Monday, June 29, 2009

Where Are You Going?

I've been writing seriously for four years, though the first year doesn't really count since that's when I pounded out thousands of words of crud. But that's a blog for another day.

Anyway, I just signed my 8th contract. Yeah, I'm very proud of myself (but this blog isn't about that either). I've written one series and have just started a second. All my books, save for one, are suspense. One of them (still uncontracted) is a complex romantic suspense with a stalker and FBI agents and a couple of dead bodies. I like complicated plots with twists and turns. Anyway, I did all those stories by the seat of my pants. Ya know, starting with the "what if" question and letting the story unfold organically from there. I didn't know there was another way because I'd only been on the reading side of novels.

Then I started meeting other writers and learning the basics of the craft. Words that become second nature to writers. Words like goals and motivation, internal and external conflict, hero journeys, black moments and character arcs and backstory. Huh? What do you mean it's boring for the reader if I tell the whole childhood history of my heroine in the first 18 pages? But she's so scarred and flawed ... everything else will make so much sense if you know that her Aunt Betty was actually a man in WWII with a penchant for wearing lady's underwear.

Back when I first made the decision to become an author, I was blissfully unaware of any rules in writing. I was happy just sitting at the computer letting my characters stumble into life-threatening situations, argue, kiss and eventually fall into bed (actually, the falling into bed part seemed to come waaaay to easily to me *wink* anywho...). I was naively typing away letting my characters roam through my stories until something really bad happened which often times included killing the bad guy and then riding off into the proverbial sunset.

But I've grown. I've matured. I've learned that other writers actually plot out their stories ... ya know ... like an outline for a research paper. Oh, I was a scientist in my former life, I've done a lot of research papers. I could do that. As a matter of fact, I thought I might actually thrive plotting a book.

So I signed up for the best plotting class I could find. These instructors were writing pros, presenting the plotting process one step at a time. I'm a good student ... I have always done all my homework ... and I dutifully kept up with the class assignments. We had to describe our hero, heroine and villain, if we had one (ha, mine was eeeevvvil) ... no problem. Then we had to talk a little bit about their childhood, their fears, their dislikes and goals. Okay, I was shaking a little bit ... I'd never really "met" my characters in any of my books until I threw them into some nasty situation. But that's okay ... I pushed through. I tried to discover who they were and what they wanted before writing chapter one.

Then, I had to write ALL their conflicts, internal and external along with the journey I was going to take them on during this story. WHAT? Like I had to know before actually writing the scene at the warehouse what the heroine was going to do with the antique glass vase when she got to the lake? I was breathing in paper bags and bathing in calamine lotion to control my breathing and the hives breaking out on my skin.

When the instructors (all smiles and sweetness) nicely sent out spreadsheets so we could outline our chapters ... well, that was my undoing! How the heck could I tell you what was going to happen in chapter 20 when I didn't even know if my heroine would still be alive past chapter 15? Heck I didn't even know if the story was going to be longer than chapter 10!


Sorry. *deep calming breaths ... in through the nose out through the mouth* It's still a bit overwhelming when I think about it. But I'll recover. I've set aside all their pretty charts and excel spreadsheets. I gave it a shot, more than one, but my poor muse has an apoplectic fit every time I pull them out. It's just not worth the pitchers of margaritas and soothing music it takes to pull her off the ceiling.

So I'm going to admit it now. Hi, my name is Nina ... I'm a pantser. I've tried plotting because so many writers look so happy with all that information spread out in front of them. Smiling as they happily take their characters on the journey they've taken weeks sometimes months to discover. I can't do it! I just can't ... please don't make me. It's just not in my wiring. I'll happily write my next book having no clue where I'm going or what terrible thing lies around the next corner, but knowing I'll be happy as I travel through the story and even happier when I arrive at the end.

Oh, and while I'm at it ... should I admit I write with absolute silence? Yeeeaaahhh, probably not. That'll definitely make you think I'm totally off my rocker.


Amber Skyze said...

