Thursday, July 2, 2009

This is So Hard!

I’m at the end of my Roses Plotting Bootcamp. Technically it finished on June 30th, but Delilah Devlin and Elle James, the Drill Instructors (DI’s), have given everyone until mid-July to finish the assignments. That is to say the ‘classroom’ will be open until then and the DI’s will respond to any assignments handed in.

This was my first online course and I really liked the way the DI’s handled it. By using a Yahoo Group, we were able to see when the DI’s were online. This meant if we emailed them, we’d usually get a quick response. As well, they opened a chat room at 3 scheduled times a week for anyone with questions, etc. A feature I particularly liked was that the sisters (Delilah and Elle) would post the transcipts after the chat for those who missed out. Considering it took me about 10 days to figure out how to get the chat working and then couldn't find the time because of my family reunion, I really appreciated the transcripts.

I signed up for this course because I am trying my hand at a suspense and figured plotting it out would be better than my normal pantsing. And although the DI’s have liked the assignments I've emailed them, I’m finding this last one mega hard. It’s because after doing the characterizing, conflicts, setting, and story structure, we’re finally down to the actual plotting. With all the basics in place, it should be easy. I didn’t have any problem with the story structure. But the plotting is expanding on that to such an extent that I know what will happen in each scene, in whose POV, the time of day, etc all through the book. Ack! (It’s exactly how the Sask Rom Writers did it for Cold Feet.)

I’ve been working on it for 3 days already and am still drawing blanks. I just can’t seem to get my imagination in gear like I do when I’m pantsing.

So this afternoon, I pulled a ‘Janet’ and started at the back. Well, not entirely at the end but just before the Black Moment. I plotted that point out for both main characters and figured out what the secondary characters were doing at that time. It took me hours. Tomorrow, I’m going to continue on to the end before going back to tackle the middle.

Plotting it out is very strange to me for 2 reasons:
1 – once plotted out, I should be able to zip through the first draft because I already know what will happen
2 – I’ve never had so much writer’s block before! It’s downright unnatural!

I’m used to writing a scene and then getting up to do some housecleaning or driving while I envision the next scene. It doesn’t work that way here. I feel like I’m pulling eyelashes out of my eyes – you know, when they curl in and touch your eyeball – I keep pulling and coming away empty handed and then I’ll grab the wayward lash. Except with plotting, within mins, I’m doing it again.

I am going to be SO happy when I have Silent Keeper plotted out. It stands to be seen if I ever do another ms in this fashion because from where I stand at this point in time, being a plotter isn’t as satisfying as a pantser.

However, I can’t say enough about the Roses Plotting Bootcamp and the way Delilah Devlin (Elora’s Cave/Avon Red/Kensington Aphrodisia) and Elle James (Harlequin Intrigue) ran the course. The next time I go looking for a writing course, I’m going to check their schedule first to see what they have lined up. You can find them at . They also have some free stuff coming up so do check out their site.

I know we’ve discussed whether we’re all pantser or plotters, but have any of you made an attempt to switch? How did it work out? And have you taken an online course you were particularly impressed with? For those of you who are published, can you attribute a manuscript to such a switch or course? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on this matter.


Helena said...

Good morning, Anita Mae! I checked in here over an hour ago and decided to check out the Rose Colored Glasses website before commenting -- wow, time just flew by as I explored all the features. Plus I read their latest newsletter, every word of it. Interesting articles of whether to quit the day job to write -- or not (two perspectives by two people).

All of which got me completely off-topic! I did look at their upcoming courses -- just missed their deadline for the free course on tips for deciding on the whats, whens, etc. of writing novels. They have another plotting boot camp later in the fall. I may consider something from their offerings by next spring, since I have a lot on the go for this year already.

In the meantime, I will be taking my first online course (on blogging) in two weeks time, and I'm looking forward to that. As I promised on Tuesday, my next post will be about that experience.

