Sunday, March 6, 2011

True Confessions

I have a confession to make.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

I’m a pantzer. I’ve always been a pantzer. You know the type. The writer who knows a couple of plot points then starts writing to see what happens. Or, the one who has a character they really, really like then throws obstacles in front of them to see what occurs.

It’s worked pretty well. I’ve finished some manuscripts. I’ve placed in some contests. But, I’ve always felt like things were off kilter. The plot just wasn’t enough of something.

There weren’t enough echoes that reverberated throughout the story. Ideas that I’d start at the beginning I didn’t use to their potential. There wasn’t enough—and I shudder to say this—structure.

Structure. The thing my creative side has railed against since the beginning. My day job has plenty of bald-faced, there’s-only-one-way-to-do-this structure. Codified laws, regulations and guidelines to be followed or else. So, my writing has always felt like a walk down a breezy beach, stopping where I wanted to pick up the shells that I like, not the shells someone else told me to like. Jumping into the water periodically or digging in the sand to find a sand crab.

I get to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it. There are no laws governing me when I write. Or are there?

Two weekends ago many of the Rockville 8, along with other great writers, spent a weekend on retreat. Some writing was done. But a lot of concepts were discussed, too. Some of the writers took time out to prepare presentations and discuss books and movies as examples. They generously shared what they have learned or discovered.

There are so many theories on how to plot that I won’t even go there. But while we were talking, this thought occurred to me: They’re all good. They’re all valid. And they’ve all been successfully used by someone. For years, I’ve been buffeted by all of the classes I’ve taken. The presenter will say “This is how I’ve done it.” The author is a multi-published success so this must be the Holy Grail. “The Way To Be Published.”

But somewhere during these successful author presentations, almost all of them said something like “This is the way I do it. However, you need to find your own process.” I know this intellectually. Knowing this emotionally is a whole ‘nother story.

So, here I am, rambling. Pantzing, really. I see the plotters rolling their eyes. What’s the point of all this musing?

The point is that the conversation we had Saturday night about structure really galvanized me. I think I may have found the beginnings of a spreadsheet/flowchart that I can work with-another aspect to my process. I spent the Sunday night after I returned home figuring out where my scenes fit into the structure that I decided to use. I deleted, added and rearranged scenes.

I’ve used spreadsheets for years. Footed and cross-footed them. Ticked and tied them. Reworked them. Rearranged them. Programmed them to calculate all sorts of things. But I never really used them for writing. Again, wanting to be the wild-child writer, I didn’t want to fool with that. I was off the clock.

Sunday night, while I was tinkering with my plot points, I had a lightning bolt to the brain. Studying my little spreadsheet, I discovered the worst thing that could happen to my main character.

And it will happen. I see it now, on my spreadsheet, that it must.

Tell me about your plotting process. I’d love to hear what is. Or, in the case of you pure breed pantzers, what it isn’t.


  1. Lisa, I'm a pantzer who is trying to reform! I crave structure, but you're right! I don't want my writing to be structured! I want a structure I can hang my writing ON. LOL. Not the same thing.

  2. Wouldn't that be nice if we could do that? And so much easier, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working for me...

  3. pantzer...yep that's me. I don't think I will ever be reformed...but I am trying. My first steps in recovery have been to try to set up the turning points of my story. That's all, just the turning points. It's harder than I thought it would be...much harder.

  4. Mary - Maybe we pantzers should start a club. Or a recovery group, depending on your outlook.

    Steve - Thank you for the invitation!