Part Six: Mr. Random Messenger Meets Suspend-able Disbelief

One of the things planners often have less trouble dealing with is Mr. Random Messenger. Inexperienced (and sometimes experienced) “Seat of the Pants” writers occasionally feel like they’ve written themselves into a corner. The only perceivable way out is to introduce a twist to the story that solves the immediate problem. Sometimes, it’s the twist that ends up causing more trouble then the original dilemma.

Fiction depends upon your readers’ ability to absorb the world and the characters they are reading about. The most enjoyable fiction allows readers to step away from reality and feel like they can exist in this alternate world. They MUST believe that these characters could truly exist there. This requires an intimate balance called the willing suspension of disbelief.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Mark Twain

The suspension of disbelief is about creating extraordinary or fanciful elements in such a way that, despite being ‘out of this world’ or even ‘against the laws of Earth physics’, SEEM real in the reality you’ve created.

Who loved Doc’s Time Machine, the Delorean in Back to the Future? It was unbelievable. If your next door neighbor drove that pile of scrap into your driveway and said he was about to go into the future with it you’d probably laugh till you cry and tell him to stay away from the rum. It’s just NOT believable, in this reality. But, in Back to the Future we believed it. The story introduced this absurd idea and we WANTED to believe. Despite how absolutely crazy it was, viewers around the world suspended their disbelief because it made an incredible story.

When it comes to our novels it is important to ensure every element aids this feeling. However, Mr. Random Messenger can sometimes completely obliterate the suspension of disbelief. The truth is, as insane as the idea of a flying time machine car may be it was feasible in this alternate reality. If however, a freight jet fell out of the sky full of plutonian the minute Marty crashed into the barn after going through time it would have destroyed our ability to put our faith into that story. (Not to mention forcing an early close to the whole developing plot.)

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy

If you find yourself glaring at a dead end and need to throw a twist into your story it HAS to fit with what you have, it has to be realistic, it has to be explainable. Fiction, unlike real life, has to make sense. You can have fantastical things but in that fantastical world they have to be reasonable. Readers are fickle; they read for pleasure and expect certain things from the books they read. Readers are not stupid however, the moment they feel duped or let down they may put your book aside in favor of something more believable, something more involving, and something they can disappear into to leave their mundane lies behind.

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Mark Twain

Never give your characters and easy out. If it’s too easy, it’s not believable.
Never have a random event that doesn’t tie into the overall plot. If it isn’t related to the rest of your story it isn’t believable.
Never give your main characters a problem they can’t solve themselves. Your stars should do all the work. If a third grade Girl Scout, delivering cookies, gets them out of a situation it’s just not believable.

Having said all of this there are some genres that are built on Mr. Random Messenger. Comedy for example is rife with extreme odds and unexplainable happenings. Mystery on the other hand is all about the tightly woven threads of plot. Thrillers are best when we’re terrified of the axe murderer because he ‘feels’ real. Fantasy gives you a lot of leeway when it comes to imagination but ultimately readers want to exist in the alternate world we create for them.

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Watch out for Mr. Random Messenger. He can be a wonderful tool to get you out of a tight situation but he should be carefully monitored. Often he needs to be woven into the rest of the story. You may not need to worry about it so much in the first draft but he is something you should keep a sharp eye for in a second.

Take your readers on a journey. Give them a reality that is more real than real life. Truth is truer. Life is livelier. Everything makes sense and happens for a reason. That’s how fiction works.

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Plot Humps For Planners (Part Five)

While “planners” tend to know intimate details about their plots and characters this omnipotent knowledge can often prove more troublesome then the blind faith of “seat of the pants” writers. Many writers find their story and characters seem to take on a life of their own. Sometimes, that life simply won’t be boxed into pre-arranged plans. Like raising a two-year-old you have to be prepared for plot tantrums and the stubborn mind-of-its-own your story may develop.

Character Black Holes
Characters, just like living creatures, grow and change with time and experience. Sometimes, these changes are controlled by you, the writer. They’ve been written into the story and each of the conflict elements of the plot have been designed to bring about these changes.

No matter how much time you spend “getting to know” your character, however, you’ll continue to discover new and remarkable aspects as you write. These new details can lead your character down roads you never considered. Characters can come alive for you on the page and you’ll find aspects, even those you already set into your notes, will change to suit the altering image of the characters as they become more concrete in your mind.

The Missing Element
Human fallacy is normal. Regardless of the intricate and intense detail you added to your plot before you began there are occasions when you will miss vital elements that impact your novel and its characters. These may be points you never considered or that come about because of other changes that occur during the writing process. They could be related to your inexperience with a subject that arises in your novel or be connected to research you never uncovered.

An Unexpected Plot Detour
With changing characters come changing roads. While you might have planned a grand action scene in the fourth chapter you may discover as you write that you spend more time in other scenes. An opportunity for interesting character development may arise earlier that would be worth exploring or a character who had originally been invented to perform a small role becomes larger than life and deserves a greater portion of your book.

Devastating Consequences
These sorts of black holes, missing elements and unexpected detours cannot always be planned before you begin writing. You could ignore them and write on, strictly adhering to your original plot but forcing strictures on your plot or character can lead to devastating consequences.

DC 1: Shallow Worlds
A novel has a world all of its own. It’s an alternate reality that requires a writer to ooze a sense of existence into it. If your story is based in London then you need to echo London as you write but you haven’t really created London, you’ve created a fictional mirror of a physical place. The setting is enriched by the elements that get built into this fictional mirror and bring it to life, a world of its own.

DC 2: 2D Character
Adhering strictly to your original character details can leave your character without the integrity and depth needed for a fully realized character. 2D characters lack the elements that allow readers to connect and feel compassion for them. Readers have to care about your characters or they will not care what happens to them. Your original plan can create a sketch of your character but it never contains the multiple facets and depths your character develops as it takes on a life of its own.

DC 3: Ragged Plot
Forcing yourself to write the scenes planned without flexing to allow changes will leave you with a ragged plot. Even if every element was planned and laid in a perfect form, the mood of your scenes will feel disjointed and lack the continuity that a novel needs. Allowing yourself to flow with your story will help your scenes connect and tie to each other. Planning can strengthen your conviction to write but remaining in the rut of your plan when called to detour will tear the fluid consistency of your plot into ragged shreds.

DC 4: Writer’s Block
Finally, there is one significant sign that a writer is stubbornly refusing to bend to the will of their story or characters. It’s often named “writer’s block” and while it has many causes, planners suffer it greatest when they’re trying to force their story into the mold they originally created for it. The longer you try to write a scene that just doesn’t belong there the harder it will be to write anything at all. The more often you mention you characters dead father, when your character is firmly insistent that the father will appear in a later scene, the harder you’ll find it to keep writing.

The Solution
Ultimately, the only way to avoid these plot humps is to allow for change. True planners must learn to relax the stricture of their habits. Take on some of the easy-going tendencies of “seat of the pants” writers. The best writers find a balance in the two degrees that work best for them. There will always be challenges as you write your novel’s first draft; it is these challenges that strengthen our resolve and give our novels the depth and passion that readers (and publishers) are looking for.

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Part Four: When Wrong Turns Go Right

For ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writers, the map-less journey to your novel’s ending is filled with exciting turns and suspense-filled late night driving. For many, the way is lit by an inner inspiration and the beckoning call of our characters. Wonders unfold in unique and interesting ways. The journey is full of discovery and enthusiasm.

Sometimes however, we’ll find ourselves completely off course, down a wrong turn, experiencing bumpy terrain (cluttered with potholes and speed humps). Fear rises and it’s tempting to slam on the breaks to get your bearings or turn around in search of an easier road. These fears are, from time to time, well founded. If all your instincts are screaming, “You are going the wrong way!”, chances are, ‘you are’.

This is not ‘always’ the case however. On occasion, these wrong turns are actually going very, VERY right. So how do you tell if you’re on the road to your novel’s swift and gruesome death, or creating the path to a brilliant book?

The truth is, in the beginning you simply CAN’T tell. As a novice writer, what you think is a brilliant idea may be average or even dismal. Thankfully, every moment we spend writing, and reading, gives us the experience to know when we have something worth writing about.

