Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pity for the Pants

After reading through the chapters we were assigned, I can say that I am definitely an NOP. Well, to be truthful I'm actually a mix of the two types. I don't go through with specific intent to outline my novel, but rather jot down ideas as they come. I've got notes shoved just about everywhere, but I keep most of them on my iPod touch in the notes app. The scenes and other smaller ideas that I come up with usually come to me while I'm running through the story in my mind. I find that if I write an outline for my work, it instantly seems like work rather than fun, and that just seems insanely unfair to my characters. So what ends up happening is that I will come up with an idea for a story and then run with it by letting it play out in my mind like a movie. As I do this, other scenes fall into place, and I write them down as well.

The annoying part is that most of this happens right before I fall asleep. I've always had a habit of telling myself stories to get to sleep, so now I simply use my novel ideas, as they let me get lost in a different world. This works splendidly for that purpose, but there are times that I come up with a detail that I will forget by morning, resulting in far more plotting than I would actually like to do. That's probably a good thing however, as I spend less time simply sitting at the computer trying to think of the next scene. I have more time to focus on the characters themselves, and often even spend my spare time researching and looking for points of reference online. I even found a few actors who I would choose to play the part of my main characters! That seems to be how a lot of other people work through their novels, though maybe not in the exact same way.

After examining my methods of writing and plotting (or rather a lack thereof), I’ve decided that it would probably be a good idea to change my routine a bit. As it is, writer’s block happens quite often due to getting bored with the plot, and I find myself attempting to write less often than I did before.  I need to come up with a writing regimen like was mentioned in the text. It wouldn’t be plotting every detail out, so I wouldn’t feel like it had become a chore that I was required to do. What the regimen would do is force me to expand my ideas and get them down. Perhaps one of the several issues that prevent me from doing this is that I focus on the quality of my writing rather than quantity. I find myself wanting to create the perfect scene, to get it down on paper exactly how it appears in my mind. That’s all well and good, but trying to do so on my first attempt is foolish and wastes time. So in order to reach my goal of finishing my novels, not only for this class but for my own purposes as well, I will try to continue writing at least 2,000 words a week. It’s not a very hard quota to meet, but it will help me develop better writing habits.

The Stalling Queen...and then her subjects

Logan A. Mason

SIR (Issac Newton)

My pants are more like booty shorts

Alisha Layman

Let's just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!

So now that that's out in the open, I guess it's safe to say that when it comes to writing, I'm totally a plotter.  I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we're being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc.  I can't even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head.  I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I'll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out.  And then I'll come up with a beginning.  And then the ending. And then something right around the middle.  And when I've come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.

When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me.  Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it.  So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn't reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?

Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience Writer's Block that thing where I can't come up with any more ideas.

This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
Terry Pratchett

This isn't always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That's why I don't see myself as a strict plotter. I don't plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I'm not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I'd rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word.  As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don't want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.

Redefining Writing

James Gartner

        I had finished two drafts of novels before I took my first creative writing class.  People still argue about teaching writing, and some believe that writing is something that can't be taught.  They should try and read those ancient drafts and see what they think then.  Of course, I'm sure that more things than merely education have contributed to my writing.  I did write far more regularly back in those days, but then, everything was more regular then.
This book is very helpful whether you're
a pantser or a plotter.
     Needless to say, I had never heard of "pantsers" and "plotters" when first I started writing.  I just did what I felt like doing, usually starting off just writing and making stuff up as I went, and maybe outlining a few things later on.  I used to picture my story as a kind of movie then, and I still do sometimes.  I'm a very visual person and I'm studying film as well as writing.  As I write more, I tend to see things a little differently.  Pantsing seemed to work out all right, but then I'd go back and look at my work and find all kinds of problems.  But what trouble is that?  It was just a draft, after all.  Yet every time I plugged one hole, something else opened up.
       So, ninety pages into a new draft of a new novel, one I'm considering working on for this class, I decided to start fresh and try and build a solid foundation before I begin to write.  I'm trying to be more organized.  But I'm young, and I've always found trial and error to be effective if time consuming, so I'm trying something and seeing how it goes.
       I think that's also some of where I get blocked up when I'm trying to write.  As I'm looking ahead, I'm thinking I'll probably do lots of different outlines.  Just let things go and see where they end up, then shuffle some things around and start again.  Eventually my outlines will look like one of those choose your own story books probably, but it's an experiment.
       In my last blog post I talked about being a binge writer.  That typically goes with being a pantser.  And honestly even if I have outlined something, the details of the scenes come as I write, at least so far.  Sometimes that takes me in different directions from where I had plotted, but I'm pretty flexible.  The problem with writing a novel is that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you're wrong.
Redefined implies that there is nothing more to do.
Perhaps a better slogan would be "Redefining Education,"
but maybe that was already taken.
       So I'm still searching to improve the way I go about writing long projects.  Who knows if I'll ever be satisfied.  I don't always stick to a certain path, even if it works.  Most of the excitement is in the experiment, in the search.  There always might be something better (which, by the way, is particularly frustrating when writing because I'm never really satisfied).  I don't think anyone is too old to keep learning.  Then again, I'm young, so that's easy for me to say.
       Perhaps I should have put this disclaimer toward the top, but if you came here looking for advice, you'll find that I'm still figuring things out myself.  Check out the other posts on #amnoveling and you may find what you're looking for.  In addition to Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell also has a blog.

