Today I’m happy to welcome author C.C. Harrison as she shares some great writing advice.
I always knew I wanted to write books. But I’m dedicated to method and process in my non-writing life, so before I wrote my first book, I searched for the tried and true book writing system. I was convinced there was a formula all published authors used, I just had to find it. Along the way, someone told me that all one had to do was sit in front of the computer and type the word “the” and the rest of the story would flow.
You can imagine what resulted from my sitting and staring at that word.
Eventually, I found there was no one right way to write a book, and I set out to explore how authors did it. Basically, novel writing procedures fell into two broad systems known as either plotting or pantsing. Writers either planned out the trajectory of their story, or they sat down and wrote the story as it came to them, known as writing by the seat of their pants.
I am a strict plotter. I always have a good idea of my story arc and I always know the end. As the overall storyline develops in my head, I jot down specific plot points on index cards. That way when the actual writing begins I always know where I’m going, even if I don’t know exactly how to get there. (That comes to me organically as I write.)
But I draw the line at spending time on character biographies or extensive story outlines. If I’m going to do that much writing, it’s going to be on the manuscript.
I used about 50 index cards to plot my cozy, Death by G-String, a Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club Mystery. After the main story worked itself out in my head, I let those index cards guide me as I wrote the story.
The exception to my usual method was my book, Sage Cane’s House of Grace and Favor, an Old West story about a woman who survived in an old mining town run by men, and found that living well was the best revenge. That book came to me whole and complete with characters, conflicts, and setting. The story line was channeled to me as I wrote all the way to the end.
I’m waiting for that to happen again.
The question of which writing strategy is best is continually asked and debated in the writing community. But the real question authors should be asking is which one is best for me, and the only way to know that is to try both methods and see what works. Clearly, my first attempt at pantsing as I described at the beginning did not work for me.
There are successful plotters and successful pantsers, but whatever your tendency here are some helpful hints to smooth your way.
7 THINGS PLOTTERS MUST DO:
- Use some sort of pre-planning method that is most productive for you – Freeform story narrative, detailed outline or scene summaries, storyboards. Even yellow sticky notes can work.
- But remember, whichever kind of outline or pre-planning you end up using, it is not carved in stone.
- Play music that stimulates your creativity. I use Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s “Creative Mind System” and “Inner Dance.” He intersperses amplified bodily sounds—breath, pulse, blood rushing through veins—into the music to stimulate your brain.
- Quit for the day in the middle of a scene. That’s motivation for start up on your next writing session.
- Don’t limit today’s direction with yesterday’s plan. Look over what you’ve written from a different perspective or point of view. If there’s a better way, it will jump out at you.
- Listen with an open mind to your critique partner or contest judge comments. Consider all suggestions. Don’t reject them out of hand. Nod, take notes, say thank you, then use what you can and discard the rest.
- Be flexible. Allow a new character to enter the scene, a new idea to take flight, or an unexpected line of dialogue to be spoken. See if it goes anywhere without writing your story into a corner.
6 THINGS PANTSERS MUST DO:
- Even if you feel outlining destroys your creativity, begin with the end in mind. You need a sense of direction. Editors want a cohesive story.
- You can skip the pre-work, but at minimum know the age, job and gender of your characters, and their relationship to each other.
- Read extensively in the genre you wish to write. You need to know what’s out there and how the different genres are handled.
- Read “how to” books. You still need to learn the basics of characterization and dialogue and formatting. Learning never ends.
- Know your market and genre before you start. Don’t try to figure it out later. Every genre encompasses best practices, and readers and editors have certain expectations.
- Definitely join a critique group. Pantsers need a reader’s input. Make sure there’s a plotter in your critique group to bounce ideas off of.
Use whichever method or combination that works for you. Keep in mind that there are certain disadvantages to pantsing. Expect to do a lot more rewriting when you get to the end. Also, it’s easier to get stuck and not know how to move your story forward. That’s usually called writer’s block, but it’s really lack of planning.
And here’s a pointer for all authors. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER say, “I can’t do this!” because your mind will make sure you can’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mystery author C. C. Harrison has won national recognition for her writing. Her books are available in print and as ebooks, and can be found on Amazon and at fine bookstores everywhere. Harrison herself can be found in the desert, the mountains, or some far flung corner of the Southwest.