Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From Pantser to Plotter by Victoria Chatham

Every writer falls into one of these categories, some writers may be comprised of a little of both. When I started writing I was definitely a pantser, the type of writer who sits in front of a computer and goes with the flow. As long as I had my characters, the rest would take care of itself, right? Well, not exactly.
My first book held marked similarities to raising my first child. Regardless of what I thought, I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing. To say I struggled with that first book is putting it mildly. At one point I had followed every lead my heroine gave me and finished up writing about her grandmother in pre-war Montreal
and how, pregnant and alone, she ended up in war-torn France fighting with the resistance forces. Great stuff, even though I’m blowing my own trumpet here.
However, that was not the story I was writing. I was writing a contemporary western romance.and badly at that. Had I taken the time to consider more than just my characters I would have saved myself a great deal of time. I’m not a fast writer, and when I realized how much time I’d wasted, I went back to the drawing board as it were.
Yes, I had my characters. They usually present themselves to me fully formed. I know their names and what they look like. Next is to fill in their character questionnaire, even complete a character interview. I know my characters well by this stage but throwing them on the page and expecting things to happen just didn’t work. I found writing historical romance or fiction easier in that I simply looked up the year (god bless Google), to see what major events were taking place world-wide and went from there for my background but it still wasn’t exactly a plot, more of an idea.
When I started writing my soon-to-be-released contemporary western romance, Loving That Cowboy, I soon ran into a brick wall. I’m sure many of you will know what that feels like. The words were just not there. It wasn’t writer’s block per se, more like this writer’s ineptitude. After one very frustrating day when I wanted to File 13 all ten pages I’d managed to produce, I was ready to give up. That was when I became a plotter.
I sat down and started from scratch, looking at my two leading characters and figuring out how to get them together and listed dozens of ‘what ifs?’. All that took time, but as I reached each plot point I noted it on a pink post-it and stuck it on my white board. Very pretty it looked too. Not only that, there was great satisfaction in removing the post-its as I reached each plot point. Now I really felt that I was getting somewhere. Sure there was a fair amount of rewriting on the way, but that is inevitable.
I also went back to several of my craft books, especially Deborah Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict. She recommends watching six specific movies to illustrate her lessons. Great. I love movies. I spent a week watching some of those she recommended and some I chose to work with to determine how much I'd learned. I wrote notes, I went back to the book Save the Cat for more on plotting within the three act structure and finished up that week revisiting Techniques of the Selling Writer. Thank goodness I held on to those books when I packed for my last move.
Having tried both methods, I think from now on I’ll be doing much more plotting instead of relying on my characters to take me somewhere. How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or maybe a bit of each?

For more information about Victoria go to: