The Resolution

Today we are talking about conclusions. Otherwise known as the end of the book. No, not the climax, or the moment that the hero wins. The conclusion is also the called the resolution, the moment after the hero wins. When the journey is over, the task is completed, and everyone is either saved or dead.

The conclusion is what will stick with the reader long after the book has been placed back on the shelf. It is the last taste in the cake that is the novel. Mess it up, and readers will be left with a nasty taste in their mouths, and never want to pick up one of your books again.

Yes, I have written another blog post a while back on endings. (you can find it here) They are my favorite part about stories, so I ain’t apologizing.

So, how much resolution is too much? The tension is over, all the questions have been answered, there is nothing left to keep the story moving. Unless of course you wait to wrap up a side plot until after the climax, which I think is an excellent strategy, but I digress.

What you want to avoid is the after climax winning stretch. The battle has been won, love has conquered, and the story keeps going, and going, and going… Until the reader is bored to tears and skims the final few pages.

However, I have also read novels where the resolution was too short. The climax happened, the good guys smile at each other, and then ‘The End’. To be honest, this happens more often in movies than in books. I am starting to dislike the words at the end of a movie that fill in for a great resolution scene. I don’t want to read about him living happily ever after, I want to see it.

The first ending leaves the reader feeling bored, and that the story was much too long. The second ending leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied. We, as writers, don’t want either, obviously.

But it still leaves the question, how much is too much? How much is too little? I am a reader before I am a writer, and I will say that the best endings that I remember are ones that directly correlated to how long the story was.

No one, unless you are an illiterate heathen, complains about the Into the West resolution at the end of Lord of the Rings. It is technically a long resolution, but nobody cares. Because we have spent hours caring about and adventuring with those characters. We are deeply invested in them, so we want to know what happens to them.

I once read a series that had a really, really long resolution. There was a wedding, and a coronation. Chapters upon chapters of stuff happened after the climax. You might think that it would have been boring. It was not. I loved every minute because I had spent hours wishing these characters a happy ending, and now I finally got to see it.

Contrast that to a rom-com. Nothin’ much happens after that last kiss, or proposal. Maybe a quick voice over, maybe them turning around to smile at celebrating friends. Short is the rule. Why? Because we only spent ninety minutes caring about these characters. Not very long in the grand scheme of things. So in all honesty, most of the time our interest ends when the tension ends. After that we all move on with our lives.

If I wrote a short story, my resolution would be one, maybe two lines. If I wrote a novel, a few pages would suffice. As for an epic series, one chapter showing everyone’s future might be nice.

When writing your story, ask yourself this question. If you were reading this story for the first time, what would you most want to know about the characters after the battle ends? When you answer that question for yourself, write it out. The resolution exists because readers care about characters. Give your readers the satisfaction of knowing that everything was okay after that, and they will love you forever.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: Talk to People

In the vein of being a rebellious writer, I have another piece of non-advice (as in a piece of advice that I am stating but not shouting on the top of my lungs) for all writers out there.

Talk to people. Do not bring your notebook with you. Bring yourself, and only yourself.

A very classy thing many writers are doing, or saying that they are doing, is bringing a notebook everywhere with them. The store, the party, the library. Everywhere! Some people take them for stray ideas that come in the most irritating places. Some people are actually working on their stories. Though I will admit it is a great excuse to hide my face from socializing. And one has the rush of ‘getting things done’. Here we are, multi tasking even at a social event!

My dear writing friend. Please leave the writing notebook at home. The things you will miss will far outweigh the words you gain.

Here recently I had the immense privilege of listening in on a conversation about a way of life far outside my own. I know the things I learned about cash crops will make its way into a novel. It was too interesting not to! Though I could have been sitting there surreptitiously writing down what they were saying. I chose not to. For one, I had left my notebook in the car, and for two, I would have lost the flow of the conversation if I had.

There may be people out there who can somehow listen and write at the same time, I am not one of those people. I can either listen, or I can write. Never the twain shall meet. I would have lost so much of that conversation if I had written things down. Things like facial expressions, hand gestures, and tones of voice. So much of human conversation is through non verbal gestures, what would I have missed if I had missed those cues?

