Tag Archives: plotting vs. pantsing

The Meat and Potatoes by Casey Wyatt

Woohoo! It’s Friday again. Casey here.

Mmm . . . bacon. Just try me. That whole pan is full of bacon.
Mmm . . . bacon. Just trust me. That whole pan is full of bacon.

Just a quick reminder, I’m participating in The Romance Review’s Sizzling Summer Reads. Not just me, but hundreds of authors, so be sure to check out the fun!

Finally, I’m going to share one of my favorite parts of writing – the meat and potatoes – creating plot points. But first, a recap of what I’ve shared so far:  Initial Premise, Shallow Character Development, and Three Act Plotting.

Now, all these seemingly pointless tasks are going to start coming into focus. Unlike the other parts of the process, which take little time, developing plot points will take effort and more concentration.

Everyone plots differently. I like to use index cards. They’re cheap (.47 cents at Target) and portable. Other methods include Scrivener, Post-its, outlines, keeping it all in your head. I strongly suggest not relying on the sheer power of your mind. For one thing, it’s easy to forget what you were intending to do. Free up the noggin and save your energy for the actual writing process.

If you’ve been wondering or chomping at the bit to start creating, here is the big moment. Brainstorming.

No holds barred. Whatever you want. No Doubt Monster allowed.

Tell the internal critic, editor, and English teacher to shut up.

In this step I jot down ONE (and I mean it!) plot point per card. If I have a scene to go

Find your happy place and let your imagination fly!
Find your happy place and let your imagination fly!

with it, I flip the card over and make a note so I don’t forget later. Keep doing this until you have all the cards filled (at least 25 – 30).

One caution – keep in mind these plot points are all on trial. Right now, they are auditioning for a part in your story. If they don’t fit, be prepared to ruthlessly discard them.

But not yet. For the moment, keep imagining and keep writing those ideas down. Next week, I’ll share how I wrangle them into a manageable plot line.

Where do you go to find your happy place? And what tools do you use for brainstorming?

p.s. Chocolate and wine count as tools.

Creative Writing Tools — the “Scene Summary” by Jill Archer

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here! I have a special guest today – Jill Archer. Jill’s debut novel – Dark Light of Day is coming this October from Ace/Roc. Stay tuned, because at the end of the post, Jill is having a giveaway.

Jill, thank you so much for being our guest today. Take it away!


Casey Wyatt graciously invited me to guest blog today. I was thrilled. Since I started following this blog, I’ve enjoyed reading all of the posts from the Scribes. My debut novel, Dark Light of Day, is coming out September 25, 2012. I figured it would be fun to dig out my very first notes on Chapter 1 and talk about how I draft a scene. What a hoot! Before writing this blog post, I hadn’t looked at my initial Chapter 1 notes in years.

Getting Started

Writers are fond of asking one another “Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?” I’m mostly a plotter, but I always allow myself to go off-script. I usually start with a blurb, a rough synopsis, and brief chapter descriptions. I also like to name my chapters. By naming them, I’m able to see each chapter’s purpose in the overall story. The chapter names act as story guideposts. So much so, in fact, that my editor finally advised me to get rid of them. (She thought, particularly in later chapters of Dark Light of Day, that my chapter names foreshadowed too much. I agreed and decided to delete them rather than trying to come up with vaguer names. But the drafting practice continued with book #2. I named all of my chapters before writing them — and then deleted the names just prior to turning the manuscript in.)

First Drafts

I like a very tight first draft. Bracketed sections like [insert fight scene here] or [add description later] or [what is librarian’s name?] or [research obscure legal remedies for theft] worry me. I can’t leave stuff like that unanswered, even in a first draft. I go back and edit, of course, but I try to write a first draft that is as polished as it possibly can be. And that takes a fair amount of prep work.

Instead of spending a huge months-long chunk of time researching, world building, and generally prepping before writing, I’ve found the most efficient way to prep is to write a “scene summary” before each scene. A scene summary gets the creative juices flowing, highlights areas that need to be fleshed out, and allows me to gather all of the info I need in order to write the scene ahead of time. That way, when it comes time to actually write the scene, the words flow faster and I don’t stumble over the holes I might have otherwise left in the manuscript as bracketed sections.