Despite these early fumbles the best thing any writer can do when they feel like they have something worth saying, is to write it! If you’re mid-story and you feel yourself taking a detour, take it. You may not know where that path will lead or what you will end up with, but first drafts are not set in concrete. You can rewrite scenes, characters, even whole chapters, if it just doesn’t work for you. As you write, you develop the experience needed to make every future journey easier.

“One of the great joys to writing fiction is that the characters decide which actions they will take and they always surprise, anger, fascinate, disturb, delight me.” – Benita Porter, author of Outlaw Cravings, Colorstruck, and Skindeep.

Alternatively, you could track the concept in your mind. Rather than following the path with your pen, close your eyes and follow it with your imagination. This technique can be done in minutes rather than the days it may take to write these scenes. You can play the story out in your mind’s eye as if you were watching a movie. This may not be a particularly ‘seat-of-the-pants’ type approach but the advantage of ‘Mind Play’ is that you can play various scenarios through the hi-definition plasma of your mind’s eye and discover which you like best.

“I think this is what is so powerful about fiction. The writer enters a world to record the story, the action of that world, and it is full of twists and turns and revelations that surprise even the writer. A lot of times I don’t [have control of the story]. I have control of how I’m telling it, but not why. If I have an idea that I want to use, sometimes it feels like I’m shoe horning it into the book, so I step back and let the world of the imagination take over and guide me. And that place, inside all of us, where creativity is the engine and where ideas are born, never lets you down.” – Adriana Trigiani, author of bestselling and critically acclaimed, Big Stone Gap and more.

Alternatively, you could listen. Read aloud your work and hear the cadence of your words. Stories that work have a pattern and melody that helps create the motion of your story. Scenes that don’t blend well into the existing pattern are often signs of a detour gone wrong. When the music of your writing hums with life, you’ve got something worth keeping.

It takes practice to hear the language in your stories. Practice by reading, reread your favorite authors, read your favorite genres, read non-fiction, read the newspaper, read the cereal box. Learn to recognize unique voices and unique language structure. Listen to the unique composition of literature melodies and learn to develop (and listen to) your own.

Brian Evenson, author of The Wavering Knife, said, “The writing that I like best is a writing that gives the sense simultaneously of great authority with the language – of control – and the sense that the writer is as surprised by the direction he’s going as the reader is, that he suddenly feels he’s leaving everything behind but is willing to keep on going and see what happens because the language demands that of him. I think that’s achieved by an intense focus on the mechanics of the story, an attention to individual sentence, to rhythm and sound patterns carried out to such a degree that the dynamics of individual sentences occupy the writer’s mind and allows what’s subconsciously present to rise, unpredictably and appallingly, to the surface.”

The journey of your story is an adventure that will often keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s a wild ride. It’s scary and unpredictable. Even those who spend time preparing long before they begin writing often find the story takes them where they never expected if we leave ourselves open to these deviations.

Ultimately, it is openness and a willingness to ‘go with the flow’ that allows us to explore these alternate pathways through our stories. Strict planners can find themselves stymied when the story wants to go where they hadn’t planned. This is one of the reasons combining planner and pantser techniques are the most effective way to write.

Vicki Pettersson, author of The Scent of Shadows and The Taste Of Night, also describes this remarkable experience: “I _am_ sometimes surprised by the direction of the story, and have to rewrite my outline, or realign my thoughts accordingly. If it’s coming alive on the page, that’s what needs to be there. As for some sort of fickle muse, I don’t believe in the muse. “She” is too often used as a crutch. I believe in the work. And I believe in the individual writer. There are things out there that only _you_ can write – not me, not some nonexistent muse – and it’s your experience and imagination that breathes life onto the page.”

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Part Three: Street Signs For ‘Seat of the Pants’ Writers

One of the most daunting things a “seat of the pants” writer will frequently face is lack of direction. These writers start with an instinctive sense of what will make a good story. They may have a skeleton character concept or an intriguing ‘what-if’ situation and will run with the idea. Working in this way can be wonderfully freeing, the ideas flow and page after page fill.

Novels, however, are a marathon and this technique is better suited to short sprints. So how do you sustain your story when a myriad of dead ends, round-abouts, cul-de-sacs, and no through roads bar the way between the beginning and ‘the end’?

