Plotter or Pantser?

I love chatting with other writers. I learn so much.  Recently over at Steampunk Empire, one of our members created a group called: Scribblers Den. Less than a few weeks in and I am finding the varying discussions very useful and inspiring. One was the simple question: Pantser or Plotter?

A what? you say.  I first saw these terms coined in NaNoWriMo. A plotter (or planner) outlines their story in varying detail. A pantser free writes - by the seat of their pants, if you will. This post is based on my reply.

I am essentially a pantser. But...

I get an idea - a feeling or atmosphere I want to create. I know the basics - the main character, something happens, how I would like it to end. I make notes on various scenes I can see in my head. Often the characters change the story.

I have tried to plot an entire story. At the time, I had been reading a slew of blogs and writing advice regaling the advantages of complete story outlines. I felt compelled to give it a try. I felt constrained. The characters complained. I was a grumpy sod the entire time I wrote the story. I could not wait to finish it. It suffered. Full on plotting was not for me.

Note: I do have an admission: the more I write, the more notes I make. I have to; the story keeps getting more complicated. Some threads need to be documented so they don't end up remaining unraveled. This could be construed as plotting. I do not deny it.

I have boxes and folders for notes for specific chapters or events of my manuscript (and other stories). These notes get shuffled around into whichever box I think they may fit into at the time. This provides a rough sketch for various chapters and what events may (or may not happen) - along the lines of: 'Ch A:heroine finds clue/discovers some background. Ch B:Big Bad has minor win/escapes. Ch C:Explosion. who survives? how? Ch D:Chase ensues. Ch E:Heroine is betrayed.' Sometimes Ch A will end up being Ch F, as the Big Bad decides Ch E is his first concern. (Follow?)

The first chapter I wrote - the one that got me hooked on writing my current manuscript - The Department of Curiosities - was actually intended to be Chapter 2. It has now been pushed to possibly Chapter 11 (subject to change).

When I start a chapter, I read all my notes. I keep some and move others, depending on how the story has changed. Some get ditched into my 'maybe some other time' box. Sometimes I ignore all the notes and just go with the flow. I may write some vague notes on the antics events for the current chapter and possible consequences for future chapters. Occasionally this may mean the 'exact' events of the ending changes (though the basic essence and feeling of the ending, and the fate of the protagonist has remained the same).

This makes for slow writing but I have been much happier allowing my characters more flexibility. I feel less claustrophobic. I have more fun. I can play with the words. It is more cathartic. I find I get more interesting plot twists and machinations.

That is me. A mostly-pantser who tries to reign in the chaos with occasional plotting, who gives into the cacophony  (I love that word!) of voices in her head.

organising boxes

A bit like my gardening.

Of Dust, Allergies and Chapter Beginnings.

I last provided an update of my progress (and favourite passages) to Chapter 6 - in Of Rewrites, Camps and Villians. I have been remiss. The first drafts of Chapters 7, 8 and 9 are now complete (and awaiting a rewrite and beta reading.)

Last week, the weather took a turn to the horrendous. The wind was blowing down from the north, bringing with it heat, dust and more dust. I had battling sinus and puffy eyelids and prepared myself for the horrors of the South Australian summer that is looming.

Through streaming eyes I managed to get the first (and larger scene) in Chapter 10 almost completed. Then days of procrastination and allergy-induced lethargy ensued. At last there was a return to the cooler weather, and writing. I could breathe.

The story so far: (55.7% of projected first draft is now completed)

  • Chapter 7:  Of Lies, Damned Lies and Treachery (4300 words) Dilemma #7: A certain character's name is still eluding me! Favourite passage so far: 'Tillie rolled up the sleeve of the borrowed Chinese robe. The unconventional outfit had proven very comfortable when sitting for hours at the desk. She fancied such an ensemble would also prove quite useful in future assignments/adventures. What would Aunt Prudence say to that? Tillie snorted softly.'
  • Chapter 8:  Of ? , Photographs and Paranoia (5628 words) Dilemma #8: Keeping the middle of the story interesting and completing the chapter title without revealing too much. Favourite passage so far: ''You are pale.' he said as his gaze roamed over her face. 'You look like you have seen a ghost.' "You know very well, there is no such thing as ghosts, Professor Allington," she replied. 'Oh dear,' the Professor said, as he stepped towards her desk. Tillie swallowed. Had she left something behind? 'What have you done to your dress?' Tillie let out a slow, quiet breath. 'Ah, yes.'
  • Chapter 9:  Of Manipulations, Revelations and Reunions (5052 words) Dilemma #9: Why is my favourite character the Bad Guy? I need to change the Professor's name. My favourite passage so far: "Have you ever been to the seaside?" he asked. Tillie's eyes widened. She remembered playing in the sand as a child. Not in England, but Egypt, during one of the many adventures with her father. "We could take the train to Southend," said the Professor. Tillie's gaze dropped to the floor in disappointment. Not Egypt? she thought. The corner of the Professor's moustache dropped with his smile. He wrapped his arm around Tillie's shoulders. "How thoughtless of me, Miss Meriwether. You must be exhausted after such an ordeal. I shall have to get you home to a comfortable bed." "Should you?" said Tillie. Professor Allington dropped his arm from around her shoulder. His face glowed red. "What I meant was..." "Thank you, Professor Allington. I do need some fresh clothes." Tillie smiled. Egypt could wait for another day.'
  • Chapter 10:  Of Assignations, Suspicions and Escape. Chapter ?:  Of Trains, Dirigibles and Steamships. – First draft: 2100 words so far (incomplete) – This was the first snippet to follow The Guest Upstairs and specifically written for this manuscript. It signifies a significant change in the story.
The Department of Curiosities - Manuscript Word Progress: (55.7% first draft) Total Words:   At 1st draft only: Revised Words: 

Of Projects – The Long and the Short.

Yesterday was my  birthday. I was home alone; I had no one to answer to. I could decide to do whatever I wished. I decided to drink tea, eat chocolate, listen to my new The Cog is Dead CD, and write. The most difficult decision was what to write.

I have a few projects on the go right now:
  • The Day of the Dirigible, part of The Adventures of Viola Stewart series. This short story is a prequel to Doctor Jack. It is the first story in  a collection of steampunk short stories based on a character - Viola Stewart. She is a Victorian era oculist/optician (women were not yet allowed to practice as doctors).  I am currently doing final rewrites.
  • My second Adventures of Viola Stewart work-in-progress is Doctor Jack. It is currently a 35K word first draft novella. Jack is a darker steampunk story - more of an alternative history. This is now in the hands of my first beta reader and will be heading into the first round of rewrites.
  • The Department of Curiosities. This is a novel length WIP manuscript . Currently, the first draft is just over 46K - 54% complete! This is a steampunk novel with considerably more intrigue. We meet Miss Mathilda (Tillie) Meriwether as she joins The Department of Curiosities.
  • My final (current) WIP is The Wizard of St Pauls (name to be confirmed). This is a gaslamp/paranormal steampunk novella. I am only jotting down ideas and a possible outline  for The Wizard, as this is earmarked for NaNoWriMo in November. I can't start the actual manuscript until November 1st. You can find inspirations on my Pinterest page

birthday stash 2014smI think another cup of tea is in order. Then I get dinner and chocolate cake (and maybe a movie) with the family. My day is set. Enjoy your day.

Right: Some of my birthday pressies: all the fun things, including a Monty Python sketch birthday card, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Shakespeare, octopuses, steampunk - The Cog is Dead. The Department of Curiosities - Manuscript Word Progress: (54.2% first draft) Total Words:   At 1st draft only: Revised Words: