Author Instructors Include:
Virginia Carmichael, Mary Connealy, Janet Dean, Clari Dees, Debby Giusti, Audra Harders, Ruth Logan Herne, Myra Johnson, Julie Lessman, Tina Radcliffe, and co-authors, Lorie Langdon and Carey Corp.
It’s Day 2 and There’s a lot More Ground to Cover!
Yesterday we talked about how being a plotter or pantser is like being left handed or right handed. While one hand is usually dominate, almost all people use both hands when needed.
Pantsers are sometimes forced to plot! They may even have to submit a ‘dreaded synopsis’ to an editor. A long, fourteen page, synopsis may be enough to make even a devoted plotter nervous.
Ruth Logan Herne’s Views on Pantsering
Winter’s End began as a total pantser. I only knew the hero’s name! That’s extreme pantsering.”
“To be fair, I have to pre-plan now because my opening chapters and synopsis have to be approved before I get paid. So I can’t just write a whole book without a plan. But they’re kind enough to give me leeway to work with (and sometimes around) the synopsis.
“When I wrote the first pages, Kayla… the Visiting Nurse… glanced up at a window, a dirty, smudged window that distorted the light, a window too high to reach. And I knew then that she’d been thwarted by a window like that before. But that realization came AFTER she glanced up.
“So why did I do that? What motivates a pantser to take a turn? Follow a curve? For me it’s emotion.
“Seeing that through Kayla’s eyes made me feel what it was like to be a tormented child, but I didn’t know what the torment was for several chapters. Her quest to be normal, and to be considered normal and nice, was just how I felt her reaction would be, growing up as a prostitute’s daughter. “
Ruth warns that pantsering can delve too deeply into emotion for a romance.
“In His Mistletoe Family, I had the joy of writing on emotion for Brett Stanton, a retired military hero. But his story went so deep that I had to ease away from it at times to lighten things. To do that, I used the adorable retired couple “Charley and LuAnn” based on a sweet elderly couple I’ve known for years. Their warmth and humor was totally unscripted, but their constant reappearance in the story kept Brett’s past from dragging the story down. “
Ruth Loves the Freedom of Writing to a One Page Synopsis
“In Red Kettle Christmas, coming out this fall for Summerside Press, I had more freedom with the development. My one page synopsis showed the basic conflict of an unwed mother trying to repay the kindness of the Salvation Army and a returning war hero whose father was lost in Europe and whose mother recently passed away from cancer. When he realizes his seventeen year old sister is pregnant and unwed, he’s sure he’s a total failure at caretaking.”
“Here’s what happened in the opening chapter when the on duty NYPD cop offers to take the bell-ringer’s five-year-old daughter closer to Broadway to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade close up:
“Only a foolish woman allows her child to be carried into the sprawling crowds of New York City on parade day. Karen knew this, and made the decision anyway. Foolish? Well. She’d been called worse in the past. She’d gazed into the man’s eyes, read the shadows of life and loss, and saw his pain. But alongside the pain she discerned honor and protection, and on that note, she let her precious daughter go. And then watched from her post a block away, the bell chiming tiny reminders of want and need.”
Ruth goes on to introduce many more pantsered elements from her own memories of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It seems the more freedom an author has to pantser, the more pantsered elements will come to life in her mind.
I’m really looking forward to many more ‘freedom inspired’ Ruthy Christmas stories. It does not feel like the holidays unless Ruth and Mary have new Christmas releases.
An Observation on Ruth’s Pantsering Approach
In the above examples Ruth has crafted strong emotions into an interesting and complex situation. This approach is the basis of successful TV situation comedies. If the situation is rich enough, then the situation itself will suggest many strong plotlines. A pantser has an enormous advantage if her initial state, or starting point, is a plot-rich environment. In this rich situation an author does not have to ‘find’ the one best plot because there are many possible strong plots that can come from the same initial setup.
Ruth’s lesson is that the opening is not just about ‘hooking’ the reader and getting pages turned. It’s also about creating a rich enough opening situation to successfully support many different outcomes. This provides the pantser with many additional options for a successful ending.
