Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! The awesome Silver James is here this week to share her words of wisdom for writers, and she really nails it! Now I have to decide if I'm still a plantser or if I fall into her new category.
Hi, Silver! Thanks for contributing to the new WTW series. Let's meet for coffee/tea (or something a little stronger) at RWA2015 in New York City!
Discovering Your Writing Process
When I started writing with a serious eye toward publication, there were two topics I heard and read a lot about: Voice and Writing Process. Voice is something you grow into. Writing Process is something you figure out as you go. There is a LOT of advice on which process works the best. For many, the discussion centers around three schools of writing style.
Schools of Process:
Plotters outline the entire book, every in and out and tangled web before sitting down to write. There’s a lot to be said for this style. The writer probably has personality sheets on all the main characters. Plot and character arcs are easily diagnosed and fixed before ever committing a word to page. It’s a map to the story the writer simply has to follow, layering in narrative and dialogue as they write logically through the outline. Plotters insist they never get writer’s block. If you are a planner and your brain thrives on logic, this is probably the process you’d be most comfortable with.
But there are those who rebel against such structure. They line up and wave banners saying, “Where’s the creativity?” and “Where’s the spontaneity?” Which leads us to the next writing style.
Pantsers sit down at the computer each day, waiting to be surprised, writing a book literally by the seat of their pants. Pantsers rely a great deal on their imagination. Some say their characters drive the story, revealing the twists and turns of the story as words appear on the page. There is flexibility in writing on the fly but there is also the possibility of getting bogged down in the story or losing your way.
Somewhere in the middle is the Plotser or Plantser, depending upon which school you start with.
Some writers are a combination of the two—the more exotic Plotser/Plantser (a term bandied about to describe that unholy marriage of the two main types). This type has an idea of who their characters are—the main ones, anyway. They know where the story starts and where it ends. For them, the fun is all the detours they take getting from Chapter One to The End. There’s much to be said for this school of writing process. You have the road map of the Plotter and the flexibility of the Pantser.
I tried outlining but discovered I’d deviated from the outline by…the end of Chapter One, usually, and almost always before I hit the middle of Chapter Three. I dabbled in the Pantser school but kept hitting roadblocks when my characters would rebel or, once again, the plot hit a dead end. I did get further with the WIPs—at least to the middle, which almost always sagged. Sagging middles are a topic for another time. Plotsing/Plantsing seemed the next logical step because I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters, sometimes before a plot ever suggests itself to me. Other times, I get the idea for a plot and then go in search of characters to make it work.
My process normally begins with characters in hand, the beginnings of their story, and a vague idea of where it things will end up. I sit down at the computer, open a blank document, type Chapter One, and start typing. The story usually unfolds organically, in a systematic way from Point A to Point B to Point C etcetera, until I type The End. Usually. Sometimes, a scene bursts into my imagination—the action unfolding like a Technicolor movie. Occasionally, I eavesdrop on conversations between characters that snap and sizzle—but has absolutely nothing to do with the scene at hand. Unfortunately, I seldom know where to put this stuff. Before Scrivener (my writing program of choice) I’d jot down the particulars on my white board and hoped I’d find a place to incorporate it in the story. The more I wrote, the more often this “scatter shot” method occurred. It’s like my brain has five or six “windows” open in its browser. That’s when I discovered a fourth category of writer, and one I think fits me perfectly. I am a Puzzler.
A Puzzler writes a book like they are putting together a jigsaw puzzle. They find the framework, then fit pieces together—pieces made up of characters, plot, setting, description, action, dialogue, elements pertinent to the genre, and pacing. When I work a real puzzle, I find all the straight-edged pieces and fit them together for the frame. Those pieces are my characters, my basic plot line, my start and my finish. Then I find pieces that either fit next to the frame, working from a corner out, connecting pieces as I go, or I find clumps of pieces that fit together as seemingly unrelated scenes. Those clumps “float” in the center of the frame until I discover where they fit. When I’m done, I have a complete draft. I’d written three books before I figured it out. I’m currently writing my 22nd book and I refine my process with each project.
When a new writer asks what method they should try, I suggest they use trial and error to discover which one works best for them. That’s the wonderful thing about Writing Process. There’s no one right way to do it. Try different methods. Combine them. Find what works for you. Because that’s the bottom line. It’s not about labels, it’s about finishing your project in a way you, as a writer, are most comfortable with. Understanding your process and utilizing it leads to creativity and productivity.
Silver James likes walks on the wild side and coffee. Okay. She LOVES coffee. Warning: Her Muse, Iffy, runs with scissors. A cowgirl at heart, she’s also been an Army officer’s wife and mom, and has worked in the legal field, fire service, and law enforcement. Now retired from the real world, she lives in Oklahoma and spends her days writing with the assistance of her two Newfoundland dogs, the cat who rules them all, and the myriad characters living in her imagination. She’s the author of two award-winning Urban Fantasy series, contemporary romances, and a time travel/reincarnation romance series. Please visit Silver at her website: http://www.silverjames.com.
Romance...With A Kick!