The Scene Summary

My scene summary details basic information like the five W’s (who, what, when, where, and why) and the five senses, as well as things like weather, what the characters are wearing, time elapsed from the last scene to this one (helps with transitions), visual motifs, mood and tone, and the information I need the reader to get out of the scene. All of my settings and minor characters are built and created immediately prior to when I need them through the scene summary. Necessary research is done then too. Is it overkill? Maybe. Is it a crutch? Definitely. I’ve found the further I get into a manuscript, the less I need to rely on my scene summaries. First, I’m walking with my crutch, then I’m strolling along at a decent clip, then — by the end — I’m sprinting.

Here’s part of my scene summary for Dark Light of Day Chapter 1:

Who – noon, on her way to the aster’s garden. It’s a winter storm. Then her and peter.

What – she wants to tell peter about the letter, st. lucifer’s and her mother.

Where – first, immediately outside the aster’s garden gate, then inside the garden

When – at night.

Weather – COLD, frigid.

Motifs/Mood – gardens, plants, flowers, growing things but all dormant. DORMANCY.

Visuals – dark, black, silver, white, dark blue, crystal, clean, crisp

Sight – dark, stars, clear, night, snow, white, silver, street lamps (globes?), icy sidewalk, fur lined hood, steamy breath

 Sound – crunch on ice and snow, breath

 Feel – cold, wind on face, burning in lungs

And here’s how the beginning of this scene turned out:

Chapter 1

      The wind whipping across my face made it feel as if I’d just scrubbed with camphor and bits of glass. My eyes watered and my nose ran. I sniffled and kept walking, my boots crunching over the ice and snow. Stars winked high above me like baby’s breath thrown into an inky sea, but the main light came from small umber streetlights tucked into the stone wall beside me. The Aster’s front gate was just thirty yards ahead. I tried not to think about how cold the walk home would be if they refused to let me in. Inside my pocket, I squeezed my letter, forever wrinkling it. I knew some people framed theirs. I didn’t care. I planned to burn mine.

The wall I’d been walking along ended and a massive iron gate rose up in its place. To its side was a call box. Giving the letter one final vicious squeeze, I withdrew my hand, opened the box, and turned the crank. It stuck at first and I had to wrench it free from a brittle crust of snow and ice. Finally I heard a pop and some clicking. But no one answered. I stood for another half minute or so, blowing breath into my cupped hands to warm my now frigid mouth and nose. I turned the crank again. It was too late for dinner and too early for bed. Someone would answer. After a while, Mrs. Aster did.

“Hello?” squawked the box.

“Evening, Mrs. Aster,” I said, trying to keep my voice pleasant. “It’s Nouiomo Onyx.”

A moment of silence passed as I tucked a strand of hair back into my hood. The frost on my mitten brushed my cheek. The spot burned as if someone had just nicked me with a metal rake.

“Good evening, Noon.”

“Is Peter home?”

“I haven’t seen him since dinner.” This may or may not have been true. The Aster’s house was as big as a castle and I knew Peter spent most of his time studying either in his room or in the family library.

“I need to talk to him about something,” I said, still managing to keep the impatience out of my voice. “Would you let him know I’m here?”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“No. I’m leaving tomorrow. That’s what I want to talk to him about.”

There was a long pause before she answered again.

“Noon, I have two hundred poinsettias, five holly trees, and a dozen live mistletoe sprigs in the house. You can’t come in. I’m sorry.”

I fought for calm and swallowed the lump in my throat. What had I expected? It was Yuletide and the Asters were Angels, for Luck’s sake.

“Can you tell him to come out?”

Another long pause and then, “He’s studying.”

I sighed. The lump was gone, replaced with resignation. I had lived next to Peter for twenty-one years, my whole life. And I could count on one hand the number of times this gate had opened for me. I cleared my throat, wanting my voice to sound stronger than I felt.

“Tell him I stopped by then, would you?”

“Of course. Good night, Noon.” The squawking stopped and then the static and the box went completely silent.

I turned and started crunching my way back, stepping carefully, and clutching my hood beneath my chin to keep the wind from my ears. I was so focused on how cold and miserable I was that it took me a while to notice the warmth spreading from the pocket of my cape. Just as I started to smell burning wool—disgusting!—warm turned to seriously hot and I glanced down to see that I had set my cape on fire. Brilliant. I hadn’t inadvertently set anything on fire since puberty. I waved a flat hand over the flames and quickly smothered the fire. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Someone was.