Janet Dean – Knowing the Ending Helps Make Even the most Surprising Ending Seem Inevitable
“I am a plotter. For me the benefit of brainstorming the story is knowing the ending so I can set up events that make the ending feel inevitable and satisfying for readers. I’ll use my fourth book, “Wanted: A Family”, as an example of how knowing the ending helped me build the story.
“Once I knew where the book was headed, I was able to add plot elements—Callie’s old Victorian house, postcards mailed to Jake on his birthday, gossip columns from old issues of the town’s newspapers, things people had told him—that foreshadowed what readers have told me was a surprise ending. Yet, that surprise won’t feel contrived when readers can look back and see that these events actually pointed to the plot twist.
“In this passage from Wanted: A Family, Jake and Callie are searching old gossip columns. Jake hopes he’s getting closer to finding his mother, the reason he came to Peaceful, Indiana. I wrote the passage to function as both a red herring and a clue.
“Oh, I found something.” Callie picked up the paper to read the words to him. “Listen to this: ‘Occupants of a house on Serenity Avenue may wish to dub the street Stressed Avenue, since a young man from the wrong side of the tracks has been seen calling on their daughter.’ Callie laid down the paper. “Could that be a clue?”
Callie rolled her eyes. “If the columnist is referring to this house, then the daughter would be Senator Squier’s.”
“That could mean some young man was courting Irene Squier.”
“There’re lots of houses on Serenity. But I suppose it’s possible.”
“And he could’ve...well, might’ve gotten her pregnant.”
Jake reached a hand. “What else does it say?”
“Nothing.” She thumbed through the stack of issues. “Let’s see if more is said about this in later columns.” She turned to the next paper’s Society page and read the gossip column. “Nothing in here but I’ll look through the next several issues.”
Jake picked up the column and reread it. “Even if the gossip referred to the occupants of this house—and we have no evidence it does—Irene moved away from here. Remember?”
“True. What’s the date of that paper?”
“September 1876.” Jake’s breath caught as he did the math. “I was born in May the next year.”
Callie gasped. “Could Irene be your—?”
“Mother.” Just hearing the word off his lips, a desire to know Irene sprang to life inside him. “
An Observation on Janet’s Plotting Approach
In this story plotting made it possible to leave clues as well as red herrings scattered naturally throughout the story. Like a mystery, it would have been very difficult to write this story by pantsering alone. A lesson from this is that pantsers are best served by writing the type of stories that can be pantsered well while plotters are best advised to do the same with stories that are best plotted.
Myra: The Pantser’s Pantser – An Expert at “Deep Pantsering”
“All my scenes are examples of pantsering…“
Myra Johnson may be the most ardent pantser of them all! I asked Myra if she could provide any examples of pantsered writing and her answer was:
“All my scenes are examples of pantsering. It's a journey of discovery that I wouldn't miss! Pantsering works for me. Why would I change?
“When I let the characters drive the story, one scene moves logically into the next based on who and where the characters are at that moment.”
Myra’s logic here is impeccable; however, to be fair, I should mention that Myra has tried being a plotter.
“I've tried plotting and it just doesn't stick. I may have certain ideas about scenes and events I think MIGHT happen in the story, but once I start writing, the characters take control. It's their action and interaction that tells me what happens next. If I were to force them into a mold (i.e., "plot"), they would surely rebel and the story would come to a screeching halt.”
I think it is clear that Myra would rather fight than switch. Like Audra Harders, Myra uses Scrivener to give her many of the advantages of plotting while still enjoying the freedom to pantser.
Myra gives this example of the pantsering process which takes place at the start of A Horseman’s Hope.Myra explains how the below scene came about:
“Ryan's little girl has a tummy bug, and he's just taken her to the clinic where Grace is the receptionist. My main scene goal was to get the hero and heroine in the same room and interacting, an introduction to their relationship and shared history.
