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Reality Check Can a pantser change her stripes?

Village Hall request

The dos and don'ts of novel endings

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Patricia D

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I'm one of those people who just decided to write a novel. So far, I've written three, but I'm slow and want to be more professional. I've been reading up on story arcs and plot points and other things I'd never thought much about and, most of all, trying to be more organized. Try #1 involved outlining the whole book before starting to write. It foundered at chapter 6. I had a better idea, and the story went in a different direction, rendering the rest of the outline useless. Try #2 involves first writing the one-sentence blurb and then the one-page synopsis. Those are done. The next step is supposed to be expanding the synopsis to about 20 pages, then developing detailed resumes for the characters, and finally working up a setting. But I can't stand any more diddling around. I want to start writing and probably will. Or maybe I'll expand the first part of the synopsis, act 1, and write that then expand act 2 etc.

Has anyone else tried to change their approach? successfully?
 

Boopadoo

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Change my approach from panster to plotter? Yes. Successfully? No.

For the second half of my currently-in-query novel, I printed and filled out character charts, synopsis charts, plot charts... ...then I ended up scrapping it all in a completely different direction because that's what it wanted.

I ended up with a hybrid sort of approach now: I write down a main character list with one sentence blurbs as to what they are each about. I do extensive research if required. I know my setting and beginning, I know where I want things to end. Somewhere in my subconscious, I'm always aware of where the arc should go and what should happen when, but I still proceed to simply let the words flow organically and fix any goofs later. If characters change, die, get deleted or added, well, that's their own fault.

Then I struggle with the synopsis when it's all over...
 

Ancora Imparo

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I sit down and write. My biggest problem is getting my backside onto the chair in front of the computer in the first place. One well-published writer acquaintance told me he likes to do a 30-point plot plan (he aims for 30 chapters), just to have some kind of idea where the story MIGHT go. Then if the story changes as he writes it, he adjusts the plot plan. I tried that, and it helped enormously when I got stuck with plotting problems and had lost not just the thread but the whole damn bale of cloth.... Just knowing I had a road map that I had permission to change at any time seemed to help me focus. However. I believe too much time spent writing lists is more about procrastination than about writing. I only write a synopsis when the final draft of the book is complete. I hope you listen to your inner voice and 'stop diddling around', Patricia :) Sounds to me like you want to sit down and write. :)
 

Paul Whybrow

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I define myself as a 'pantser' but there's a part of me that likes to be well-organised, so I make lots of notes beforehand. I've assorted folders on my desktop, containing biographies of the recurring characters in my Cornish Detective series, phrases and local expressions that I'll use one day, and even comments that my detectives and future villains make about why they do things. Keeping track of things like birthdays, the date someone was bereaved or got married is essential in a series of novels.

With my first novel, I wrote a synopsis of where I thought the action was going when partway through the story but then realised that one of my protagonists would never behave in that way, as he was too much of a self-serving maverick. In this way, my plots are character driven. Superimposing a series of events, without taking into account how your characters would really react, is as daft as rigidly following a sketched map for territory that hasn't been explored yet.

I came across a quote this morning, by pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler, which sums up my approach to life and to my writing:

"Follow your heart but take your brain with you."
 

Carol Rose

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Haven't really changed my approach but I have modified it over the years. I do a lot more plotting/outlining now than when I first began writing. I've always outlined my characters, but now I also outline the story a bit more. Of course, I end up veering off that outline more often than not, but this way I have a road map of sorts that keeps me from wandering away so much that I lose the thread I began with. That being said, if I had to make a detailed outline for each chapter, or each scene, I'd lose my mind. LOL!! And it would be pointless anyway, because I'd never follow it. :)
 

Patricia D

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Change my approach from panster to plotter? Yes. Successfully? No.

For the second half of my currently-in-query novel, I printed and filled out character charts, synopsis charts, plot charts... ...then I ended up scrapping it all in a completely different direction because that's what it wanted.