Luckily, it was Peter.

He was leaning against the stone wall I had just walked along. The same stone wall that ran for miles along the Lemiscus, a lane as old as the Apocalypse which separated our families’ estates. The Asters had a wall running along their side. On ours? Nothing. My father, Karanos Onyx, was one of the most powerful Maegesters in the country. We didn’t need walls to keep our privacy.

Peter’s hood was down, his cloak unbuttoned, and his hands bare—obviously he’d rushed to meet me. In the deep twilight, his white blond hair was the color of snow and ash, nearly the opposite of my midnight colored tresses. He pushed off the wall with his shoulder, his lanky frame ambling over to my shivering one, and put his arm around me. His smile was friendly but his frost blue eyes were disapproving. He’d seen the fire.

“Shall we?” he said, motioning toward a small wooden door that was half-hidden in the wall.

“Is it safe?”

“As safe as it always is. I cast the spell just before opening the door.”

Huddled together we stepped through the doorway. Peter closed the door behind us and I stared ahead, remembering the first time I had stepped through that door. I’d been five and it was the first time I’d ever stepped foot in a garden. I’d been so in awe, so overwhelmed, by the life growing within these walls. The dark, destructive waning magic I tried so desperately to keep hidden deep inside of me had pulsed in response to the rich magentas, bright clarets, and cheerful fuchsias of the blooms and buds. Within seconds of my entry, I had killed three hydrangeas, two hostas, and a mulberry tree. Instantly, they’d become black silhouettes against the garden’s remaining ruddy colors.

It was the single most horrifying day of my life. And the most hopeful. Because a moment later Peter had cast a protective spell over the surviving plants so that I could walk among them—green, growing, living plants. I dared not touch anything now, but at least I could look.

The place would have been magical even without a spell. Yew topiaries shaped as Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, and Alecto warred alongside Gabriel, Michael, and Mary. They were all dormant now, the yews buried under an inch of fresh snow, but I could feel their presence. Alive and well, they waited for spring to resume their fight. Behind the wall, shielded by hedgerows and distant cypress trees, the snowflakes felt less like bits of glass and more like cold confetti. Peter and I sat down on a small cement bench, which was nestled back nicely in a cut-out niche of the hedgerow. He spread one side of his cloak around me and cast a spell of warmth over us. My shivering subsided.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

He’d seen the fire so I couldn’t very well say, “Nothing.” But I’d burned the letter so I couldn’t just shove it at him in way of explanation either.

“I’ve been accepted to St. Lucifer’s Law School.”

(Btw, you’ll notice I opened with a reference to the weather. It’s a huge “don’t.” I’ve got all sorts of thoughts on how and when to break the rules, but this post is long enough! :-D)

Writers, I’d love to hear how you prepare to write your first drafts. Are you a plotter or a pantser? What kind of prep do you do before you begin? Do you write detailed outlines? Or are you a fan of the “fast first draft”? (For an excellent article praising the fast first draft method, see Amy Raby’s post: https://amyraby.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/fast-drafting-writing-at-full-gallop/). Whatever your method, the most important thing is that it works for you!

I’m giving away one Ace/Roc 2012 Science Fiction and Fantasy Sampler today. (U.S. only due to mailing costs. The sampler has the first few chapters of new work from various Ace/Roc authors, including me. The neat thing is the samplers were printed before I took out my chapter names. So, if you’re interested, you can see what my chapter names were for the first three chapters of Dark Light of Day.)

Click here for the giveaway.

Thank you, 7 Scribes, for hosting me today!

Bio: Jill lives in rural Maryland with her two children and husband, who is a recreational pilot. She blogs about books, movies, interesting people, writing and various weekend adventures.


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I’m an Incubator

Hello! Hello! Happy Friday everyone! Casey here.

I’ve just come off a whirlwind tour of promotion: interviews, blog posts, advertisements, and my first ever author chat!

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself in the process:

1. I don’t like to answer the question “tell me about yourself.” I get all oogy just thinking about it. Here is what I said about my least favorite question.

2. It’s hard for me to answer “what inspired you to write this book?” – see my post on Julia Rachel Barrett’s site – You Want to Know What?

3. Devlin Ward makes a mean frozen mocha. If you haven’t met Devlin yet, he’s in Mystic Ink and he crashed my visit to Penny Watson’s Martini Club.

