Monday, October 29, 2012

Some Good News for Pantsers

Even with several complete novels under my belt, I still struggle with writing them. One of my biggest issues in writing fiction is making sure my characters come across as believable, as living, breathing creatures with a past, a present, and a future. I love a story where a character (or characters) takes over and comes to life, and I strive to create that kind of story, but sometimes my characters come across as flat.

This leads to some big problems when writing the rough draft of a novel. I tend to shudder when somebody mentions the word 'outline,' and immediately flash back to high school and those outlines my English teacher made me do. You know the ones, neatly laid out, with each new idea under the main idea getting its own letter or number or what-have-you, and an indentation. But writing by the seat of my pants (or pantsing, as some call it) produces an awful lot of unusable words, and I'd really like to streamline the process and get as much of it right the first time through.

This leads to my other problem, which is, when I come to something that will end up changing an earlier section of the story, I have the compulsion to go back and make that change before I can write on. I've tried following the advice of some, which is to ignore the changes and push on, but that results in a gobbledy-gook of a mess. I've given in to the compulsion and gone back to make the changes, only to lose that forward momentum and the passion that was driving me initially. What I needed was a way to barrel through the first draft without making huge changes along the way, without giving in to the need to go back and fix things, and all while breathing life into my characters. Easy, right?

This year I entered the novel contest at Codex, which is a lovely group of writers. The point of the contest is to finish a novel by December. I started in March with an initial outline of a novel. I wrote out the usual stuff, like what the characters look like, what they do for a living, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong, that's important stuff, but what I end up doing during my first draft is figuring out who the characters really are, hence the need for major rewrites and revisions later. They sort of go around doing random things while I get to know them.

At any rate, I wrote a first draft and liked some parts, but really hated others, which is standard operating procedure for me. Then, I heard about the 90 day novel, a book that was supposed to get your butt in gear and produce something decent in three months. You can read more about Maya here. She talks about her own struggles with pantsing, which convinced me to try the 90 day novel.

The gist of the book is that you answer a bunch of questions about your characters before you even write the first line of the novel. These are great questions that delve into the psyches of the characters. I had tons of fun doing this even though I'd already gotten a first draft down, and came up with some amazing insights. You spend an entire 30 days getting to know your characters before you start drafting, then you have 60 days to bang out a draft.

I had addressed some of the questions already, but just a handful. I didn't follow the guidelines exactly. I didn't feel that I needed to. I spent about 3 weeks answering questions and writing out little scenes and bits of dialogue, then I plunged into a complete rewrite, saving only a few essential things from the first draft. I was initially on target to finish by mid-November, but I'm happy to say, I finished the second draft a week ago. I do have a couple of scenes to add from the atagonists' POV, but the good news is, I didn't feel the urge to go back and fix things, I came up with an outline that worked (!!!), and I kept that passion and drive the entire way through the book. I can't wait to try this from scratch with the next novel and see what happens.

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