As for plotting, I'm sure I would benefit from some more structure. I am somewhere in the middle of the plotters and the pantsers. When I start out I know the end result and some of the obstacles, but I don't know the exact route that will be taken to get to the final resolution. So the pantsing part is devising the scenes more or less as I go along. I think that's why I go for long periods of time (without writing) when I think about the characters and what they would or should be doing to get to the next crossroad in the plot.

It would probably be saving time (?) to sit down and map out all the scenes ahead of time. But I agree that it would be HARD. For one thing, I get to know my characters by writing what they think and say. I'm not sure I can guarantee what each scene would contain ahead of time.

Writing a mystery, suspense or historical might require a greater degree of plotting in advance.

It sounds like you have had a strenuous experience in the past month (and I'm just referring to the online course, never mind the otherwise busy month you've had). Good for you!! My bet is that your writing process will be strenthened regardless of whether you totally buy into the plotting method. Thanks for sharing in such detail -- very useful.

Helena said...

Oops. I usually go thru my comments with a fine-toothed comb (don't like typos and misspellings) but "strenthened" slipped by me! Of course, I meant strengthened.

Karyn Good said...

I'm in the process of semi-plotting out a new project. Something along the lines of Harlequin's Nocture Bites which has a word cap of 15,000, a dipping of my toe in the paranormal pool. I say semi-plotting because I don't really know what I'm doing and am using the word plotting in its most general sense.

I pantsed my way through Common Ground and while I enjoyed trekking through the unknown and discovering as I went, this time I'm trying to forge a bit of a path to follow, armed with the option to veer off course should I choose. Not sure how it'll work but it's interesting to try a new concept.

Good luck with your plotting and may the writer's block take an extended vacation.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Morning, Helena. Cudos for checking out the Roses link. Yeah, I wanted to do the free 'Break Out Novel' thing too but there was just no way I could take it on without finishing this crse. I want to try the '50 Books in a Year' thing though. :)

You said, ' get to know my characters by writing what they think and say. I'm not sure I can guarantee what each scene would contain ahead of time.'
Yup, that's me. And I'm wondering how much of my voice comes from that spontaneity. When you think about it, no one suspected Nora Roberts was JD Robb for a time because of the differences in voice. So, maybe it's a good thing if my suspense voice is different. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

And special cudos to you for taking an online blogging course. You're moving forward so fast you'll leave the rest of us wiggling our fingers. :)

Appreciate your thoughts, Helena.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, you didn't like the process of writing your first novel, so you're changing it for your second. See, you're learning from your experiences and going forward.

Good for you!

I sure hope you're going to let us know what you thought about doing it this way. :)

Ban said...

Hi Anita - I'd have to say I am more of a plotter. My stories usually start as a scene (heavy on the characters) but then I have to come up with a world for them, histories, motives, plots ... I end up outlining everything in great detail, which allows me to flesh things out when I'm ready for the 'creative' part. Now, that's not to say I never go out of the lines a bit but when I do I've got to fit the new scene or bit of dialog into my outline :D Glad you enjoyed your online class, even if you go back to your 'old ways' Helena is right - you'll have grown as a writer !

Karyn Good said...

Not that I didn't like it, I enjoyed it, but I'm wondering if plotting won't speed up the first draft process. :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita.. your eyelash analogy. Frustrating, relatable, and absolutely perfect. Love it!

I always considered myself a pantser, and that's how I started into Eventide. I'm not sure how successful it was though, or if it would be more successful with so much more story structure experience under my belt. About 3/4 of the way through, I think I started shifting over to a very plotted method, at least so far as the next few scenes at a time would go. If I tried to just wing it again, I often spent too long wondering whether there was a point to the scene I was writing or if I should just cut to the next planned moment. Going back to do that rewrite of the beginning chapters now, I'm being very plotted about it, but I wonder if that would be regarded more as an editing thing.

I think the main thing for me would be figuring out how to plot from the very beginning, especially with a fresh story, fresh characters where I don't know anything. It sounds like you did ALL that on your course. How did you find plotting out characters, arcs, (and since it's suspense, I assume red herrings?) before having gotten a chance to 'sit down and get to know them' via pantsing?