I know that as a writer, there are some things I will have to give up and just not worry about. But writing while someone is talking, especially while I am in the conversation, is considered rude in many circles. Just about as bad as scrolling through a phone. Either way, the person is not paying full attention to the conversation. It irritates me to know end when someone is not listening to my words, how do other people feel when I pull out my notebook?

About a week ago I had a conversation with an extremely interesting person. I listened rapt to all of his experiences in working and life. We talking about education, and finding a job, among other things. Hello story ideas. And I never would have learned any of that, if I had kept my head buried in my own world.

People are interesting. But you will never know why unless you talk to them. Or if you listen to them. In the first example I mentioned, I spent the whole conversation listening. And that was all. I do realize that there are people who find starting conversations scary. After all, I am one of them.

Consider this a challenge to truly pay attention wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking or listening. I think the notebook, and the flurry of writing notes, is a distraction to the conversation going on.

Leave the notebook at home. Listen and interact with real life people. You will have ideas. Listening to people is one of the best ways I have found to get inspiration. Soak those interesting people in. Pay attention and find out their why’s, their motivations. After all, as writers we are trying to create characters who resonate with others, not just a quirky character who only exists to be quirky.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: I’m Taking a Break

No, I am not actually taking a break from blogging. Not a planned one anyway. You never know what could happen on Tuesdays…

If you are a writer, you know what Writers Block is. It is not an actual wooden block sitting on your fingers and cackling at your bleary eyes. This is much, much worse. A wall inside of your brain keeping you from the words. Or at least the good words. There are no ideas, nothing worth writing at all in your brain. Just a wall, taunting you with its despicable firmness.

And how do we get rid of Writers Block? “By writing of course!” Say the chirpy writers with a cute notebook in hand. “Just keep slogging away,” intone the serious writers dressed in black and a faraway look in their eyes.

I tried. The wall has been a constant companion in my journey as a writer, and I have chipped away at it, day after slogging day, hoping that someday I will reach the end.

Did I ever reach the end? Sometimes. I would also be five thousand words in to an unnecessary series of scenes that would need to be cut. The only reason they existed was to get me out of Writers Block. Cutting out all those words you just slaved over is depressing.

Or, if I was lucky enough to write words that kind of go with the story, they would have to be completely rewritten because they are, in all honesty, trash.

Yes I said trash, about my own writing. Don’t gasp so loud, I can hear you.

I don’t write well while I have Writers Block. Big surprise. The wall is just too intimidating, too big. And I got really sick of forcing the words to come. I know writing isn’t easy. But does it have to feel like torture?

So I stopped the torture. I stopped staring at the wall day after day and did something else entirely. I guess you could say I gave up. Which let me say right here and now was only possible because I don’t have a writing contract. No one is depending upon me to write thousands of words a week. Thank goodness!

I didn’t completely give up on my ridiculous novel, just took a really, really long break. I checked in on the wall every now and then, just to see if it was still there. Yep still big, yep still big, yep still… Hey, I’ve got an idea!

And just like that, the wall was gone. I was past Writers Block, and with a lot less headache than normal.

Sitting there and putting words on a page isn’t necessarily going to make Writers Block magically disappear. It isn’t The formula, just a formula. And I for one don’t find it useful.

Stories aren’t made up of formulas. They are made up of imagination, starry eyes, and something no one can put their finger on. Stuffing your story, and the creation of your story, into formulas will smother it.

So don’t. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to/must sit down and conquer Writers Block. Do your brain a favor and step back. Let your creative juices steep and simmer. Maybe you have been staring at the same black and white words for too long. Tried to wring something interesting from the same old ideas one too many times.

Get into the sunshine and see some color. Ideas don’t just come from other stories. They also come from sunshine and people and real life experiences. Take a break. It can be as long or as short as you would like. However I would recommend you stay away until thinking of writing doesn’t make you cringe inside. When you have an idea, when you are ready to pick up your story again, that is the time to come back.

So get out there and do something that doesn’t smell like writing!