Artist vs. Editor: The Battle of Outlining

by Chase Stanley

Throughout the span of my creative writing experience, I’ve fallen under the impression that my writing style has reflected that of a pantser, a “no outline” person. Upon reading a segment written by James Scott Bell about plotting systems, I’ve learned that this is indeed true, though there is a certain grey area that has been opened for analysis.
            As detailed in his chapter on plotting systems, Bell discusses both techniques, that of developing an outline pre-writing, and that of winging it. As he describes it, “no outline” people “love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.” He describes the joyous act of writing by the edge of your seat with the metaphor of falling in love every day, an emotion I often feel when typing up a storm. I type quickly, randomly, nonchalantly and without a care. He then addresses the other side of said approach, the insecurity that results without a steady roadmap and a potential danger of never hashing out a sturdy plot.
            I’ve yet to ever give this threat proper thought, choosing instead to rely on instinct and freshness rather than appropriate structure. This quickly grew into concern, but Bell reassured me that neither the organized, outline style nor the winging it style are wrong. It merely depends on the individual and the varying degrees of comfort therein.
He describes different approaches that every writer can benefit from, yet encourages everyone to try out different styles for the sake of their work. By reviewing these techniques, I’ve found that I am more a mix of the two, leaning more so on the winging it side though able to construct my own system that will benefit my individual needs as an aspiring author.
Similar to the system he outlines for “outline people,” I do prefer reviewing material in hard, paper copy instead of giving myself a headache spending countless hours on the computer where, after awhile, the words begin to blend and appear the same. I enjoy physically going through my work, pen in hand, and editing the old-fashioned way before returning to the computer and making the changes. Bell also notes in the same section that flexibility is key and you must always be ready for “bursts of genius.” I often prepare ahead of time for said “bursts,” making a habit of carrying a mini-notebook in my back pocket, allowing myself to be flexible wherever I may be.
With that said, attempting to stay completely organized, at least in my experience, is feat not worth the headache. Before long, the storyboard will have proven itself too confusing and another hassle to hurdle. I'm fueled by the guarantied randomness of chaos. For the “no outline” people (aka my kind of people), Bell recommends setting a daily quota and not allowing yourself to do anything else until you meet said quota. A challenging request for us spontaneous, spur of the moment types, but a necessity for the sake of accomplishment.
My prior method has always been a bloody battle between my inner artist and inner editor. They constantly engage in combat though the artist, a stubborn warlord, usually wins out. I need to better establish a sense of control, allowing the artist to run wild then shutting him down, thus allowing the editor to approach the battlefield and clean up with no interference. It has always proven to be a difficult transition, though it may be possible by incorporating the best of both styles.

To Outline or Not to Outline? That is the Question.

Rianne Hall

There are three rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
-W. Somerset Maugham

There are outline people and no-outline people in the world of writing. Planners and pantsers. And the truth is, both have been successful. But which one are you? How do you figure this out? Is there a right and wrong, here?

Upon reading a few chapters from James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure, I have discovered a few things about outline and not outline people. Not outline people enjoy the act of writing. They enjoy the whimsy of letting their writing take them wherever it feels they need to go. They love not knowing where they are going, and can't wait to see what happens. Outline people are different. They need a structure and to be in charge of where their writing takes them.

Here is the man without the plan,
Ray Bradbury.
R.I.P :(
Since the beginning of my writing experience, I have been a pantser. I have always gotten a thrill from beginning with an idea, developing a character, and letting my imagination go wild. The outcome of this story is a surprise, even to me, and I love that part of being a pantser. I'm discovering, for me, this technique only works for stories that are shorter than ten pages.