Show me the ideas!

4. I’m an idea incubator.

An incubator? Does that mean I harbor germs and diseases? Maybe lay eggs?

Not exactly. But the egg analogy is close. An idea is potential. Like an egg, you can use it to make numerous things. And like the whole chicken vs. egg question, many writers like to debate -plotting vs. pantsing?

There are a few rebels out there like R.C. Bonitz  who calls his method – half-pants plotting. Best of both worlds!

Over the course of answering dozens of questions and creating blog posts, the most common questions (besides #1 and #2) are about the mechanics of writing.

Everyone wants to know the process of going from idea to page. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that if I think too hard about how I write, it messes me up. So when people ask – how do you write?

My answer – I just do it. Really.

So that would make me a pantser, right?

Nope. Everyone knows by now that I don’t write without a plan in place.

Yes, this is delicious!

I just “do it” because I’ve spent weeks or months, incubating ideas. I ruminate, percolate, stew, imagine, mull, fantasize, whatever word fits the bill. Then I start the process of outlining, followed by writing.

Hence – the incubator.

I think most writers are idea incubators. Our methods of how we get those thoughts on to the page may differ (plotting vs. pantsing), but we all think about the story before we write it down.

Sure, some may sit in front of their paper or keyboard and be possessed by the Muse at that moment and bang out some pages or even chapters. But to complete a novel, you need more than a flash of inspiration, you need incubation.

So what do you all think? Is this a half-cooked idea like a soft-boiled egg? Or does this theory have merit?

Starting the Next Book

Starting the Next Book

My favorite part of writing is starting a new book. The story brews and stews in my mind for weeks—sometimes months—before I actually begin the process of putting it on the page. I hear dialogue in my head, develop an image of my hero and heroine, and think about the characters as if they are new friends I’m getting to know. I work out plot details, figure out my turning points and make sure I understand the goal, motivation and conflict before I jump in. I’ve learned the hard way that being clear about what is driving the characters is essential to me getting to know them before I’ve already written 200 pages and then have to go back and fix everything. After muddling through seven novels, and taking dozens of workshops, this is the process that has evolved and seems to work best for me. This is about as much prep as I can do without cramping my ‘pantser’ style.

Once I finally sit down to write, the first 100 pages fly out of my head and onto the page like I’m singing an aria. The ease and fluidity give me such a high, I can usually blast out that 100 or so pages in a matter of a few weeks. In that time, I’ve set the scene, introduced my loveable, and not so loveable characters, and hopefully am well into the meat of the story. Then, comes that dastardly sagging middle. You know–the part when a lot is going on but nothing is happening. I start biting my nails, popping over to answer e-mails, and generally avoiding the ‘what comes next?’ I will the story to miraculously write itself (so far that hasn’t panned out for me). So, I wait patiently—or not so patiently–for the characters to tell me where to go. Eventually, the next piece of the puzzle shows up, but I agonize for a while and fill the time doing research or going back over my character grid and conflict charts to see what I’m missing.

Once I get beyond that middle muddle, the end comes into view and it is a race to the finish where I tie up all of my loose ends. Since the revision process is the hardest part for me, and I have proven to myself that I can finish a book, I do some amount of revision as I go. I don’t feel the need to just keep writing to get to the end before I start revising. I often go back and layer my character’s conflict or add a meaningful piece of dialogue that came to me in the car or shower before I move on to the next scene. The cool thing is, the process for every book is different. I’m still learning and struggling with the revision process, but I’m becoming more efficient with each book.

I currently find myself in new territory once again. I’ve started the next book, which is entitled 21 DAYS. I’ve done my preliminary work and I’m on the second chapter. I want to sit down and blast out those first 100 pages, but the demands of self-publishing are hot on my plate. Gone are the days when all I had to do was write the next book. I plan to have a few more chapters behind me before I leave on my seventeen day cruise to the Mediterranean–which is where much of the book takes place and will be written in real time. But instead of writing the next chapters, I find that I have final revisions due on HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and have to organize myself to get the book to reviewers before I leave. Again, it goes back to juggling all of those balls. I’m working hard to keep in mind that the most important job of a writer is to start the next book. Lucky for me, that is the part I am most passionate about.

So tell me, what part of writing are you most passionate about?