In other news, I reached 101 followers on this little blog! Thanks guys, I never thought I would get this far. Honest.

Shaina Merrick

To Plan, or Not to Plan

I know, I know there is a blog post about plotting and pantsing somewhere on this blog (in fact you can find it here). But I am to the terrible middle of my novel, and I have to talk about this again!

Basically, I plotted the entiiiiiire story, in great detail. Down to who was falling in love with who at which time. Subplots, story beats, this beautiful outline had it all!

And then I forgot to look at the plot. And then my characters decided that their ideas were better than mine (glaring at you Terrence). So there I was, blithely writing along without looking at my plot. Just when I decided that I was at the midpoint I went and found my plotline and compared the two.

Cue me banging my head against my desk.

The story has meandered in and around the entire plot, sometimes missing plot points, sometimes finding them, and taking its sweet time to get to, in my plot, the second pinch point or a little bit before the midpoint.

Wut.

All that work, and I am not even at the middle yet?

Which got me thinking, is it even worth the trouble of plotting the entire story if I can’t follow it? Or won’t follow it. This plot has fallen to pieces as the story has meandered along.

There are things that I came across while I was writing that I think are better. Points that make more sense, scenes that I never would have thought up if I hadn’t written it. My story is stronger because I didn’t follow the plot. I hope so anyway.

So what the heck was the point of plotting it all out in the first place? Color coding did not guard against stray plot bunnies, bullet points did not fill in my glaring plot holes. There would be much more peace of mind, then and now, if I hadn’t created a plot that I now have to redo and wiggle around to fit where the story is going.

In this particular instance, I think it would have suited me much better if I had created a basic plot, with basic beats, that was easier to flex and wiggle when I went off the path. Now I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

All this to say, there is nothing like putting words on a page and figuring out what works with the characters and story the best. I didn’t know what worked for my story until I wrote it. Which I know is unthinkable to some of you. But there you go. I needed to write the story to find the plot for the story. Does it mean there will be lots (and lots and lots) of editing later? Yes, unfortunately. I will have to go track down all those plot bunnies and missing characters and put them back in place. But in the end, my story will be stronger for all that rambling and meandering.

Excessive planning did not work for this story. Perhaps it will for a different story. Maybe I will get better at following my own plot. But while I am dreaming, I would like calorie free chocolate.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer and World Building

Conventional writing wisdom comes in many forms. What you read in articles, writing tips you find on Pinterest, and the advice you heard first hand from your writing partners. Put it all together, and you are told something like this.

‘Show, don’t tell. Unless it’s the backstory, then don’t show any bit of it. Though you have to plan the backstory, down to what your protagonists three year old self preferred for breakfast. You also need to plot out the backstory for all of your other characters down to the same excruciating detail. During this process, don’t forget to figure out the world while you are at it. Include as much history as you have time for. Typically at least five generations back.’

It goes on and on like this. ‘More is better’ is stuffed into every new writers brain. Detail is praised to the heavens, and if anyone dares to argue, a dozen authors swivel their heads around and glare at you. ‘Don’t you want to be a good writer?’ Uuuuum. Yes?

I could tell you that I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and like to consider all of my options before settling on one thing. In reality, I am rebellious. When conventional writing wisdom tells me I have to do something, I say ‘Ha!’ And go try to find my way around it.

Sometimes, I admit defeat and follow the advice. There is a reason some of it has been around for as long as it has. There is no way around those grammar rules guys. I tried, I succumbed, I am now teaching myself the secret language of grammar.

However! Story rules are not set in stone, and they are broken all the time!

For example…

There are those who say that you have to world build forever before you start writing. And by forever, I mean you have to know what has happened in your world for forever. Plan the legends, the races your characters will never see, and find out why the grass is green.

They have a point. Great epics like Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time, have extensive world building. Those worlds are big enough to house multiple civilizations, and histories that are longer than ours. The hours and hours of world building I am sure they spent on their novels paid off. The world is breathtaking.

Here is the part where I raise my hand and say, ‘Wait!’