I ended up with a hybrid sort of approach now: I write down a main character list with one sentence blurbs as to what they are each about. I do extensive research if required. I know my setting and beginning, I know where I want things to end. Somewhere in my subconscious, I'm always aware of where the arc should go and what should happen when, but I still proceed to simply let the words flow organically and fix any goofs later. If characters change, die, get deleted or added, well, that's their own fault.

Then I struggle with the synopsis when it's all over...
This looks like where I am going. I posted, hoping to hear from someone who had already travelled that road
 

Patricia D

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LV
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Haven't really changed my approach but I have modified it over the years. I do a lot more plotting/outlining now than when I first began writing. I've always outlined my characters, but now I also outline the story a bit more. Of course, I end up veering off that outline more often than not, but this way I have a road map of sorts that keeps me from wandering away so much that I lose the thread I began with. That being said, if I had to make a detailed outline for each chapter, or each scene, I'd lose my mind. LOL!! And it would be pointless anyway, because I'd never follow it. :)
The in-depth summary/outline is driving me nuts, and if history is any indication, I'd abandon it eventually. Thanks for sharing
 

Patricia D

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LV
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I define myself as a 'pantser' but there's a part of me that likes to be well-organised, so I make lots of notes beforehand. I've assorted folders on my desktop, containing biographies of the recurring characters in my Cornish Detective series, phrases and local expressions that I'll use one day, and even comments that my detectives and future villains make about why they do things. Keeping track of things like birthdays, the date someone was bereaved or got married is essential in a series of novels.

With my first novel, I wrote a synopsis of where I thought the action was going when partway through the story but then realised that one of my protagonists would never behave in that way, as he was too much of a self-serving maverick. In this way, my plots are character driven. Superimposing a series of events, without taking into account how your characters would really react, is as daft as rigidly following a sketched map for territory that hasn't been explored yet.

I came across a quote this morning, by pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler, which sums up my approach to life and to my writing:

"Follow your heart but take your brain with you."

I love that final quote - and even though I write mysteries, my plots are also character-driven. As the characters develop, the plot has to adjust.
 

Patricia D

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It is so reassuring to know I am not the only one who FORCED themselves to do an outline and then had to abandon it - and to see that the hybrid approach works for other people. Why not me?
 
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Patricia D

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I sit down and write. My biggest problem is getting my backside onto the chair in front of the computer in the first place. One well-published writer acquaintance told me he likes to do a 30-point plot plan (he aims for 30 chapters), just to have some kind of idea where the story MIGHT go. Then if the story changes as he writes it, he adjusts the plot plan. I tried that, and it helped enormously when I got stuck with plotting problems and had lost not just the thread but the whole damn bale of cloth.... Just knowing I had a road map that I had permission to change at any time seemed to help me focus. However. I believe too much time spent writing lists is more about procrastination than about writing. I only write a synopsis when the final draft of the book is complete. I hope you listen to your inner voice and 'stop diddling around', Patricia :) Sounds to me like you want to sit down and write. :)
I do indeed want to sit down and write - and I am about to.
 

Paul Whybrow

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Your dilemma reminds me of W. Somerset Maugham's observation on writing:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

I tend to work on the basis that if it doesn't come naturally, leave it.
 

Robinne Weiss

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I've always done a hybrid. I do a brief sketch of the whole story arc first, so I know what my goal is at the end. Then I tend to outline a few chapters at a time--just enough to take me to the next major plot component. I write to the end of my outline, then outline the next few chapters. That way, if a character decides to do something unexpected, I can run with it and not feel I've wasted tons of time outlining a plot I'm not going to use.

As one of my favourite fictional characters (Indiana Jones) once said when asked 'now what?': I don't know. I'm making it up as I go.
 
A

Alistair Roberts

Guest
My style is based on what the Muse feeds me. I could never plot it all out in advance, and like you if I even tried, it would soon change direct. How can you possibly know what will happen before writing it? I also like the surprise of not knowing what will happen. I do write up character details in advance and have numerous ideas jotted down, but many fall by the way side, and others appear along the way. I think it really depends largely on the writer and to a smaller extent on the genre' you are writing for.
 