As I begin to think of myself as a novelist, this is not the case. I need to have an idea of where my characters have come from, where they are going, and where they will end up. I need a method to change my characters or move them from one place to the other. I have to develop some sort of outline to get myself started.

But this does not make me a planner.

I still need that thrill of mystery when my characters take me somewhere I did not expect. I still need a surprise in my stories. If this does not happen, I lose my love for writing. I lose interest in my story and hate myself for letting that happen. At the same time, I need a general plot. A plot that will keep me writing, intrigued, and, most importantly, keep me focused on where I want my characters to end up. So where is the balance? I've come to discover that planning does not need to take away the thrill of mystery and surprise with writing, but rather give order to those surprises.

Something I have discovered works wonders for me is to skip around, and plan different plot points with whimsy. Do not pay attention to how this is all going to come together and the end, but develop each main plot aspect you want to include with zeal. Then, I understand where each plot point is going, and when all is said and done, I really do not know how these plots will interact, or even if they will make sense. To me, that is why we edit our pieces.

Am I a pantser? Sort of. Am I a planner? Maybe.

Here is my point. Do not define yourself as either an planner or a pantser. Do both! Have methods, not labels. Have experiences and learn from them. If you do this, I promise you will be happy with your writing style.

Does It Really Matter?: Plotters, Pantsers, Outlines, or No Outlines

Brent Smith

Outline person or no outline person? Plotter or a pantser? These are pretty important questions in all walks of writing, as it determines literally everything about style, structure, and how long one spends actually constructing their story.  I’d posit that the terms themselves don’t even matter. As writers, we all crave the best and most efficient way to tell our stories. No two people work the same however. This is the great thing about working in a classroom with fourteen other writers. I’ve been able to see first hand, and talk to others in a small, controlled environment about process and it’s pretty easy to determine that writing process might as well be as deeply infused and unique as the very DNA they possess.
The Pantser's bookcase/computer chair
            “Well, where do you sit on this line?” you may be asking (I hope, because I’m telling you anyway!). I personally believe I have a pretty unique approach to the process as I do a unique mix of plotting, pantsing, outlining, and not. It’s easy to begin with how well I organize my own life. Let’s just say that my method of organizing is…unique to say the least. This isn’t to say I don’t know where anything is. My delicate filing system usually just begins at my floor and ends on my coffee table. This behavior used to concern me as burgeoning writer, because I assume all writers were hyper-organized people who had their stuff together. Then I met a few of them. While a lot of them are those hyper-organized types, there are plenty of us who aren’t and produce equally tangible work. I like to begin any large piece a free write, exercising my characters, their wants, and needs. I like my characters to meet at the bar, like actors before a big movie. They grow familiar with each other, and understand what makes each other tick. I then save those free writes to a very dark place at the bottom of my Dropbox folder hidden within ten other Dropbox folders, and the show begins.
Okay, so I'm not totally chaotic. I still plan a little.
            I’m not completely lawless though, when undergoing large projects I will sketch very rough outlines but these usually consist of one or two sentences. My notes on my iPhone are about as packed as can be with one or two word descriptions of things I’ve observed. I do this so when I read these things later, I have an excuse to break away and reinterpret my own thoughts. I can break this back down to process being different for everyone. Due to growing up in a family that deeply infused micromanaging smaller situations for the better of the bigger picture, I’ve developed a sense for how the smallest ripples can foretell a tsunami. I think in these terms on the fly, and it’s very easy for me to establish elements in my work.
            One of the most prolific poets of recent memory, Charles Bukowksi, was also questionably organized. According to his almost four hours of interview footage in The Bukowski Tapes he did not identify as a worker because he didn't want people to assume he was doing another 9-5 to job. He considered the process much more chaotic than that, and many people called him a bum. He also famously said during the tapes that he wrote as the words came because he wanted to "write down the words the way they were supposed to be". This is a pretty important lesson. This isn't to say that organization is by any means the devil, but  in my, and Bukowski's experience, it can ultimately stifle the initial message.
            What all of this really goes to show you is that if you feel like you can’t be a writer because you don’t hyper-organize your life, or you feel like your process is just too unkempt comparable to others, I’d suggest you just shut up and write. Plot it, pants it, outline it, or don’t. While it’s good to analyze and accept what kind of writer you are, these terms don’t really matter. It’s just as good as anyone else, because there is no wrong way to plan. To try and subvert that is stifling your voice. Embrace the chaos, let it come out in your work, and keep writing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Black or White? Um... Grey?

by Gaoly Thao

No Outline People or Outline People? If I had to choose which one I was, I would have to say I'm in between the two, but my radar is probably leaning towards the "No Outline People" more than the "Outline People" If I think about it really hard and look back at my writing style, I would be more of a NOP than an OP. It's surprising because I like to be organized and write down my schedule or what I need to do for the day. However, when I am writing, I don't really plan out my story or plot and just write whatever that comes to mind. I may have a few notes as to what I want to happen or something, but I just wing it. Is that bad? 

Well, James Scott Bell mentions in Plot and Structure, "Some fresh writing, yes. but where is the cohesion? Some brilliant word gems flash, but they may be scattered over a plotless desert"(153). I felt like a bat hit me. I tumbled over, slamming my hand on the ground and started laughing after I read that sentence. He hit it right on the mark. It is true that I don't plot or outline my story and just write it out, but some of those scenes become useless, or I don't even know why I wrote them. In the first place Also, I sometimes write scenes that are very similar to existing ones, which frustrates me.  It makes me think, well, what was I thinking? So I was shocked to see that it is true and I should do something to fix it, which Bell does mention in that chapter of how to improve or change your ways of writing your story. I find his points really useful and I think it will help improve my writing, which I am really looking forward to.

Some of the points that Bell mentions, that I think that are useful, are “Set yourself a writing quota,” “One day per week, record your plot journey,” “The David Morrell Method,” and “The Borg Outline.”

“Set yourself a writing quota” (156)
            When I began writing, I never had a set quota for my stories. Whenever I felt like writing, I just began to write, or when ideas came to mind, I quickly grabbed a piece of paper/ notebook and jot down those ideas. When my professors told me I should set a quota for writing or write everyday, I thought, “Huh? What a great idea. I’ll do that.” …Obviously I didn’t and I’m still stuck with not writing everyday. So I stuck up on my cork board a piece of paper that would inspire me to write… that didn’t work as well. (shakes head) I guess I need something to push me until I get this idea wrapped around my head and do it. The idea about not leaving your desk until you finish your quota got me. Also, the idea of writing right after you just woke up struck me. I think I will try it out and see how it will result as. I’ll start slowly and work my way up. Hopefully I’ll be able to write about 1,000 words a day, but I’ll start with 500 words or so…

“One day per week, record your plot journey” (157)
            This idea never occurred to me. I thought about plotting out what will happen in my story, but this idea of writing out what I wrote for the past week, was like a light bulb going off. I think it is a fantastic idea and I think it will really help me plot out my story. Plus it let’s me keep on writing and it’ll help me summarize what I wrote. It will be notes I can refer to later if needed.
“The David Morrell Method” (165)
            I have no idea who this David Morrell guy is, until Bell mentioned him. Bell said he liked Morrell’s Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing. When Bell described how Morrell you dive into your story and understand it fully by asking yourself questions. It intrigues me and I think I will try this method as well. I think by asking myself questions about why I’m writing this story will give me a whole new insight of my story.

“The Borg Outline” (166)
            I have to say, this method/outline is really long. It seems like it is time consuming and will need to be worked on for hours and hours or days and days. Most of the points Bell made, were very helpful, but I think that if I wasn’t so busy with school, and I just had to focus on writing my story, I would be able to do The Borg Outline. Plus, I’m not entirely or a pure OP, so this idea will be floating for a while until I get everything settled.

As a writer, I still need to work and develop my writing skills. I love writing and hope I can do it for the rest of my life. I think being in between a NOP and an OP provides great possibilities if I keep on working on my writing. Being GREY might not be such a bad idea.

Thinking in Movies (and then writing)

by Tom Carreras

When I was a child, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. I was really into writing my own stories and drawing the characters that inhabited my imagination so that others could see. For some tragic reason, once I hit 7th grade, my writing desire all but vanished, and I didn't write any stories until my senior year of high school, where I wrote a short story (16 pages) for my philosophy class. I loved it, writing by the seat of my pants (and procrastinating a bit to boot!) and loving it. Earlier in high school, probably around my junior year (and crescendo-ing into college), I became extremely interested in film. My personal film collection grew to be ridiculously large, I started to learn the names of too many films, directors, actors, actresses, and screenwriters (and other film trivia pursuit info), and I watched movies. Many, many movies.

So many movies...
All of this is to get to my writing method. Since becoming (after some flippy-flopping) a Creative Writing major at the start of my sophomore year, I have noticed that a lot of the way I like to write is in my mind. I enjoy thinking about scenes from stories I am developing - imagining them as live action films.