While world building is all well and good, you don’t have to do hours and hours of it to have an epic story.

Where are the legends of old in Narnia? There are some, a story here and there, but no where near the epics of the Wheel of Time.

What about the Prydain Chronicles? I don’t think the constellations are even mentioned, and as for legends. Not so much.

The world building in those two epic series is nowhere near as vast as the other series. And did the series suffer? No! Narnia is one of the classics we all study, and the Prydain Chronicles is called one of the founders of American fantasy. In fact, it is one of my favorite series ever.

They don’t have so much world building because they don’t need it. It wasn’t necessary to the story.

In The Wheel of Time, where every event is tied to the past and every character aware of the prophecies, not to have all that figured out and squared away would be silly. This series needed the lush, intricate world. Narnia did not.

More detail is not always better. If all the details given in Lord of the Rings was given in the Prydain Chronicles, the magic of those stories would have been lost.

Sure, you will always need some world building. You should decide if the grass is actually green in your world after all. But your story may not need pages upon pages of your worlds history.

You are not trying to make another Middle Earth. You are trying to build your world, where your characters will live and breath and have adventures. What does your world need?

Are your characters delving into the past to find a cure or a historic document? Then figure out your worlds history! Are your characters running for their lives in the mountains? Then by all means figure out in excruciating detail what plants grow there. After all, one of those plants might come in handy when you need to defeat the villain.

But if you are in the mountains for the whole novel, do you need to map out the eco system of the ocean? Or decide what the architecture is of the villages in the plains? No, no you don’t.

More detail is not better. Rather, the right detail is better. This isn’t going to stunt your novel, it is going to give it room to breathe.

Shaina Merrick

What do you think of world building? Do you do a lot? A little? I’m curious, am I the only one who dies inside everytime she looks at those sheets upon sheets of world building questions? (writer problems) Let me know in the comments below!

How You Should End Your Novel

Endings. How I love to hate thee. The bane of my existence, yet the reason what I read book after book. Maybe it is because I love endings so much that they scare me so much when I am writing them.

Honestly, ending anything longer than 150 words terrifies me. I long for a WIP to end even as I am avoiding thinking about it. And now you are wondering why on earth I should be writing a blog post about it.

Because I am opinionated! And where else should I air my opinions then my blog?

Well, also because I have given this a lot of thought. Especially when I read a book that leaves me unsatisfied and grumpy when I finish it. Aspiring authors, never leave your reader feeling grumpy. They may never come back.

So welcome to How You Should End Your Novel.

Step One

An end is not The End.

Endings are not just two words saying The End. If it was, no one would ever do it wrong and you would never hear anyone complaining. Since there seems to be so much complaining about book endings in the world, there must be a right way to do them and a wrong way to do them.

We will be discussing the right way to do them. At least, the right way according to me. Other opinions may vary.

Your ending will dictate the course of your entire novel. Whether your character goes right instead of left. Why your mentor says the things he does. Basically, your entire novel is foreshadowing the end. Your job is to hint to the reader how your story is going to end, and it is up to your reader to first see, and then interpret those hints accordingly. If your hints point to a completely different ending then you have planned, your readers will end up feeling jipped.

Mystery stories are the master at this. Every single detail points to the solution to the mystery, and the end of the story. Yes, there are red herrings. The flashy hints that catch the readers attention. However, if every hint you have is a red herring, the reader will end up being frustrated and may slam the book shut out of puzzlement and never pick it up again.

The best writers are weaving subtle, real hints along with their red herrings. If you have a well done plot twist, the reader will be surprised, and then look at the book and realize that the right answer was there the whole time.

Step Two

Happy ending or no happy ending?

This is not a question to take lightly. As we have established, your answer to this question will determine every step of your novel.

For sanity’s sake, please do not throw in a tragic ending just for the sake of a tragic ending. Or because of the shock value. That is a terrible way to decide which ending to have. Terrible.

I have read a story where you are rooting for the main character the whole time, and then he dies. I was left wondering what the point of the story was, and if there was a point at all.

If you have tragedy, there must be a point, a reason. If you have happiness, there must also be a point.

