Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plotters and Pantsters, and Plantsters…Oh My!

I’ve heard it suggested that novelists fall into one of two categories: PLOTTERS and PANTSTERS. PLOTTERS supposedly carefully outline their storyline before they begin writing. PANTSTERS jump in and, as the name would suggest, they write by the seat of their pants.

I’m more of a hybrid kind of girl. I plan my plot to a point, but I sometimes don’t know the direction the book will go until I start writing and get to know my characters better. What I thought would be the outcome differs from what I actually write. For example, in Breathing on Her Own, I thought the story was going to be about Laney.

After all, it was Laney driving under the influence of alcohol. Laney caused the accident. Laney needed to learn her lesson. At least that’s where I started. Maybe I had it in the back of my mind that the book would serve as a warning for others who drink and drive.

Not to be. As I moved through the story line I had mapped out on paper, I came to realize the story was less about Laney’s transgressions and more about how her mother, Molly, responded to the situation. Molly wasn’t the martyred mom I thought she might be. She is the one who learned from the experience. She is the one who experienced change.

As I said, I’m a bit both PLOTTER and PANTSTER. I guess you’d call me a PLANTSTER. Sounds a bit like a gardening term. Maybe that’s what PLANTSTERS are: people who grow a story from carefully planted seeds.

Today’s topic is about a few tools to use in planning your story. The beauty of these tools is that each offers room to grow, change, plot, and improvise. I call them storyboarding tools, though that may be a bit of a misnomer.

If you think of storyboarding in its most traditional form, you may picture a series of pictures connected to a sequential outline of the proposed story. It may look something like this:

Courtesy of Google Images

When I create a storyboard, I identify eight to ten pivotal scenes I want to include. I put them in sequence on the board. My problem as a PLANTSTER is that I experience a level of frustration if I want to change those around. They are “committed to paper.” Immovable.

I discovered a simple fix: Post-it notes.

Not bad. It will work. But in drafting my last three novels, I’ve discovered a few more powerful storyboarding techniques. These are ideal for PLANTSTERS because we are prone to change our minds mid-book. Here are my top five:

1. Power Point Storyboarding- I love this. I’m using this for my current work in progress (WIP). If you are familiar with Power Point presentations, you can easily implement this tool.

Strengths: I can create my slides depicting those pivotal scenes. I can include pictures of the characters, change the background to reflect the mood, move the slides around if needed, print them off with a space to make notes (very handy for taking with me to the dentist’s waiting room-yuck), and create powerful visual reminders of what I had in mind for the story.

Layered Look Book
Weaknesses: A good and useful Power Point can take a lot of time to create. If you simply use text you may as well use post-it notes. What makes the Power Point so, well, powerful, is the addition of pictures, color, background, texture, mood….and that takes a ton of time.

2. Layered Look Book- I snagged this idea from Dina Zikes. It is two sheets of paper, offset, then folded.

Strengths: This is a quick and easy way to organize your ideas for your book. These are so portable so you can whip out your work while you’re waiting for the oil change in your car to be completed.

Weaknesses: My layered look books tend to get messy fast. I used one for a short novel and found the space was too limiting.

3. Divided File Folder- I used this for Breathing on Her Own with Post-it Notes.
It is, in a way similar to the layered look book, without the easy to use layers. It is also bigger. And it has these nifty little prongs to attach info I might need. So why did I use this? It was free. Someone was throwing these away so being the teacher-person I am I saved them from the dump.

Strengths: I like being able to file papers related to the book in this in the part of the book where I expect them to appear. Also, I like the portable nature of this. So while I’m waiting in the car for my grandson’s school to let out, I can review where I am and where I’m heading in the book. I leave the school with both the boy and newly acquired inspiration.

Weaknesses: The folders I have are too big. (Undoubtedly why they were being tossed aside.) I cut one down to size for one project. That is probably a better idea. At least then the file folder can actually be “filed.” I’m sure you can buy the right size.

4. Photo/Card Album- I have used this for every book I’ve written as well as a few articles and short stories. It is an album to hold pictures. A small, flat album to hold snapshots which I rarely have anymore in this digital age. I found it to be perfect for my scene cards.

Strengths: This is easily tucked in my purse or computer case. I love that I can move the scene cards around, write on the back, and replace them if necessary.

Weaknesses: If you are a true PLOTTER, you will find the space limiting.

5. Whiteboard- A whiteboard offers the PLANTSTER enough room to map a story plot, add details, and color code information. Changes can easily be made to the story as it evolves.

Strengths: You can hang this where you see it every time you sit down to write. It can help you stay on track with your story and remind you of details you want to include.

Weaknesses: This is not portable. If you write anywhere and everywhere, you will not reap the full benefits of the whiteboard. Information can easily be erased. Accidently erased. I suggest, you take a picture of it from time to time to make sure you have what you need.

Whew! We made it! There are certainly other tools out there. Scrivener has everything built into the software for you to plot or plan or simply write. I know a few people who are using the secret board feature on Pinterest to collect ideas for their books and post plot points. The idea there is to then edit the page once you publish the book to turn it into a marketing tool. I’m not there yet.

As I look back on this post, I realize I value being able to take my writing anywhere and everywhere with me. Maybe I should create a post on the "portable office!"

How about you? Are you a PLOTTER, PANTSTER, or perhaps, like me...a PLANTSTER? What helps you organize your writing?

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