of writing, Reunion at Kasha-Asor is awaiting my attention for second round edits, while my June novel is having to have first edits redone due to the theft of my editor's laptop. Grr. Some people! I've finished my final tweaks for Revived, my Rebecca finalist and my second title in the shared Venus Ascendant universe, so as soon as I have the budget for edits and my editor has space, that'll be going off for first round, hopefully for release some time this year. I'm also hoping to complete my winter SFR in the next few days. Weeks. Um, some point in 2016...

Back to it!


  1. I'm very much a pantser, yet never run into a lot of the issues I hear others talk about. I do write linearly, though. Anything else and I'll never finish it, plus I don't know what's going on.

    I do kinda sorta plot, through extensive character work. I know nearly everything about them before I sit down, particularly my heroes since they drive the story. I know their GMC, the lie they believe, the things they can't and won't do and must do by the end of the novel, their archetype or types, and I've recently added emotional wounds. The Emotion Thesaurus ladies are building an emotional wound thesaurus on their website and new entries go up on Saturdays.

    With the PNR WIP, I also fleshed out the hero's negative traits and figured out his major flaw. Everything that happens in the story has to move him out of those flaws driving his interactions. I have the positive and negative trait thesauruses now, and this is something I plan to add to all my character development.

    I feel like I'm rambling a bit, but maybe something will help you figure out a quicker process.

    1. I LOVE the Emotion Thesaurus - the others are on my wish list, and I've already bookmarked some of the Emotion Wounds for another story. I don't mind spending a lot of time fixing something as long as the essentials are down. This is one story where I *should* have written it linearly, but I just don't work that way. Thanks for your suggestions!

    2. The Negative Trait one opened David up in a way no other method did! He's a siren, and they were cursed by Hera to be selfish and it's almost impossible for them to know true love. Identifying his negative traits took him from caricature to fully fleshed out. I did the same thing with his heroine, since her entire life has been built on a lie that's crippled a significant part of who she is.

      I haven't used the Positive Trait one yet, but I know it'll be awesome.

  2. I'm in the middle of connecting the scenes in my WIP - Painful!

    1. I only find it painful when the scenes aren't in order. Which unfortunately is what's happened with this one. but I'm getting there!

  3. The pain of pantsing! I use a hybrid process. I'm a pantser at heart, but since I've been selling most of my work to publishers before it's completed, I have to be able to give them an idea where things are headed. But like you, planning ahead is a creative challenge for me. I get the sense that everything I'm writing is very predictable, and need reassurance from peers that it's not. But I've learned to accept that uncertainty, because the only book I've ever fully pantsed had to be rewritten twice. I can usually keep my muse happy by keeping plot summaries between one paragraph and one page.

    Good luck with your current projects!

    1. I've only had to do it once when I pitched my unfinished zombie story to a publisher - fortunately I only needed a half page synopsis so I didn't have to go into detail and I knew the ending. Glad not to have to do it on a regular basis though! Thanks!


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