Tuesday, August 26

Learning to be an Unapologetic “Planster”

By Amy Christine Parker, @amychristinepar

Part of the How They Do It Series 


Process is personal, and every writer has one, typically somewhere on the sliding scale between plotter and pantser. YA author Amy Christine Parker joins us today to discuss her process and how she learned to live in the best of both worlds--plotter and pantser.

Amy writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. When she isn’t writing, more often than not, she can be found either visiting or planning a visit to Disney World. She is the author of GATED and ASTRAY with Random House Children’s. Visit her at amychristineparker.com and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar.

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Take it away Amy...

It seems like most writers fall into two camps: those who plot and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Almost always one of the first things people want to know at panels or in interviews about my writing process is which of these camps I fall into. Plotter? Or Panster? Which is the precise moment when I start to cringe because you see—weirdly—I am both.

When I start a novel I almost always break out the index cards and my dog eared copy of Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book, Save the Cat, practically bouncing on my toes with excitement at the prospect of researching various aspects of my idea, of creating character profiles, and scouring the internet for inspirational pictures or music that relate to the story I hope to tell. For me this is one of the most fun parts of writing a novel because it satisfies my inner Type A, that rather large part of me that likes everything to fit tidily into a bulletin board sized space, neatly laid out in order, preferably color coded by character or setting. Just talking about it makes me sigh with pleasure. Seriously.

For a few lovely weeks or months that part of me gets its wish. I do fill up a bulletin board with scenes neatly laid out on index cards. I do create a binder with settings meticulously cataloged and character descriptions detailed enough that they even include my dream cast if the book were to become a movie—you know, so I can be more efficient if on some future day a producer or director were ever to ask me. What? It could happen.

But then it’s time to sit down and write and ladies and gentleman, this is where my best laid plans always, always go awry. About five pages into the first chapter more often than not, one of my characters does something unexpected—literally. It’s like they have grown a mind of their own and staged a coup, effectively ruining the chain of events that I want them to get through. It might even be that a character I didn’t create to begin with decides to make an appearance and suddenly becomes someone I need to pay attention to, someone who is integral to the plot, or maybe everyone ends up in the middle of the woods in a thunderstorm instead of the cave I have so sweetly set up for them. Less than a day into my version of an outline and I’m already freestyling, pants slung low on my hips, feet planted on a mental skateboard headed straight for a giant half pipe, trying my best not to wipe out. It’s unnerving and terrifying for a control freak like me and yet I can’t seem to avoid it no matter how tightly I plot or how determined I am to stick to my plans.

Not for one book.

Not even for a short story.

Life would be so much easier if I could stick to plan and so I’ve fought this penchant of mine tooth and nail for three books, until finally—while working on the book that comes out after ASTRAY—I realized that no matter what I do, I will keep ending up in the same place: Plansting. It is my process plain and simple. Basically, in order for me to uncover the book I’m meant to write, I need to let the part of me who can’t relinquish control get her two cents in and micromanage everything to death then grin and bear it when the more creative, fluid side of me takes over and starts messing all those plans up. My process is a contradiction, but then in many ways, so am I. I like to plan my vacations to the minute, but then often take spontaneous detours once I’m on it. I can’t fit myself into a neat little box, so why should I be able to do the same with my characters or their stories?

And so when I’m asked about my process the next time around I intend to hold my head up high and proclaim the effectiveness of plansting—at least for me. In the end the only right way to write a novel is the one that gets you successfully to those last, blessed words: the end.

About Astray


Lyla is caught between two worlds. The isolated Community that she grew up in and the outside world that she’s navigating for the very first time. The outsiders call the Community a cult, but Pioneer miraculously survived a shooting that should have killed him. Are the faithful members right to stay true to his message? Is this just a test of faith? One thing is for sure: the Community will do anything to bring Lyla back to the fold. Trapped in a spider’s web of deception, will Lyla detect the sticky threads tightening around her before it’s too late? She’ll have to unravel the mystery of what Pioneer and the Community are truly up to if she wants to survive.

Suspenseful and chilling, Astray is Amy Christine Parker’s nerve-fraying sequel to Gated. This fast-paced psychological thriller is masterfully plotted and sure to leave goose bumps. Perfect for fans of creepy YA thrillers and contemporary fiction alike.

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14 comments:

  1. If i make a sketch of an outline then just write away does this mean I "Pants between the lines?"

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    1. Lol, I am stealing this joke because it is awesome.

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    2. I hereby publicly grant the use of the phrase "Pants between the lines" to Amy Parker for non exclusive use since it is my honor to be so recognized.... ~smirk.

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  2. BTW this is well written and good for the rest of us who teeter back and forth. Ultimately first drafts are supposed to be a mess....
    Thank you Christine.

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  3. I fall into this category as well. i'll have every scene roughly outlined (this happens, MC goes here and talks with xyz), but then during the draft certain scenes will just expand and expand, and i'm forced to adjust my outline to fit (this flashback scene gets consolidated into this other scene, other scenes are cut as they no longer fit with the new development).

    i prefer this method actually, as it lets both sides of my brain get their say in, and i'm always writing to get to the next main point. having that goal (or place i need to get to) seems to help me keep my drafts much tighter, and if it ain't broke i don't fix it...

    Thanks for the post. always nice to know you're not alone...

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    1. You're welcome, I'm glad I'm not alone too!

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  4. I love it when authors acknowledge there IS a middle ground on this one! I like my planning but am mostly a pantser, prefering to know roughly what will happen in a chapter but letting the words just fly out as they will.

    I mop up the editorial mess this creates in the re-drafting...

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    1. I think the magic happens most often when the words fly out:-) Revision is where I get to be all Type A again and so I always look forward to it.

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  5. I don't know why people ever say a writer has to be all pantser or all plotter. Creation is messy and wild. When you try to rein it in too hard and tame it too much, you break its spirit. But if you don't have a destination in mind and you let it run willy-nilly all over the place, you'll end up nowhere. A combination of both styles is the only thing that works for me.

    And I totally agree that revision is where the control/organizing freak is most needed.

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    1. This is all so very true. Nicely put!

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  6. You are the first person to ever describe a process similar to mine. I also use index card, which I've organized into sensible order. And I keep a novel bible--a three ring binder with all the important info for the book. But when I'm drafting I leave lots and lots of room to play and create. It's a perfect balance for me!

    Thanks for sharing your Plantsing strategy.

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    1. I keep a novel Bible too, the same exact way. I am so completely old school like that. And I print out my rough drafts and revise on paper. Something about physically seeing the story laid out across my living room floor helps me get the final order set. We are very much alike it seems!

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    2. The thing i like about Scrivener for windows is that it has an index card view, and then each index card on the corkboard will expand into a text document in the detail view. on the index cards i can create a rough outline of the scene, what its goal is, and so on (basically recreate the outline on the index cards), and then in the detail view i can just draft that scene. it fits my workflow very well, and was a cheap purchase for all i've gotten out of it.

      If i were to use actual index cards my entire desk area would quickly resemble a tornado path, and my wife would go nuclear on me... ;)

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