Got a fun one for you today. Roni Loren is here to share with us her thoughts on pantsing, plotting, and how using a little bit of both (with a dose of screenwriting) might just solve all your writing woes. Or at least help you find your way to making it all a little easier.She also gives me one more reason to check out a book everyone keeps talking about.
Her debut novel CRASH INTO YOU will be released January 2012 by Berkley Heat/Penguin. If you want to read more posts like this one or follow her journey to debut authorhood, you can visit her writing blog Fiction Groupie or her author blog. She also tweets way too much for her own good.
Take it away Roni...
Before I started writing, if you would've asked me if I thought I'd be a plotter or pantser, I would've said plotter without a thought. I'm the girl who loves an organizational tool and who can lose hours browsing through an office supply store. So of course I should be the type of writer who has beautiful boards of color-coded index cards and neatly tabbed binders of research and chapter outlines, right?
Well, yeah, maybe, but I also forgot that I'm the person who when we plan a family vacation is always saying to my husband--"What are you researching now? We have our hotel and flights booked, what else needs to be done?" He wants to plan out every step, every restaurant we're going to eat at, and every activity we're going to do. He enjoys this planning process almost as much as the vacation.
This baffles me. Why would you want to know every step? Isn't the point of going to a new place exploring and finding things you want to do and eat as you come across them? That's part of the fun for me.
And I discovered quickly that I approach writing the same way. Detailed outlining gives me a brain cramp and kills my passion for the story. If I already know what's going to happen, then it feels like I'm just writing according to this instruction manual I've created. Talk about buzz kill.
But the problem is with no guide at all, you can sometimes find yourself wandering into places you shouldn't go and getting lost. You may go on that vacation and end up stuck in a crappy part of town and eating McDonald's because you didn't plan anything ahead.
Plus, once you've sold a book, you want to be able to sell your next books on proposal--which means you HAVE to write a synopsis before you write the book. This concept terrified me.
But then I discovered the magical world of screenwriting techniques through attending Michael Hauge's screenwriting workshop and reading Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!
Screenwriters focus on the big moments and turning points in a film. It's a very broad version of outlining. Michael Hauge maps out both the external plot and the internal journey. Here's his chart for the external plot:
*This may look so broad as not to be helpful, but click over to his post on this and see how he applies it to Erin Brokovich and Gladiator.
And Blake Snyder takes it a bit further in his book Save the Cat! and fleshes out a screenplay into 15 "beats" such as Debate, Fun and Games, and All is Lost. (You can download a copy of his Beat Sheet here, though you should read the book to understand exactly what these all mean.)
THIS was a revelation to me. Like a cue-choir-singing moment.
Almost every story out there can fit neatly in these structures no matter how complicated the story. I know people accuse things like this of being "formulaic" but let me tell you--there IS a formula to good storytelling. You can lay this structure on top of 99% of stories (be it book or movie) and pick out these points.
And I discovered as I tried to apply these to stories I'd already written and stories I was considering writing that this made sense to my pantser brain without ruining the story for me. It gives me a general map of where to go--one simple sheet of paper. It also allowed me to write synopses for my proposals with ease. (Yes, ease. I went into that topic more here.) And I'm no longer wandering around in my story. I still have the joy of discovery of new twists and turns, but I'm at least hanging out in the correct neighborhood.
So if you're like me--a pantser with plotter envy--I highly recommend you take a look at some of the screenwriting resources. I adore both the Save the Cat! books I have and though I attended Michael Hauge's workshop and don't own his book, I know all his great info is in there.
So what about you? Plotter or pantser or somewhere in between? Has anyone else tried out the screenwriting techniques? What is the key for you staying on track with your story?