Pay Attention To Where You Have Been
When writing without a street map it’s important to keep track of where you’ve come from. Take note of significant details along the way. This will save you from having to backtrack. As ideas come to you, note them down. Forward ideas can help keep you moving when you’re unsure of your path.

Learn To Identify Signs
Novel writing is often formulaic. Once you’ve worked out the way the roads usually turn at any point you’ll learn to predict their coming. You might also notice your mental state changes at various points. If you learn to recognize these, you can be prepared to alter your course to avoid dead-ends.

Pull Over For Coffee
You may exert yourself writing a particularly intense few pages over a number of days or weeks. When your mind is exhausted it is important to give yourself a chance to recoup. Pull over for coffee, have a hot bath, go for a jog, iron laundry, or bake a cake. Do something that doesn’t require your mental process to give your mind some space. You’ll often find it fills with your story and you can return to writing, fully charged.

Ask For Directions
If you’ve written yourself into an endless loop and don’t know how to get out, ASK! While you mightn’t approach humans with your current project’s issues you should at least spend time addressing them with your characters. Sometimes, talking things over with your goldfish is enough to free your mind and see outside of the current situation. Perhaps have an interview with your characters and discuss where they feel the story has faltered and what can be done to rectify the situation. Don’t forget you can get help from the human factor as well; ask your friends and fellow writers for advice. Just talking about the issue is often enough to clarify the problem and find a solution.

Retrace Your Route
If these suggestions haven’t already set you back on course, retrace your steps. Read over your last few pages, or even further back if you need to. Focus on what brought them to this point and what your primary characters’ goals are. You may need to rework the current point and take a different route to get to a new destination.

The Road Trip Game (What If?)
Play the “What If?” game to decide where you could go from here. If you’ve come up against an intersection and don’t know which road to take, play it out in your mind. See the various options and run with them as a story concept to see where each will lead. You could even mark this point and choose any road at random, if you don’t like the outcome return to the intersection and choose a different route.

Take A Deliberate Detour
If there aren’t enough choices at an intersection or if you’ve snagged against a dead end and can’t bring yourself to turn around, it’s time to take a deliberate detour. Throw in a new plot element. It doesn’t have to work into the final draft. At this point you just need something to clear the way. If that means having superman fly in and rescue your characters from the teeth of a T-Rex, have this unlikely event occur. Free your character to continue their story and know that you’ll have the opportunity to clear that section up later.

Skip It!
Instead of taking a deliberate detour you can skip it. If your character is worked into a corner and has no way out, skip it! Jump right out of that situation and put them someplace else on the road. You don’t need to maintain a linear path. During the first draft it doesn’t matter if there are plot holes. You can fill those in later. For now, the important thing is to continue moving forward. Don’t labor over a pointless intersection, just write on, skip it and you can come back to it later.

For ‘seat of the pants’ writers the first draft is all about finding out what your story is going to be. It’s about getting to know your characters and walking a blind road. If you look to the street signs when you feel lost you will find the journey to your novels end far easier to face. You will keep moving forward and enjoy the adventure along the way.

Other Ways To Avoid Other Road Blocks
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Seat of the Pants vs. Planning (Part Two)

Two writing techniques, “Seat of the Pants” and “Planning”, expose writers to a wealth of opportunities depending on what works best for their individual preferences. As with all methods, there are advantages and disadvantages. One system will work for a particular writer but may not work for another. Finding a way to write (that works for you) involves a great deal of trial and error but finding your method and developing it, is the key toward successful productivity and an enjoyable writing experience.

“Seat of the Pants” AKA The Pantser
One technique some writers prefer is thought of writing from the seat of the pants. These writers start with a character or rough story concept and leap into the writing. Most of the time, these writers focus on the linear creation of their novel, from page one through to ‘the end’ but others find their creativity focused in random scenes which they put together like a jigsaw puzzle.

“Planning” AKA The Planner
These writers tend to spend time planning long before they begin to write. They get to know their characters, brainstorm about them, and become familiar with what they expect from their protagonists. Planners usually outline their story. They know their theme and story-worthy problem. They know how the book will end and they know at least the major steps on the path to getting there.

Which Are You?