This mind-filming process of mine is typically coupled with plot outlining. I do like the surprises and changes that can come about from pantsing; however, I typically like having some sort of outline down, if anything so I can visualize more of my story in my head. I have not really used sticky notes or note cards much before for story-plotting purposes. I prefer just writing plot points in short paragraphs.

In planning out the novel for this class, I already have a feeling that there is going to be an exciting mixture of pantsing going on. I think that a balance of the two makes for a lot of fun - it gives me direction yet leaves room for exploration and improvisation.

Here's to a well-plantsed novel!

The Labyrinth and the Key

By Adam Gulla
For some, plotting is a labyrinth.

                Plot. A simple word cherished by some and hated by others. One writer’s heaven, another writer’s expressway to hell.

                For some, plotting is a labyrinth--a confusing and complicated web that brings about the death of a story like victims of the Minotaur, as the Greek myth goes. For others, plotting is the key that unlocks the story from the shackles of aimlessness. Plotter vs. pantser.  

                I have to say, I’ve been a bit of both, with a strong preference for plotting.
                When I was a kid and first started weaving stories that burned and blossomed in my mind like supernovas, I had no care or concern for plotting. I knew how the story started, I had an idea of how I wanted it to end, and everything else would come to me as I went along. Nothing was ever set in stone, a very liberal process. Anything could change at any point; it made no difference to me, so long as I found the story entertaining. In light of this, my tales went anywhere and everywhere. Aliens, monsters, robots, pirates, knights, alternate dimensions, time travel—anything. My creations entertained me, but it’s safe to say those free form products of my wild imagination would get a laugh and smirk if scrutinized today.
                As I got older, I added a slight touch of plotting to my process. I’d sketch a few key components of a story or a poem. I scrawled an outline or two. But that was the extent of my “story architecture” at that time. From there I let the words fly across the expanse of pages. They took my writing to many great places, and many terrible ones.      
                About two years ago I started my first “big” writing project—a spec script entitled “Cross Bronx Expressway.” As it was my first real experience writing anything of large proportions, I didn’t know where to begin. So I just started writing. After a few weeks I’d accumulated around thirty pages of scratches and scrawls and sketches and realized: this clutter needs structured. That was my first true initiative to plot. Over the next few months I had filled a binder with over 130 pages of notes and character backgrounds and scenes.
                Satisfied I had done my preparations, I wrote my first draft of my spec script. It came out to 185 pages (the average spec script running 120). Obviously, mine was too long, so I went back through and revised. After scanning my notes I figured out that I had not really plotted at all. What I’d done was slap a bunch scenes together, scenes which I’d written on the fly, with no sense of direction or structure, just a rambling story. 

                  It was then that I bought the book “Save the Cat!” It completely redefined my understanding of story structure and plot. Even though it is a book on screenwriting, I highly suggest writers look into it, as it offers sound advice that can be used in all writing forms.
"The Board," a very useful tool in structuring my biggest projects.
                I had other screenwriting books as well (“The Screenwriter’s Bible” being one of them), but “Save the Cat!” really helped me understand the idea of a 3 act story, major plot points, and story structure. It also gave me the idea of “The Board”—a cork board I use with note cards to structure my biggest projects.
                After reading the book, I went back to work on my script, with strong attention to plotting. I nailed in an inciting incident, a mid point, etc. I laid out all the scenes, the basic idea of each one etched on a note card. I rearranged them on the board and was able to visually identify how each affected the other, what points were lacking, what segments needed polished. 

                After doing this, I sat back down to write my second draft. It came out at 115 pages. Not only was the 2nd draft crisper, the whole process was smoother and faster. Plotting helped me to achieve that.
                I have since outlined and plotted most of my projects. It helps me save time. It helps me get most of the scenes and structure right on the first attempt. I still let things go wherever they want to now and then, as it keeps the scenes and stories fresh. I never hold to the idea that everything in my stories are etched in stone, that way I'm not attached and won't feel guilt when I have to polish or remove the faulty parts.
                There are many writers who don’t plot. Stephen King is one of them. He expresses his views in this article.
                This blog offers great insight into the advantages and disadvantages of plotting.
                Ultimately, there is no “right way.” Plotter or pantser, it’s whatever fits your writing style best. As for me, I’m a plotting convert, but I think each project can be tackled in a different way. I like to keep an open mind, and I’m sure I’ll use a combination of both throughout my writing.