Nayuleska said...

I plot a rough story - in my head. I once tried writing it down, and my muse didn't respond well to that. I plot and know roughly some major events, but others occur along the way. I daren't commit anything other than words in a chapter for my wips. A muse on sight isn't a pretty scene. especially when the writer is screaming 'work! Just work!', in her head :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Ban, I think I'll '...go out of the line a bit' when I actually write it as well. I'm very glad this is an option. :)

About growing as a writer - I find the more I blog here and discuss with other writers what they're doing, the more I find ways to grow. I have such a deep respect for those writers of years past who didn't have the technology to keep in touch with like minds that we take for granted.

I appreciate your thoughts, Ban.

Anita Mae Draper said...

You're right, Karyn. After I posted the comment, I knew I'd used the wrong phrase. Thanks for setting me straight. (Some wordsmith I am. sheesh.)

Silver James said...

I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants plotter. I usually know where a story is going (can you say HEA? LOL!) but I love the twists and turns my Muse takes to get there.

And sorry this is short but I've got two projects on short fuse and I'm coming up for air only long enough to catch up on my blog rounds. Laters!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hayley - very perceptive. I started this course with the goal of finishing Translucent Trust which was half finished and then using the process to start my next wip. However, as I turned in my first assignment, I became aware of the DI's telling other students to start a new project - that we wouldn't learn plotting if we started with something already started. This was a bone of contention for some but I understood what the DI's meant because I was already having probs with my assignment because what I'd written didn't fit what I needed to write. So, I told the DI's to scrap my assignment and the next day I resubbed my new one. Much better to do it this way.

Actually the reason I took this crse was because since it was a suspense, I needed to figure out when and where all the red herrings fit. I didn't think I could do that as a pantser. And although I worked on the characters in earlier assignments, I didn't need to go indepth into their arcs like I do now. And yeah, that's one of the things I'm working on - I know how they start and how they end, it's filling in the chapters between that's giving me writer's block. sigh

Speaking of eyelashes, my little guy has lashes longer than my daughter with her mascara and he's always got one in his eye. He thinks they're a nuisance but he'll be in for a surprise if they stick around past puberty. LOL

Thanks, Hayley.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ah, Yuna - I wonder what a psychologist would say about your comment. And I wonder why you can't write if you've plotted some of it out.

I wish I could remember who commented previously about not calling themselves a writer because this sounds like that scenario. I mean, you can't fail if you haven't tried, right? So, if you haven't done any plotting, then you can't really call yourself a writer and then you can't fail when you don't finish.

I have never taken any psychology courses and I don't know you and you can get angry with me if you wish (my email is:
the [dot] way [at] sasktel [dot] net
but I'm thinking fear of failure plays a part in your writing.

Now take this with a grain of salt from someone who refuses to walk in the grass and stays 3 ft away from trees until tick season is over on July 25th. sigh

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, I appreciate that you've taken the to stop in even if it is short and yup - you've described me perfectly pre-plotting.

Have fun while you make your rounds. :)

Janet said...

Quite the discussion here, Anita! Interesting to hear of a pantser taking plotting - and interesting to hear your perspective.

I'm a pantser! Like some have said here, I know some of the plot points (black moment always seem to accompany the characters who come to speak with me), but most of my writing is flying by the seat of my pants. With this last WIP I had issues with writers block - where to go next - how to get from here to there. Writing the ending and then backing up from there has really helped (I hope 'pulling a Janet eventually helps you, too). Having those issues made me wonder if I needed to find a way to plot - reading your post makes me think not.

I think Christine Rimmer's guest blog about plotting parties relate to this post. Interesting concept, but I think, like Yuna, if I knew all the details (including POV and time of day) the excitement would be gone and the story would fizzle.

Of course, this is just me rambling. I can't wait to hear how Silent Keeper turns out - and hear the process you use to get there.

