Accepting That I'm A 'Plantser' - The Violet Project Diaries - Entry 19
A day-in-the-life diary series about the development of my writing career as a dark fantasy novelist.
It’s been a while. I really had to think about how I needed to approach my first and second draft with more tact than just “vomit writing”. I worried a lot about repeating the same mistakes, but I think I figured out how to check and double check myself without it being stressful. Actually, it’s become a lot more fun. Taking a big picture approach to the prep work that John Truby suggested (from the last entry) has made sifting through the first draft of the novel so much more exciting. Perhaps this is obvious to anyone who’s written anything, but I was inevitably the one putting so much pressure on myself I ended up paralyzed…again. Hey, at least I’m out of that funk now. So, here’s the new approach I have.
As I reread and take notes for each chapter, I describe the big picture features of each chapter/scene.
Chapter Title - Number and Character Name
Since I’m writing in the third-person, but keeping my focus on one character at a time, I start every page with the chapter number then the name of the character my narration will revolve around. Example: Chapter # - Character Name. Almost every fantasy novel does this. I was tempted to cleverly name each chapter in the rough draft, but now I see there’s no need. This story is for adults after all. I don’t want to bombard them with too many “clues”.
Scene or Chapter Summary - From Big Picture to Important Details
Next, I write the scene or chapter summary. Sometimes the chapter may have more than one scene. I write out what happens with the focused character and any important actions or interactions they make. Then I generally describe the ambience of the setting and any important responses other characters make to the main character.
Purpose and Plot Tracking - Writing With Tact
For the purpose section, I briefly describe what I want the audience to get out of the chapter and jot down where we are in the main plot and subplots. My personal goal is to make sure the end of every chapter leaves the audience “hanging” to make my work a page turner. You’d think that’d be an obvious thing to do but…my first draft disagrees.
Settings - Through Descriptions and Believable History
For each setting, I write its full title if it’s a proper place and then briefly describe its purpose, history, and social or magical atmosphere. I’ve noticed that the more I write about a place in the general sense, the more detailed ideas pop up. I just add those ideas in, like if the place is special to a certain character or if the place has an aspect of historical significance that will be expanded upon later in the story. I’d rather get those ideas recorded now so I don’t miss them later. When I wrote the first draft, I barely thought about this, so this is a good counter to that mistake.
Characters - The People and Their Place
Writing out a character list in order of appearance reminds me not to just throw in a character just to throw them in there. If they have an important interaction with the main or focused character, the list reminds me to bring them to life and integrate them into the world. If I notice a character doesn’t add much to the scene, especially if they weren’t even mentioned in the scene summary, I either work on them or remove them from the scene/chapter entirely.
Missing or New Details
When something comes to mind about a character or setting that I want to put in this scene/chapter specifically, I jot it down here. Since I’m focusing on the story in a moderately big picture kind of way, I want to keep my momentum, but sometimes a little detail that’s good for characterization or world building pops up and I don’t want to lose it.
I had to seriously meditate on how I wanted to tell the story of my characters and my world before I got here. I really was worried I had written a disorganized and poorly prepared pile of nonsense after so many hours of work. That was really discouraging. Once I let the storm of low self-esteem pass, I just acknowledged that I am a big picture person who has to polish the big picture before my imagination starts sewing together the details. I think the writer community calls the different types of novel writing mindsets as plotter and pantser. The Magic Violinist from thewritepractice.com describes this wonderfully:
"Simply put, a plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. A pantser is someone who, 'flies by the seat of their pants,' meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. Some people, like me, call themselves 'plantsers,' which means they’re in a little of both. In reality, most people are plantsers, but some tend to lean heavily to one side."
So, I’ve accepted that I’m more of a pantser, then look back on how far I’ve come, retrace my steps, and do more plotting. It’s like throwing a bunch of paint on a canvas then morphing it into a more recognizable image or starting a sketch with loose, light scribbles before drawing more solid lines, shading, detailing and so on. Even painters and sketch artists go back and forth between pausing on the big picture to double-check their progress before refocusing on a detail. That’s such a common thing to do! Why was I so worried? Honestly, I’m so grateful I’ve accepted my working process for what it is rather than forcing it to be what it isn’t. The prep work that Truby talked about didn’t mean “do it exactly like this”; he meant “don’t forget about the prep work”.
Thanks for reading
Please check out my horror-short "Autonomy Bleeds Black". You can read an excerpt for free by clicking here.