Organization for Pantsers
Posted by Kate Parker Aug 17 2011, 12:01 am
I yield to no one in my dislike of following directions. Recipes? Mere suggestions, particularly if more than two ingredients are involved. Tax forms require copious amounts of chocolate while following their directions. Since those directions are written in some bizarre language that only pretends to be English, the challenge provides enough spice to get me through to the end of the task.
When writing, I am a pantser. I’ve tried outlining, but then treated the outline like a recipe. A suggestion on the way to writing a story. I know my characters as voices in my head with needs and wants and temperaments. They don’t tell me why they’ve done something outlandish until I write about their actions. Not until the end of the first draft have I discovered the skill sets my villains need to make my hero suffer and how my red herrings can be more “red.”
On my eighth or tenth or twelfth manuscript, I learned something important. I couldn’t write willy nilly from “once upon a time” to “they lived happily ever after.” I needed a structure. All my favorite romances had one. Mine needed one, too. But I hate following directions when I’m creating something. My brain goes to sleep, and believe me, so would my readers.
I read. I studied craft. I tried outlines, white boards, post-it notes, chocolate. And I finally figured out, if you’re a dedicated pantser, you only need a few things.
1. Chocolate. If you sense a theme here, you’re right.
2. A place to begin and end your story. A physical location that is changed during the course of the story, or the way the hero sees and relates to this place has changed. Or two different locations serving the same function for the main character, such as the heroine’s bedroom.
3. What Hope Ramsay calls the Big Honking Thing in the middle of the book. For many romance authors, it’s the first completed love scene. I think of it more as “Who gets killed.” This may be because for me, it’s not a romance until somebody (secondary character) dies. With the danger level raised, my pirate hero has to buckle on his swash and my heroine sees the need for some breaking and entering.
4. The Big Choice. This is where the hero decides to attack the villain in his lair because it has to be done, even though he’s going to die if he goes in there. There’s always a big choice three quarters of the way through a story, where the two choices are unpleasant. If you die saving the heroine, you don’t get her because you’re dead. If you don’t save the heroine, you get to live long and prosper, but you know the heroine will always be unhappy, and it will be your fault. This is just before the hero rallies the troops and goes in to fight the final battle.
5. Earning your reward. This is where the hero or heroine reach deep inside during the final battle with the villain and overcome their fear or weakness to stop the villain in a new and creative way. This is the moment when the reader says “Yes!” the world has been made right because the hero has fought something inside himself and grown, and you know how the hero and heroine are going to celebrate, whether or not the scene appears in the book. I believe this is the moment we read for and watch movies for. Without this moment, books are thrown against walls and into trashcans.
I think number 5 is the hardest for pantsers to get because it requires the most planning, but it gives the biggest payoff. Figure out number 5 first, pantsers, and the rest will be easy. Okay. Not easy. Easier.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? And what do you think is the hardest part of structure to get “right?”