Let’s look at it this way. What if Hamlet had been a happy ending? He got his revenge, the girl, and everyone lived happily ever after. While that is what I was hoping for during the play, if I had gotten what I had wanted, the play would have fallen flat. The entire point of the play was to show the affect of Hamlet’s father’s murder. How one murder turns into two, then three, and on and on. How one terrible decision leads to another terrible decision. Tragedy fit the tone and point of the play.

How about Pride and Prejudice? What if everyone had died in the end? We would hate that book until our dying days for one thing. For another thing the book would have no point whatsoever. The entire story is about finding love and overcoming pride. If the characters never overcame their pride and died, well, we would get an entirely different message. The tone of the book fits the end, the end fits the book.

Choose an ending that fits your book. And don’t be afraid of happy endings.

I think many people believe that authors are afraid of tragedies. Of killing characters and making readers unhappy. Perhaps that is the way it used to be, but at the moment I see more and more authors toying with tragedies, unwilling to give their characters happy endings unless everything else has gone wrong and they have worked really hard for it. Basically a book where everyone dies except for the love interest and the MC who magically stay alive.

Meh.

No, you should not just hand out happy endings like cookies. However, it is fine for people to be happy in your books. If they have worked hard for it, they deserve a happy ending. Lots of people are happy, lots of people have happy endings in real life. Lots of people also have tragic endings in real life. Either way, your ending should be true to your book.

Step Three

Tie up thy plot threads

This is not a suggestion. Let me repeat myself, THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION!! There is not much in a book that bugs me more than loose plot threads the writer didn’t bother to find and tie up. At the moment, we are not talking about books within a series, we are talking about stand alone’s and the end of a series. The places where you have to search for every stray character and account for them.

Remember step one? Just because you slap a The End on your novel does not mean it is finished. You should have been foreshadowing this end since chapter one. Now consider every hint you have given to be a solemn promise to the reader.

Have you foreshadowed character one and character two falling in love? They had better go on a date by the end of your novel! Did you hint that character one is going to fall off a cliff? Find a cliff and dump him off of it before finishing your novel. By the way, red herrings are tied up when they are revealed to be red herrings.

If you give a hint, a.k.a. a promise, that has not been fulfilled by the end of the story, your reader will be left feeling unsatisfied. This includes any mysteries like backstory and world building stuff. Unless you have a really good reason why not to explain something, explain it. Give your reader the satisfaction they are reading for.

Quick Rant: Wrapping things up has a subcategory called fulfilling all of your prophecies. If you have a huge prophecy at the beginning of the book that is supposed to guide the entire plot, please, please fulfill the prophecy. There are clever ways to get out of killing your character, but honestly, if you want your hero to leave, don’t prophecy his death. That red herring is so old it isn’t even red anymore. Quick Rant Over.

There you have it. A three step process to finishing your novel well. Good luck finishing all your Nano novels!

Shaina Merrick

To Begin

One of the most important bits of any story is the beginning. The part that convinces a reader to keep reading, or to shut the book and move on with their lives. The blank page that keeps writers trapped in fear. We know beginnings are important, we know they must portray character, setting, plot, and tone all without info dumping, we know that a good beginning will keep readers, a bad beginning will deter them. As writers, we are acutely aware of all of this. And that awareness keeps us frozen, staring at the empty page and waiting for the perfect words to begin our stories.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t laugh, yet. Beginnings have the possibility to be easy. Well, easier anyway. Now, I am no expert on this. On anything to be perfectly honest, but I do have an idea of what a good beginning is, and what a good beginning isn’t.

It all boils down to a couple of questions to ask yourself as you are settling down to begin your epic novel.

What is the most important part of this story?

Don’t tell me the characters. You haven’t thought about it yet. Think about it. What, in your book, is most important? Is it the plot? Is it the setting? Is it the theme? Or is it your characters? When you have answered that question, you know what to showcase in the beginning. If your setting is the most important part of your story, you will most likely want to start with a description of said setting (don’t scoff, many classic novels start out with description). If it is your plot, get that plot started right away!

