Plotting vs. Pantsing

The age-old question for novel writers regarding how they work:

Are you a plotter or a pantser?  It sounds funny, but writers really do fall into one of two categories.  They usually make a detailed plotline before they write and then follow it, sometimes allowing for a little serendipity.  OR they write by the seat of their pants, meaning they write as they go, following the muse wherever it leads.  Then there’s the plotser.  I believed myself to fall into this category, as I always know the beginning and end of my story as well as some major plot points, critical scenes, and the climax.

But which one is right for writing?

Truly, either style CAN work.  What I’ve learned over time is that the pantser tends to have more freedom in the beginning but will have more work after the first draft.  The plotter takes more time to choreograph all the details ahead of time, but ends up with a more polished first draft.

So really, what you want to ask yourself is whether you want more work after you write (pantser) or more work before you write (plotter).  Either way, there is significant work involved! 😉

For plotting tips, I recommend reading Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland.  The author makes plotting seem like an organic process.  It’s not so much about roman numerals and bullet points but more about figuring out what drives the narrative and building around that.  You basically keep a notebook of the details you do know in the order in which they happen and then just keep building on that until you connect all the dots.  Ask yourself a lot of questions and write in a stream of consciousness format, allowing for many different possibilities to unfold.  By doing this now, you’re more likely to figure out plot holes and fix them instead of writing yourself into a corner.  You’ll also quickly notice where your story lacks tension.

One great suggestion the author offers when you get stuck is to consider working backwards.  If you know what happens at the climax and you know one of the major events leading up to it, but you don’t know what happens in-between, you can use the climax as a springboard.  Meaning, think about what is necessary for the climax to occur, ask yourself some questions, and you will likely discover ways to lead up to this point.  That way you are less likely to add random, meaningless events just to fill space from point A to point B.

Once you get to the level of crafting individual scenes, consider Darcy Pattison’s advice on her popular blog, Fiction Notes.  In her post entitled “My 4000 Word Day: Prewriting,” she says, “Scenes need a beginning, middle, end; add in conflict and a pivot or turning point; stir with some great emotional development.”

Consider using a set of index cards and have one per scene.  Identify the POV, 3 reasons for each scene (i.e. character, theme, plot/subplot advancement), the number of pages, and on which day in your story the scene takes place (from your timeline or story calendar).  You can also rearrange the cards to determine the best scene progression.

Now if you insist on pantsing, which is OK, you might try these tips that I learned at Detcon, the North American Science Fiction Convention held in Detroit last summer.  When you get blocked, try using tarot cards, especially a literary archetypes deck.  You can also consider collaging ideas or creating a mind map.  You want to at least have a broad story arc and know up to 2 or 3 scenes ahead.  The voice is key, so try to nail that within the first 10,000 words before moving on.

The coolest thing I discovered about detailed plotting is how it actually heightens creativity rather than stifles it.  You’re still making up every detail from your imagination.  I would argue you can actually keep the flow going more easily at this stage, because you aren’t also focused on language and crafting the perfect sentences.  Furthermore, plotting reduces the anxiety of sitting down to write, since now you have a guide to follow.  Every sailer needs a map, even if you plan to go off course every once in a while.

So plot the course of your novel, and prepare to sail through your first draft with unexpected ease!

Happy Friday from Petunia Owl!

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Finding Your Center

What if I told you there was a spot on Earth that marked the world’s center.  Would you want to go?

The axis mundi is known to be the world’s center point connecting sky and earth where all four directions meet.  There are actually many symbolic representations of this point including structures like lighthouses (no wonder I love them!) and natural formations like mountains.

I was lucky enough to encounter several of these on my recent trip to Italy.  One was at the Pantheon in Rome.  It has a concrete dome with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.  And what a view!  The height to the oculus measures the same as its diameter–142 ft.  And if you stand in the center underneath it and look up into the sky, you certainly feel connected to something higher.

Another axis mundi was seen on a hike in the Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Vernazza.  I couldn’t ignore the spot where the earth and especially the sea met the sky.  It was like I was staring at the edge of the world.  Or perhaps it was the center.  I could not tell, only that it was breathtaking.

A skyscraper can also serve as an axis mundi.  I just saw the movie The Walk about Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I dare say he was experiencing a divine moment when he did that.

One of the greatest symbols of an axis mundi in literature, religion, and myth is the Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life.  Like all trees, this tree exists on three planes–heaven, earth, and underworld (where its roots are)–and symbolizes immortality.  It makes you look at trees just a little bit differently, doesn’t it?

I was also delighted to discover that the mandala represents an axis mundi.  No wonder they’re such a powerful tool for meditation and centering one’s self!

Even more mind-bending is the notion that the human body itself can serve as an axis mundi.  The Renaissance image of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci symbolizes the axis mundi.  Furthermore, many religions view the human body as a temple and prayer as a column from earth to heaven.  Do you see the connection?

Now, what if I told you the world’s center was right where you stand?  Strive to connect with heaven and earth in this moment.  Then you will find the center inside of you.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” –Lao Tzu

“I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” –Confucius

 

Discovering My Roots in Italy


Hello my dear readers and sorry for the long absence!  My husband and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary in Italy–an amazing trip which has been on my bucket list for a long time.  It’s quite gratifying to accomplish one of my dreams!  This trip was far more than just a vacation or celebration.  I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, as I’m part Italian.  One quarter to be exact.  I’d been wanting to delve into my roots and explore part of my cultural background.  Just as my first trip to Japan helped me to understand my Japanese husband better, this trip to Italy helped me understand myself better.

I thought it might be fun to document some of the things I affirmed about myself and share them with you.

  • I understand part of why I was raised Catholic, as this religion played a huge part in developing Italian culture and politics.  The pope and the Vatican are here, which is like a world unto itself.  I can also see why I have an interest in mythology, given Rome’s history which included Greek and Latin influences.  Visiting the Pantheon was quite a unique experience, since it’s been the site of religious worship since about 27 BC!  Even the current building dates back to about 126 AD!
  • I can see why I love learning, knowledge, and books.  So many great minds had the freedom to explore and experiment here including Marco Polo (we visited his actual stomping ground) as well as Amerigo Vespucci and Galileo.  Travel, maps, and stars–all our favorite things!
  • Italians are passionate and emotional by nature but at times disorganized, as am I 🙂  But gratefully, they really seem to know how to enjoy life!  Which brings me to my next point.
  •  The Italian workday typically starts at 9 or 10am with a long lunch from about 12 or 1 to 3pm.  Shops often close in the evening around 7pm with an 8 or 9pm dinner hour.  This suits my night owl tendencies and sleeping habits.  Perhaps I’ve been running on Italian time all along 😉
  • And the last thing I would like to highlight is..well…the art, of course!  From The Roman Empire, to the Medieval period, culminating in the Italian Renaissance, there was no shortage of creativity here.  So many advancements were made in terms of both subject matter and drawing/sculpting techniques.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David statue, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (2 paintings by Botticelli) was awe-inspiring to say the least.  I felt without a doubt that art is in my genes.  It’s who I am, and I don’t ever want to forget that.

I encourage all of you to explore what makes you unique.  If you don’t have the ability to travel, then head to your nearest library or bookstore and do some research.  Check out your genealogy and family tree online.  I think the more we can understand where we came from, the better we can know ourselves, and the more we can connect to others.

Ciao for now!