SueRoe

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I do know in my head what the beginning, middle and end is. Trouble is, Patricia, it often all goes out the door while I'm writing and it ends up as something else. I was an out and out pantser with my first book, but now I think I'm plotting just a little bit more. Not much, though!!! Just notes written down.
 

Matnov

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Said it before on here and will no doubt bore the hell out of you many time again with it but I prefer the term 'Discovery writer' to pantser. Not an original term but one I have grown rather fond of.

To one extent or the other I guess we all do plot, even if it is only in our heads but I have always found the notion of sitting down before hand and drawing up outlines and story arcs and making sure all the research is in place tedious beyond compare. Far too mechanical and cold for my liking. Never saw the point in painting by numbers and I cannot shake the notion that this would be of a similar vein. Now it obviously works for some people who have enjoyed wild success with this method but its not for me. I guess I could, if I needed to, work in this manner but I cannot see where any of the joy would come from. And if you do not have fun doing this, why bother? Maybe for a certain kind of mindset then a formal plotting process is how they get their kicks, and best of British to them for that, but I love the nagging vagueness of sitting down with a blank screen or page of my note book in front of me and letting it all flow and swirl out.

And when that something a little bit special clicks into place and starts making all the right connections, I swear it is the most fun I can have fully clothed! The buzz as suddenly a twist or a turn comes alive and then opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, that is the special part. That is when I get the 'tingle'. That is why I do this.
 

James Marinero

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Said it before on here and will no doubt bore the hell out of you many time again with it but I prefer the term 'Discovery writer' to pantser. Not an original term but one I have grown rather fond of.
I agree. I find it enjoyable to see where the story takes me. It's practical too, despite my having been a detailed planner for many years in another life.
 

MaryA

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I'm busy making the shift from writing longish non-fiction pieces on commission. That is what I know how to do: get interviews done, do research, check research findings, organise material, work out what is the right angle for intended readership, check word count and estimated length, sit down and draft. Get feedback on draft and revise. Polish, cut, rewrite, update if necessary. Send off final version. Get it back, do fact-checking again, revise some more, scrutinise page proofs. Send it off. Begin the next piece.

With fiction writing, it is more like composing a piece of music at first. I have ideas, voices, an image or two. Possibilities. Themes that seem to repeat themselves. I walk around jotting down bits and pieces. Synchronicity: I find a detail in a newspaper headline. A memory jumps out at me. A conversation with someone suggests a new motivation for the main character. Then I write a page or two. It comes together or falls apart. I find a good synopsis shows me right away what is definitely wrong with my story: plot holes, lack of plausibility, poor motivation. What synopsis can't do at early stages is show me what seems improbable but what will open up the narrative. That's trial and error.
 

Paul Whybrow

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I used to write non-fiction articles on house renovation and classic motorcycle and car restoration, and the process certainly feels different to creating fictional stories. There are massive amounts of research to be done for both, but non-fiction felt more like a hunt, stalking the prey and making the kill, whereas being in a creative mood, working on a short story, poem or novel, has more the air of a butterfly hunt! This has the attendant problem of how do you store butterfly ideas when you've caught them? Write them down—even if they don't get pinned down in your WIP, they'll please a reader's eye in a later work.

efb5a61039eabb0f4a47f1fc74a1e224--amazing-ideas-good-ideas.jpg
 

mpotter55

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For my latest endeavor, I wrote an outline for the first book in a trilogy. It was thrown away by chapter 3. I figured out that I write because it's enjoyable, and outlines ruin the thrill of discovery. If I have knowledge of all the future actions of my characters, the task would become mundane - more like a job. I already have one of those and don't need another right now.

I started a short story once, an experiment to see if I could create a feasible romance between a broken-down low-level crook and a successful female lawyer. The situation I used to create the first meeting altered the story dramatically. It morphed into a science fiction with a very special baby. I was three-quarters done with the first of three novels before I even knew where the baby came from. That is what makes writing exciting.
 

Paul Whybrow

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D.H. Lawrence summed things up well:

If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.
 
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Village Hall request

The dos and don'ts of novel endings

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