Good luck with the final assignment - and congratulations on surviving one tough June :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yeah, Janet, I'm worried about that excitement of discovery, too. I'll let y'all know what I think in Sept when it's done.

Thanks for the good wishes and congrats. It goes a long way with me.

Christine Rimmer said...

Hey Anita Mae and Chicks,

Just dropping in as Anita and I were "talking" on email recently. It occurs to me that, while I'm a true plotter when it comes to the main arc of the story, I'm a total pantzer in the writing. I have like four scenes in mind when I start (maybe less) I have the opening, the first TP, the midpoint and the third TP and character arcs of the h/H. And other various yummy stuff I might have gotten from plot group. But beyond that, when I start the book, I just do what comes into my head. Yes, it's very, very scary here in my head! LOL

I know Susan Mallery is always talking to me about "plotting," that is not our group but is where she sits down and maps it out after she's written the first chapter or two just to get the feel of the characters and the story. She'll "plot" by writing down the chapters and what will happen in them and what arcs with change, what characters will be POV character when, all that. I still don't get how she does that. Once I'm done with plot group--and I write my overlong synopsis--the rest is pantzing, period.

Which I think goes to show we all need to find what works best for us as individual creators. And maybe, since Susan is doing all longer books all the time now, she just needs the greater structure--to keep track of all the threads she has going.

Have a totally wonderful 4th of July, all!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Christine - what's a TP? I probably know the term but it eludes me at the moment. I'm thinking it's one of those roadblocks thrown in the protags' path to see how they handle it. Right?

You start your books very similarly to me because I know the beginning, and the end including the black moment and epiphany. And yes, a couple key scenes, the setting, the season, the characters. And my stories flow out.

I'm beginning to feel more like Yuna every hour. *waving at Yuna*

Christine, when you mentioned Susan and her book lengths, I immediately thought of your email about a future post on keeping track of details in continuities or series books. I wonder - was Susan always a plotter? Or was she a pantzer in her earlier books and only switched with increased subplots?

Thanks for the visit, Christine. I'm always interested to hear how you work the craft.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think I'm mostly a plotter. For the last few books I've written, I've written a very rough synopsis. It's almost a stream of conscious thing, where I write the story as I see it unfold in my head, including snippets of dialogue. I also like to do character sketches to get to know my characters.

I used to do much more detail, writing scenes on index cards. It took quite a long time to do, even before I sat down to write. And it wasn't always evident(at least to me) whether or not the story would work. So I thought, to heck with it. Why spend so much time on preparation when I'm not sure the story will work? I think it was the last rejection from Harlequin that sent me over the edge. So I decided to try to be a pantser. I hated it! I spent a lot of time staring at a blinking cursor, not knowing what to write and where to go.

So now I do a sort of modified plotting thing. It's kind of messy and not very organized, sort of like me. I like a roadmap, and I like it written down. I need to have an idea where I'm going. But I always find out new things as I write.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Cudos, Jana. That's what I'm talking about. You switched because you thought there was a better way of doing it. That alone took gumption. Then, when the new way wasn't quite what you wanted, you tried a modified version. Always moving forward. Good for you.

Thank you for sharing, Jana.

Christine Rimmer said...

Anita, a tp is a turning point. That's where the story spins off in a majorly different direction. And each tp should be a higher point, a more of a crisis point than the previous one. I know I said this before, but in our plot group we use 3 major tps in a story. (there can be more. I think Crusie uses 5). Anyway, we look at them like, 1st tp: you get there's a problem. 2nd tp: it's worst than you thought. 3rd tp: It will never work out.

In a simple romance, the first tp can be as simple as a kiss. And the h realizes she's attracted, seriously. And there are, of course, obstacles to that. Midpoint could be lovemaking for the first time or she realizes she's in love. And maybe doesn't believe he is. Third tp would be like they break up and they think it's over. That's just a very basic concept type use, as an example.

Re Susan, I believe she has always done it the way I described. But I'll have to ask her next time we talk...