Cut straight to what is important and leave out the fluff.

Is this story plot driven or character driven?

For the sake of this post, we will not be discussing the differences and potentials of each kind of story here. Suffice to say that plot driven stories rely on the plot to drive them forward, character driven stories, the characters.

If your story is going to be plot driven, you will want the plot to start off with a bang. Plop your reader in the midst of a gun fight, have the inciting event start two pages before the novel begins. However you do it, make sure events are happening from page one. This is a plot story after all, there isn’t time to be introspective.

If you have a character driven story, you will, most likely, start at more of a leisurely pace. Your inciting event can start a few pages down the road. Breath, introduce your readers to the characters they will be hanging out with for a few hundred pages. Don’t worry if things seem a little slow at first. Just worry if they stay slow when they aren’t supposed to be.

Since we are all about to being new projects, I thought it would be worthwhile chatting about beginnings. Don’t stress writers! Your beginning will be awesome. Are you guys ready for Nano yet? I am pretending that I am, also trying not to hyperventilate as November 1st looms ever closer. Eep!

Good luck everyone!

Shaina Merrick

Plotting V.S. Pantsing

You know how at the beginning of each how-to post the author tells you why you should listen to them? Why they are uniquely qualified to speak to you on this subject? Well. Here is a short version of that.

In the plotting and pantsing world I am not exactly in either camp. Nor am I one of those enlightened people who sit squarely in the middle of the line with their novels. I am a metronome. Sometimes I swing all the way to the pantsing side of writing, sometimes I swing the other way. It really depends on the day.

So do I know what I am talking about when I say plotting or pantsing? Yup. Been there done both. Whether that makes me qualified to write about this is another matter altogether. I will leave it for you to judge.

Lest you become confuzzled, let me define these terms. Ones that are bandied back and forth in the writing world all of the time. Sometimes sparking an interesting discussion, sometimes a heated debate.

In simple terms, plotters plan out their story before the first draft. Pantsers plot it out while they are writing the first draft. Plotters figure out their characters, plot, and setting waaay ahead of time. They are the ones with multiple notebooks dedicated to different elements of their story. Pantsers sit down with the germ of a story idea, a pen, and a piece of paper, and figure it out as they go along. Plot outlines? Character worksheets? What are those?!

The most heated debates come when writers begin to discuss which one is better. To plot first, or to plot later, that is the question. To which I say, depends on the day?

Pantsing Strengths

At this particular moment, the novel I am working on has been completely pantsed. When I began writing it I had a phrase, and half of a character. As I wrote I found more characters, and eventually figured out what on earth was going on with this story. That is the magic of pantsing. It is like a movie going on underneath your fingers. No one knows what is going to happen next. Least of all yourself. Everything is a surprise, and the magic that keeps us writing is everywhere. It is the first blush of that story, untainted by planning, that gets you through that first draft.

Also in pantsings favor is the fact that you can start right away. No waiting until every plot point is filled and every character question answered. You don’t even need to know the theme before you write those first words. I love that. I love that I can sit down and begin, and somehow that first bit of a story idea becomes a full story.

Plotting Strengths

Now while my current WIP is being pantsed, I have many many many plotted stories in progress. Ones that were plotted withing an inch of their life before I even started the first chapter.

As with pantsing, I start with the first blush of an idea. And then I figure out what on earth I am going to do with this idea. Which means all the worksheets, all the character questionnaires, and all the theme wonderings. What I love about this method is that I get to answer all of my questions before hand. There is something breathtaking about creating a character arc and watching it unfold before your eyes. I don’t have to wait for the end of the book to find out what is going to happen to all of my characters. I can figure it out right now! Then there is writing out each and every plot point and deciding what happens when. My organized self gets a thrill out of that part! When each character arc connects to the plot points, and it is all tied together by the theme, that there is pure magic.

I must say that the actual writing of the story goes much smoother when you have it all planned out before hand. There are less writing block moments and way fewer times that your characters have backed you into the corner with less than no ways out.