  1. The Freedom to Just Write
    • Pantser Pro: Writing from the seat of the pants gives writers the freedom to let there imagination roam.
    • Pantser Con: The uncertainty and lack of direction can lead to writer’s block.
    • Planner Pro: Planners proceed with more confidence because they know where they’re going and they know what steps to take to get there.
    • Planner Con: These writers need time to focus on where they are and what each scene needs to accomplish to tie into the scenes around it.
  2. The Adventure of Discovery
    • Pantser Pro: Writers enjoy the journey of discovery, watching the story, plot and characters reveal themselves as they write.
    • Pantser Con: The plot can meander without purpose, be virtually non-existent, or not contain enough conflict, emotion and connection to be story-worthy.
    • Planner Pro: Planners have a story outline and include intricate details long before they begin writing. They have the opportunity to weave vital clues and connectivity into the plot from the first page of the first draft.
    • Planner Con: Already knowing the significant details can sometimes lead to a sense of boredom.
  3. The Ebb and Flow of Creativity
    • Pantser Pro: Writers can often experience extended periods of creativity that lead to pages of finished writing in a single sitting.
    • Pantser Con: These bursts are usually followed by inaction and stagnation.
    • Planner Pro: These writers often find it easier to find their flow. They tend to schedule time to write and get into a grove, developing the habit which allows them to write what they need to write when they choose to do so.
    • Planner Con: The structure and routine developed with careful planning can become repetitive or restrictive giving writers pressure to perform which often leads to writer’s block.
  4. Linear or Random Method
    • Pantser Pro: Seat of the pants writing lends itself well to both linear and ‘out of order’ creation that gives writers flexibility in both time and scene focus.
    • Pantser Con: Stories can feel piece-meal or disjointed if not carefully rewritten and well edited after the first draft.
    • Planner Pro: With their outline in hand, writers can choose which scene to write when and have the knowledge of the scenes that will eventually surround it to weave it into the story.
    • Planner Con: Planning can feel rigid. Planners may avoid following an instinctive urge to deviate from the outline and feel obligated to write a specific scene, even when it is not flowing for them.
  5. The Creation of Real Character
    • Pantser Pro: Seat of the pants writers enjoy discovering their characters as they develop slowly through the story and run less risk of revealing too much too soon or too little that readers never grow close to the primary characters.
    • Pantser Con: Sometimes, not knowing your characters can leave them without the depth needed to keep readers interested.
    • Planner Pro: Planning writers are familiar with their characters, know them deeply and predict their responses to situations. They often feel like dear friends and can develop a strong connection.
    • Planner Con: These writers run the risk of revealing too much or too little of the characters to readers, are so close to their characters that it becomes hard to “do what needs to be done” if the plot calls for their demise or even become candid, taking their character for granted or simply get tired of them.
  6. Structure and Discipline
    • Pantser Pro: This method allows writers to write when they feel inspired which often makes the process of writing much more enjoyable.
    • Pantser Con: Lack of structure and discipline can lead to an inability to plan ahead for deadlines or focus on other writing projects.
    • Planner Pro: Planning writers often feel a great deal of confidence. They know before they begin dedicating weeks to writing the first draft that they have a solid, worthy story to write. They also tend to be the sort of people who can structure their time and discipline themselves for regular writing.
    • Planner Con: Rigid structure and a logical approach may stifle creativity.

Do you know other pros and cons of the two techniques? What have you found works for you and what doesn’t? How do you deal with the disadvantages of your technique?

Have Your Say!

Planner or Pantser – Which Are You? [Quiz] (Part One)

Most writers have some idea how organized they prefer to be when writing but the techniques of “Seat of the Pants” writers can differ greatly from “Planners”. You might feel more comfortable with a routine and plan in your every day life but find this structure stifling to your creativity when you write. Maybe you go with the flow from day to day but need to have solid goals and plans to make progress with your novel. Take this short quiz to find out if you’re a Pantser, a Planner, or somewhere between.