I'm must have a matching rocker, because I can NOT plot. I'm 100% a pantser and I write in silence. I used to write to music, but now find it distracting. Great blog, Nina!

Nina Pierce said...

Hey Amber - Thanks for the confirmation! I know there are pantsers out there like me ... I'm glad to know you're one. I may need a support group. LOL!

Lu said...

Hi Nina!!
I'm one of those funky hybrids. I pants for a few chapters, then get stuck and have to figure out which fork in the road to take. Once I work out the next few plot points, I'm off and running, veering wildly from my plan, but happy.

I also do best with silence, kind of a challenge now that the boys are out of school!


Leah Braemel said...

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for making me feel normal.

I keep trying all these plotting sheets and character outlines and I get myself in such a muddle because I sit down and a half page later the character does something "off the sheets" and I have to start over again.

Mary said...

What a relief. Another author without a plot! What has worked for me is writing with a partner who has a much better-developed left brain, and enjoys plot. I concentrate on character, mood, setting, dark underpinnings...fourteen books and counting. Something must be working.

Nina Pierce said...

Lu - I think in reality that's kinda me. Only the plotting I do is in my head. Quiet? Really? I would have pegged you as a total music person.

Leah - I am so happy I'm not the only one out there.

Mary - No really thank YOU! 14 books. You give me hope that I'm not that insane. ;)

Anny Cook said...

Hybrid... that's a good word. I'm primarily a pantster, with occasional forays into plotting--usually mini-plotting for a scene or a chapter.

I also find that I subconsciously do plotting that shows up many chapters into the book when tiny details from early on all come together in some important way.

Very interesting blog.

Nina Pierce said...

Anny - Sometimes I feel like I throw in random red herrings along the way, but then something happens and they all come together. I'm thinking there's something subconscious going on when that happens!

Fran Lee Romance said...

Eight books! Wow! I'd better get this old fanny in gear! I'm sooo jealous! You go, girl!

Nina Pierce said...

Fran - *g* Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Nina,
I saw your blog advertisement on Clues and News and popped over to say hello. I"m the exact opposite of you. I thought I'd die if I didn't have all those spreadsheets, notecards, and outlines. But then I tried pantsing. It scared the beejesus out of me. I created my own blend of pantsing and plotting that helps the story stay fresh and yet give me the satisfaction of knowing what I'm writing to.

An earlier outline would have listed all the ways they get in trouble in a scene. These days I just write, they get in trouble, then xyz happens.

I have always found it interesting how different poeple are about how they create a book. Thanks for blogging on such a great topic!

Anita Birt said...

Finally got to read your blog. I can't plot. Tried different methods and none worked. I also write in silence - except for the click click of my computer keyboard. I also can't write by hand in notebooks, etc. My thoughts are running way faster than my fingers. So the computer works best for me.

Who makes detailed bios of their characters?

Nina Pierce said...

Maggie - Isn't it interesting? Many of us become a blend of both worlds I think. Some heavier on one end then the other. I think it's just nice to know that there's no "right" way to write a novel. Thanks for stopping by.

Anita - I can't hand write either. I wonder if pantsers have similiar thought process in everything. And character charts ... lots of people do it. *shudders* LOL!

Anny Cook said...

Regarding Character charts/sheets/etc. I keep a set that I fill in at the end of each chapter with things I've mentioned about my characters. Blue eyes, tall, likes coffee, never wears shoes... things like that so I don't use the same things in another book and so I don't change eye color mid-way through the book--or the series.

jean hart stewart said...

I'm hybrid too. Keep a short bible for each book as to eye color, etc. Right now I"m starting the fifth book in my new series and haven't a clue where I'm going. Just have the characters...

Nina Pierce said...

Anny - I have a picture of my major characters and do the same thing. I do keep these in a notebook. I mean ... I'm a scientist at heart... I tend to be a little anal. ;)

Jean - I thought not knowing would make me noodgie, but after this class, I've realized it's what works for me.