Pantsing Weaknesses

What, did you think I was going to let you leave without telling you the dangers of each method? Nope! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you absolutely hate writers block, if even the mention of it wants to make you hide under your bed with chocolate, then don’t pants. Trust me. When you barely an idea with where you are going to go with your story, writers block springs up often. Yelling ‘surprise!’ and then wondering why you are running away screaming.

It is easier to write yourself into a corner with pantsing. You eagerly follow each and every rabbit trail, and then wonder how on earth your characters ended up on the edge of a cliff with no ways of rescue. Hm, maybe I should write in a flock of eagles?

Also, you will have to edit many many times. There is no first then second then finished draft with pantsing. Unless you are a writing genius of course. You will have to do way more after the first draft to make sure that it all goes smoothly. And that includes refining character arcs, filling in plot holes, and foreshadowing. Things that you would have already done if you had plotted. So if you hate editing, try to have some of the planning and questioning done before hand.

Plotting Weaknesses

Even with your mega plans and color coded plot your novel still might fall flat on its face. Or never get written in the first place.

The greatest weakness I have found in plotting is the fact that you are never done planning. There are always more questions to answer about your character, always more bits to find out about your world, and always more research to do. You may find yourself always plotting and planning and never getting to the first draft. And if you don’t get to the first draft, you don’t have a novel. Only a well planned project that you will get to, someday.

Also, if you have created a multi faceted plot that has planned for every eventuality and filled every plot hole and put every character in a firmly defined box, your characters will grab the reins and run away with the whole story. It seems to be the rule of all plots. The more you tack them down, the smallest thing will upset them. If I don’t make sense, I apologize.

You see, writing is a creative process. Which means you are using the creative side of your brain most of the time. You know, the side that wakes you up at 2:00 AM with a great idea. That side will refused to be tamped down, and when you least expect it will pop up with this great idea that will send your perfect plot careening off course.

Pantsing Ideas

I thought this post was long enough, but I didn’t want to leave you with all of this dismal news. My hope is that these how-to posts are useful, and so I want to give you a few ideas to make each side easier to write. To avoid each pitfall and tap into the strengths.

I have found that pantsing becomes more manageable when you take notes while you are writing. Whether those notes are in a different color within your draft, or in a different notebook, or even at the end of each chapter, write ’em. Notes will save you from wondering where your characters went, and keep you from hours of finding where you wrote down what color your MC’s eyes are.

If you are writing notes, you have a quick look at what you will have to edit later. Possibly saving you a draft, or at least a bunch of time.

This idea is to keep writers block in the corner. Keep the ending in mind. No, this isn’t me trying to finagle you into plotting. Know where you are going with your story, at the very least you will know when you need to end it. Chances are, you already have an idea of where your story is going, just fine tune it a bit. What is the goal of the characters? Are the characters going to get their goal? Or not? Figure that out, and your pantsed novel will end right on time.

Plotting Ideas

Don’t plan too much. That about sums up my advice for this side of the question. If you plan too much, your novel won’t be written. Which isn’t quite what you want, is it? We all want to finish our stories, so do yourself a favor and stop planning. Find a point that you can stop, and stop. Decide beforehand what that point will be. Are you going to plan until you have a basic idea? Until you have the whole plot finished? Answer that question, and when you have hit that point. Stop. Don’t let yourself plan any more.

Again, if you plan too much and too tightly, one small thing will make it all crash off course. Okay okay. I might be exaggerating. Your plot will probably not go crashing into a mountainside and shatter into smithereens.

However, when you are plotting, leave breathing room. Room for your characters to do unexpected things, and for unexpected people to show up. And if the unexpected happens, don’t sweat it, or try to erase it. It will be easier to put toothpaste back into a bottle than to stuff your idea back into your brain. Play with idea a bit, let it percolate. Maybe it will make your story better, even if it means that your plot will have to be adjusted a bit.

Phew. If you made it to the end of this ridiculously looong post. Congratulations! Take some chocolate strawberries. I hope it was helpful, at least a little. So go out, finish those stories! I will be over here trying to end my pantsed novel. I need to take my own advice and figure out what the ending is for this thing…

Shaina Merrick