  1. You get the idea for a character while washing dishes one evening.
    1. You immediately dry your hands, take note of every detail, branch off, brainstorm and freewrite to explore all the possible characteristics and potential stories this character could be involved in.
    2. You dry your hands and swiftly note down significant key points as memory joggers then return to the suds.
    3. You continue to ponder the character as you wash, rinse, and dry then write down your final findings and concepts.
    4. You think it over but continue with the dishes and decide to write about it at some unspecified time in the future.
    5. You go off (either immediately or after the dishes) and begin a brand new story with this character as the star.
  2. You’re asked to write a play for the Pre-Ks at the local community center.
    1. You stare at a blank page for a few hours (or days) then right before the deadline rush together a few pages the kids will have fun with.
    2. You go to the center, talk to the kids and teachers to get an idea of their interests, abilities, and individual characters.
    3. You head straight home and pull out a dusty script about your pet dog that you wrote in grade school.
    4. You craft an outline and consider the various roles and the ramifications of a moral theme.
    5. You scratch out the first page of a dozen ideas but can’t settle on just one for the kids play.
  3. You’ve just finished reading the final installment of a fantastically detailed trilogy.
    1. You are still ga-ga over the characters and the intricacy of the plot and have been totally swept away by the story.
    2. You allow your mind to play connect-the-dots with the plot and enjoy the intricate and careful crafting involved.
    3. You start experimenting with fan-fiction off-shoots because you’re hooked on the characters and want more adventures for them.
    4. You gape at the astounding beauty of the piece and give up writing because you “know” you couldn’t possibly match it.
    5. You start reading the books again; making notes in the margins and underlining notable passages, dissecting the book to see how the author accomplished it.
  4. Your midway through writing chapter five when you decide you really can’t stand your protagonist.
    1. You stop writing immediately, shelve the manuscript, and decide you’ll come back “someday” when you understand her better.
    2. You stop writing and start examining your mood, the more recent events, and the character to first determine why you no longer like him and then how to “fix” him.
    3. You keep writing and decide to see where she’s headed before you act.
    4. You keep writing but add a dramatic death scene within the next couple of pages turning your focus on a new or secondary character instead.
    5. You spend a short time giving your character an interview to discuss her thoughts and see if you can work out, together, what to do next.
  5. A new family move next door and you hear strange noises at night but see nothing of them during the day.
    1. You call the police to report the weirdos but later discover that the mother is simply a shift worker, the father’s a novelist, and the oldest child is a rap-loving teenager.
    2. You watch from your upstairs office window, trying to see their vampire teeth or wolves fur in the moonlight.
    3. You start playing the “what if” game and generate some great story ideas based on what this family could be if they were characters in a book.
    4. You start writing blog entries or shorts about them, each with a wilder explanation than the last.
    5. You go over, introduce yourself, offer a cup of sugar and hear all about their recent trip to Brazil and her obsession with photography – all fodder for your next book.

Tally Your Points:

  1. a. 5, b. 4, c. 3, d. 2, e. 1
  2. a. 3, b. 5, c. 2, d. 4, e. 1
  3. a. 3, b. 4, c. 1, d. 2, e. 5
  4. a. 3, b. 5, c. 1, d. 2, e. 4
  5. a. 3, b. 2, c. 4, d. 1, e. 5

  • 5 – 7 points [Pantser]
  • You’re a true Pantser. You can fly with any idea and love to leap before you look. You’ve got pages of stories started but rarely finished and love to play around with new concepts, tying it all together with creativity and an exciting flare for adventure.
  • 8 – 12 points [Pre-Pantser]
  • You’d love to throw caution to the winds but often hold back from just diving right in. You prefer to consider multiple options but can go along with any challenge and turn any good idea into a potential story.
  • 13 – 17 points [Middle Grounder]
  • You’re in the safe zone and often struggle to write anything at all. You enjoy exploring ideas but want to find the best ones and don’t like wasting time writing about things you aren’t passionate about. You’ll start stories with some planning but also enjoy the adventure of taking detours.
  • 18 – 22 points [Pre-Planner]
  • You like to do the legwork in your mind. You’ll sometimes plan things out and often have the basic map laid out in your head but keep adding to your plans and are flexible for changes. You generally have a solid destination in mind when you begin writing but aren’t sure of all the roads you’ll need to take to get their. You’re familiar with your main characters but often face blocks caused by being unsure what course they would most likely take in a given situation.
  • 23 – 25 points [Planner]
  • You like to brainstorm and outline every detail before you begin. You know your characters intimately and understand their deep motivations. You can be a little pedantic and often spend so much time planning and researching that you don’t leave enough to actually spend writing. When you do write you know exactly what to expect from every scene and work intricate details across our novel like knitting a sweater.

