Today's guest post is from ROSA member Sheritha Singh.
Plotter or Pantser?
I’ve been a pantser ever since I began crafting stories some twenty two years ago. I always enjoyed playing with words, twisting them around, teasing the reader or painting endless pages of meaningless prose that took my story nowhere. I could churn out fifty thousand words a month creating a story that had no direction. It took me about three hundred rejections from publishers and literary agents and a few years to figure out what the problem with my writing was. I asked myself a simple question: What is the point of my story/book/series? Was it all about a teenage boy and girl romancing each other? Because that’s what I’d written. Almost all my books comprised endless flirting, lamenting and heart break. It wasn't a real story.
I learned the fine art of plotting through my tutor at a local writer’s college. Working through the plotting table, word counts and sequence of events quickly turned into a nightmare because the pantser in me refused to take a vacation. The plot table alone took me a few weeks to grasp and figure out. I hated it so much that I never used it again after I completed the year long writing course (I passed with a distinction).
After receiving a rejection from Harlequin Mills and Boon in December last year, I took a long and deep look into my writing. The friendly and helpful editors suggested using secondary characters to move the story along and also hinted at developing the main characters further. Lastly conflict needed to be added in regular and equal doses through out the story. I borrowed a stack of Harlequin romances from my sister and read. And read. Eventually I began to dissect the novel. I worked with a template that looked something like this:
CHAPTER ONE SCENE 1
- INTRODUCED TO HERO, PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION, ATTITUDE, AND APPEARANCE. (200-300 words)
- HERO IS FURIOUS AT HEROINE BECAUSE … (1,000 words)
- HEROINE’S ACTIONS REMINDS HIM OF A TERRIBLE, PAST EVENT (INTERNAL CONFLICT). (200-300 words)
- HERO HAS A FEW DRINKS WITH A VERY CLOSE BEST FRIEND TO DESTRESS. THEY DISCUSS GUY STUFF AND HINT AT AFFAIRS, SEX, ETC. REVEAL HERO’S PAST THROUGH THIS INTERACTION. AND ALSO HINT AT ONE OR TWO REDEEMING FACTORS CONCERNING HERO. (INTRODUCE SECONDARY CHARACTERS IMPORTANT TO HERO’S DEVELOPMENT). (1,000 words)
CHAPTER ONE SCENE 2
- INTRODUCED TO HEROINE PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION, ATTITUDE, AND APPEARANCE. (200-300 words)
- HEROINE IS FURIOUS BECAUSE HERO SENT AN EMAIL, COURIER, MESSAGE (ANY RELEVANT MEANS OF COMMUNICATION) OPPOSING HER DECISION. (500-600 words)
- HERO’S ACTIONS REMIND HEROINE OF AN INCITING EVENT IN HER PAST THAT RESULTS IN HER BEING WEARY AND VERY COLD TOWARDS MEN IN GENERAL. (INTERNAL CONFLICT). (200-300 words)
- HEROINE COMPLAINS TO BEST FRIEND / MOM / SISTER ABOUT HERO. (INTRODUCE SECONDARY CHARACTERS CRUCIAL TO HER DEVELOPMENT). (1,000 words)
And that’s how I managed to complete writing a full-length formula romance in about fifteen days.
Breaking down a story is an excellent indication of how well the story is working out. It helped me identify crucial moments to sprinkle tension, conflict or secondary characters. It also assists in eliminating telling and focusing on the all important showing.
I will always be a pantser at heart. There were many times my story dived over the plotting board and into the vast ocean of pantsing possibilities. It happens. I simply went back to the plotting chart and if the pansting scenes didn’t fit in — I deleted them. Pantsing is now reserved for my journal, blog or facebook posts.