Pocket planning! That’s what I’m working on right now. With book two underway, and my mission to de-pants myself…ummm, what I mean is, curb my pantser-instead-of-plotting tendencies, I aim to become more of a planner. Of course, I am NOT a planner by nature, so I’m on the hunt, finding simple solutions to trick my brain into the idea.
Could I be wasting time as a writer?
Could this process be depicted as procrastination?
Yes, yes, and no.
Thinking back to the six years I poured into my first book, Seam Keepers (finally coming out in 2021), I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers to my chin. Don’t misunderstand, I was a new writer and had lots to learn. LOTS! I read books, researched other authors, took classes (online and in-person), and finally found a critique group. There is still much to learn. However, along this journey, I found that there is a great divide in authors being pantsers or plotters, and many are a little of both.
I suppose maybe I am too. Finding out what came natural to me as a writer helped me to compromise with what I know will guide me to the finish line.
I am the writer who likes to find the story my characters want to tell. Sometimes it isn’t the story I thought I was telling. In order to do this, I have to pants it for a while. I allow myself to start writing the story with honest curiosity and intrigue. What I know now, is that many of these preliminary pages are just that, preliminary. It’s all groundwork to find the real story, so most of it will end up scrapped.
This happened in my first book, way back when I was skeptical about letting go of my words. I believed I had written a story where every word was indispensable, even when the first draft’s final word count was (GULP) ridiculously high. I hadn’t realized at the time, while I was wading through all the fluff, that I would eventually find the bare essentials if I was more willing to let go. I needed to get out of my own way and let the true story shine.
A new perspective (and a BIG delete file to save all my cut scenes) helped me to move forward through this learning curve. And I wouldn’t have found the story had I not let myself write onward without hesitation.
Pantsing has its advantages. So why plot now?
I’m trying to plot more now because I know myself. I can experiment with a story idea for a l-o-n-g time. But I have bigger writing goals now. I’m working on a second novel that’s a whole new story, yet I also need to finish book two that goes with my book one coming out next year. That’s two more complete books (not counting my new poetry collection), that need my attention. Do I want to add my first story record of six years for each book into this process? NO!!!
Therefore, I am now pocket-sizing my story. It’s my own term. But I needed an image to help lure me in the right direction. I know that my ADD brain can’t handle the idea of planning every last detail. I like a little surprise, and more importantly, I lack the stamina to see planning methods through to the end. I need to simplify, so I can get to my writing.
Things I keep in mind as I POCKET-SIZE my story:
- Yes, I’m using the plot points from many factors such as, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody, and everything I can research online about the Three-Act Story Structure (which goes back centuries). Resource links are listed below. For each category, I write down my ideas to generate a list. Then, I grab some post-it notes to jot the same ideas out onto my bulletin board, for more of a visual format. They are the same plot points, just one listed in my journal, and the other spread out on post-its.
- An image, from author C.S. Lakin, about a jar filled with rocks, pebbles, and sand has become extremely helpful in visualizing my listed plot points. It’s from the idea of looking at a jar (or your life) as full or not. Lakin uses the jar image as a way to think about needed scenes in a book. The critical scenes (see point number one above) are the rocks, or the foundational scenes. The jar I am picturing will appear full once I put those in. But then come the pebbles, or sub-plots, of my story. I work these in around the bigger rocks. Finally, I add the sand scenes, or everything else bridging all other scenes together, creating a full story. Lakin’s site is linked below.
- Once I have a sense of direction…with my post-it notes and jar of rock scenes, and I’ve already written randomly just for fun (as described at the beginning of this post), I am ready to pocket-size my story!
- I choose a scene from my list. The great thing about having a list…I don’t have to write my book in order. I can explore (the pantser in me) while also staying on track (the plotter I’m trying to be).
- As encouraged by Savannah Gilbo (author, editor, and book coach), she states on her podcast to write each scene as a tiny story, each one having a beginning, middle and end. Keep in mind that every story (or scene) needs characters to move forward externally and internally (more on this in a future post). For now, this beginning/middle/end concept is a helpful visual for a recovering pantser like myself. When I am overwhelmed by my whole story, the thought of creating several smaller (or as I call them, pocket-sized) scenes is more approachable. I can do that! This way I am still creatively uncovering my story through my characters, but without getting lost in the bulk of a whole book. That can be daunting! Gilbo’s site is linked below.
- I keep writing pocket-sized scenes, keeping the word count down to around 1,500 words or so. I always do better when I give myself a goal. With these tiny scenes, word count is the perfect measure to keep me organized…yet still allow time to explore the story.
- Permission to change my mind and rearrange my rocks…of course! That’s the author in me. I find that as I’m writing a scene from the end of my story, I’m alerted to some events that must be layered in near the beginning for the scene to work…this is the frosting on the cake for me! Oh, I guess I should have a rocks-in-a-jar analogy, but here’s the point: As I write each scene, I realize critical details for other scenes. For me, being a scattered writer, I need this kind of help. Because I have my plot points sketched out, I can freely write (creatively pantsing), while staying connected to the foundation of my story (strategically plotting), and hopefully (because I’m still in the middle of this process), I will complete my book!
It has taken some time to figure out what works best for me. Did I spend a little more time analyzing the situation? Yes! But has it thrown my timeline off course? No! I’ve been able to narrow my process into three points. And three is an approachable number!
Sum it up:
1) List out those foundational scenes (or rocks) needed in a Three-Act Story Structure.
2) Add some details or sub-pots to layer in (add pebbles and sand to the jar of rocks).
3) Start writing pocket-sized scenes created from your list (or layered in your jar). Don’t worry about writing in order, grab a scene off the list and GO! Write a beginning, middle, and end (thinking about your character moving forward and changing externally and internally for each scene).
With any luck, my many pocket-sized scenes will add up to a full-fledged book that gets published.
Making things simple isn’t always easy, and writing a book is never a trouble-free task. But for the panster in me, if I can trick myself into taking smaller plotting steps, I believe I can succeed.
That’s my dream, anyway…one that I wrote down to become a goal…that I can now carry around in my pocket!
Happy Writing (because at least you’re writing),
Celaine Charles, July 19, 2020
Content and Image Credit:
https://blackwolfeditorial.com/2019/10/04/the-traditional-3-act-structure-part-1/ (3-Act Story Structure)
https://canva.com with pictures from CC’s iPhone 😊
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078VWDNKT/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 (Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody)
https://www.savannahgilbo.com/ (Savannah Gilbo website)
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