[Disclaimer: This quiz is not scientific and results may vary. It would be wonderful to share your results with you. What answers did you give and do you feel your result is accurate? Did you enjoy the quiz? Would you like me to put together more in the future? Would you like this one to be more detailed?]

[Note: You’re welcome to discuss the quiz on your own blog/website if you have one. If you do, please link to the quiz rather than copying it and post a comment with a link to your site/blog so we can visit you.]

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Plot Humps and Street Signs for Writers (Six Part Series)

Do you plan or pants your plot? There seem to be two slanting points of view when it comes to how much planning and preparation writers should take before beginning their novel. Some are firmly in the “Seat of the Pants” category. These writers start writing and enjoy the adventure of finding out what will happen right along side their characters. The “Planners” however, can only begin when they have a firm idea of their destination and at least a rough sketch of their road map to get them there.

In the following six part series I’ll discuss the various pros and cons of both techniques, offer tips on a few of the ‘dead ends’ seat-of-the-pants writers come upon, point out ways seat-of-the-pants writing can give depth regardless of your preferred technique, share advice for planners with plot humps and explain the close and dangerous rim between the ‘random messenger’ and the suspension of disbelief.

Part One: Are you a Pantser or a Planner?
Which one are you? Do you write character profiles? Do you struggle to find a title? Do you know what your protagonist’s story-worthy problem is? Try this quiz find out if you are a “Seat of the Pants” writer or a “Plot Planner”.

Part Two: Seat of the Pants vs. Planning
Deciding which strategy will work best for you is something you can only discover through trial and error. I lead a seat of the pants kind of life and yet wander about in a maze of insecurity when I try to write this way. Others need order and routine in their lives but the freedom and suspense of the unknown in their writing. Both techniques have their pros and cons and every writer tends to customize their technique to suit their personal preferences and lifestyle.

Part Three: Street Signs For ‘Seat of the Pants’ Writers
One of the downfalls of the “Seat of the Pants” technique is the myriad of dead ends, round-abouts, cul-de-sacs, and no through roads. Navigating the streets of your novel without a map can be scary. It can even lead your novel straight to the garbage tip. Sometimes you’ll need to follow the street signs, or at least find them along the way to make sure you’re still on course.

Part Four: When Wrong Turns Go Right
Part of the interesting benefit of “Seat of the Pants” writing is the wrong turn that goes very, very right. The excitement and adventure of the journey through your novel is often what many writers find most appealing and stumbling upon a detour or feeling like you’ve made a wrong turn can cause writers to slam on the breaks or shift into reverse. But what if that wrong turn, is a short cut to the real treasure, and an even better destination?

Part Five: Plot Humps For Planners
“The best laid plans of mice and men…” It’s a famous quote and seems very closely tied with Murphy’s Law. When you’ve laid out your map carefully and you’ve followed your directions exactly why do you keep slamming against that pot hole? It’s a plot hump, and all planners come across them, it’s time to learn to be flexible and take a note out of the wrong turns guide for “Seat of the Pants” writers.

Part Six: Mr. Random Messenger Meets Suspend-able Disbelief
One nasty enemy of the “Seat of the Pants” writer is “Mr. Random Messenger”. He’s the exploding volcano that sinks your enemies battleship just as they were about to blow you out of the water, or the assassin who took out that bothersome official who was barring your search warrant, or the anonymous lead that puts your squad in the right warehouse on the right dock at the right time. If it doesn’t make sense in the greater scheme of your story then the suspension of disbelief just went down the toilet.

I have to give my sincere thanks to Anne! Her comment/suggestion (September 16, 2007) sparked my interest and while I’m personally firmly in the “Planner” camp I hope these entries offer Anne (and all my readers) some useful strategies for dealing with problems when using your own writing styles.

Stay tuned for “Part One: Are you a Pantser or a Planner?” available Saturday 22nd of September 2007.