Writers usually fall under two differing categories, planners or pantsters. Today I am excited to have Diane Lynn Tibert, a self-described pantster, host my blog and explain her writing method.
Be sure to check out Diane’s blog after you read her post.
So, without further ado, here’s Diane.
Flying by the Seat of a Panster.
Planning is great when taking a two-week trip to Newfoundland. It’s important to make the boat and have a place to lay your head after travelling for more than eighteen hours straight. All sorts of mishaps can materialise during a totally unplanned vacation.
This is true for a novel, too. However, just like a vacation planned with every minute scheduled, a detailed outline with no room for changes inhibits some writers. In fact, some can’t function with every character move choreographed and they slam into a writer’s block. Others write, forgetting or pushing aside the outline they had spent days creating.
When asked who was a planner and who was a planster, I had to raise my hand to the latter. I’ve tried to be a planner, but it doesn’t work for me; I’m a roamer, crow follower and dilly-dallier. My mind is constantly turning, endlessly being teased by curiosity; things I experience during a day can drastically change the route my characters take from Point A (Chapter 1) to Point B (The End).
I’ve learned over the years that for me, planning is a waste of time. When I begin a novel, the only thing I know for sure is Point A and Point B. The rest is made up as I go along.
One reason outlines don’t work for me is that I don’t know my characters well when I begin a story. I know their name, general age, the colour of their hair, what they ate for breakfast and if they wear boots or go barefoot, but I don’t really know them. I could spend oodles of time doing character sketches and filling out analysis sheets, but I don’t know if their true self will be revealed. Personally, I feel I must fry pork chops in their kitchen, sleep with them in a bed of moss and bandage their arrow wounds before I can truly say I know them. I can’t do that filling in a character sheet.
For instance, I was convinced one male character was a simply thug, out for a little money and revenge when he helped kidnap a young girl. However, while creating scenes between him and the girl, he began to reveal subtle character traits. It was actually the girl who first realised his behaviour was similar to her father’s. It was as though they’d been trained for the same purpose. When I, too, realised this, I began asking myself: Did he serve at the castle? If so, why did he leave? Does he have family living at Maskil?
While I pondered these types of questions, I wondered: “What answers would build conflict, suspense and/or drama?”
Did he serve as a guard? Yes, because it has the potential to cause more problems for him and those around him who learn his past.
Why did he leave? Because . . . oh, I can’t share that with you just yet. Just know the reason he left is the same reason the girl’s father was almost killed.
Does he have family living at Maskil? Yes, and they hold very prominent positions.
Such questions never appear when I create an outline, but their answers almost always push a story in a direction I hadn’t planned. I can’t accurately answer these types of questions until I know my characters intimately. I don’t know my characters until I write about their daily activities, their challenges and how other characters interact with them.
HOWEVER: Once I’m a few chapters into a story, I have character sheets on hand to note anything of importance: hair and eye colour, hand dominance, notable scars, what stone they carry for good luck, family relations, etc. I use them to check the facts quickly.
AND: At some point in the novel-writing process, I write short stories for the main characters and for those I need to know better. They’re around 3,000 words long and are about a turning point in their lives. Through these stories — which take place before the novel — I get to know the characters as if I had grown up in the same house with them. I don’t write the stories all at once, only when the need strikes.
I’m not so concerned about creating a complete, stand-alone story that’s good enough to submit to an editor. These stories are raw, for my viewing only and delve deep into the emotions of the character in question. I’ll let them ramble, shout, get their hearts broken and throw eggs at their neighbour. By the end, character quirks are revealed, a voice is created and a little history that can be drawn upon has been written.
BUT I can’t seem to write these short stories until I meet the characters in the novel. Then, and only then, do I know the biggest secrets they are hiding in their past, one revealed to me further by creating character short stories.
For me, novel-writing is like riding on a wave of emotion: I’m not steering; I’m just along for the ride and recording what I witness.