“That's usually how I begin writing each new scene--first, by thinking what logically could be happening in the characters' lives at this point, and then figuring out what exactly this scene needs to accomplish in moving the story forward.
“So with this particular scene I had my hero and heroine together in a tense situation and beginning to reveal their feelings, if not to each other, at least to themselves. Good start. Then, after Ryan took his little girl back to the exam room, I had NO IDEA Grace was about to receive a phone call from her brother. It goes like this:
The phone rang again, and Grace shifted back into receptionist mode. “Kingsley Community Medical Clinic.”
“Kip?” Her brother rarely bothered her at work. Grace swiveled away from the desk.
“Can you put one of the nurses on? We, uh. . .we got problems here.”
The tension in Kip’s voice sent warning signals through Grace’s limbs. “Are you hurt?”
“Not me. It’s Sheridan. She’s. . .” He gulped, sniffed, cleared his throat.
“Oh, Kip.” Grace bit the inside of her lip. “Let me find someone. Hold on.” With Kip’s line on hold, she buzzed the nurses’ intercom.
Seconds later Ivy picked up, and it was all Grace could do to keep from listening in as Ivy took Kip’s call.
Dear God, please don’t let it be another miscarriage. They’ve wanted a baby for so long!
What happened with that single "surprise" plot twist is that Sheridan's miscarriage (and Grace's feelings about it) played extremely well against the struggles of a single dad raising the out-of-wedlock child he never planned on having but now can't imagine living without. I'm not sure I could have pre-plotted anything so effective. It only came about because I listened to my characters and allowed the deeper story to reveal itself.
Myra’s above example may be an example of ‘deep pantsering’ which might be said to be when the author disappears and the characters pick up the pen. I anyone is ‘deep pantsering’ it is Myra Johnson.
Myra demonstrates here how powerful pantsering can be at each moment a writer is writing. Such power requires excellent judgment. Many seemingly good pantsered ideas can occur to an author in a single session. Which idea will an author follow and which will be put aside? Developing this keen sense of judgment may take many years. Myra has clearly arrived and her books serve as excellent examples for aspiring pantsers.
Julie Lessman – The Long Distance Pantser! Pantsering the Impossible!
When I read Julie Lessman’s first three books, (over 1,000 pages) I thought she was one of the best plotters writing today. There were so many family members and such a variety of events that I just assumed Julie must be a consummate plotter. Nope!
Julie Lessman considers herself…”a hardcore pantster who would literally use one or two lines as a springboard.”
“A good example of this is from my second book, A Passion Redeemed, where before I even wrote a single line of that novel, the following sentences popped into my mind:
“Well, he’s brought another prospect home for his pitiful daughter,” Charity said as she pushed her way through the kitchen door.
“Two,” he said, his tone casual as he rose from the table. His tall frame unfolded to fill the kitchen, obliterating anything in her vision but him. “He brought two.”
“Mind you, I could see, feel and hear the swinging door whoosh closed, see the hero slowly rising from his chair in the kitchen, and feel the pounding of Charity's heart as the candlesticks crashed to the floor. It was like a movie clip in my mind, which as a diehard pantser back then, was pretty much how I wrote most of my books.”
“Not only did these two sentences become the framework for the final scene of the book, but for the entire novel as well, which pretty much confirms that when it comes to the writing craft, I can be a wee bit backwards ... ;)
Below is the scene from the final version in the published book:
The door swung closed behind her in a swish of cool air. The box in her hands crashed to the floor. Everything stopped—her breathing, her heart, her brain—until she finally blinked. Then her hand flew to her mouth with a faint cry.
“Excuse me,” her mother said with a giddy whisper, “But I think Emma and I will see to our other guest.” They hurried from the room, leaving the candlesticks scattered on the floor.
A faint smile hovered on his lips as he took a step forward, as if waiting for her reaction. “You don’t do well with the element of surprise, do you, Charity?”
She backed up against the counter, stumbling over the empty box. “What are you doing here?” she breathed. Her pulse was skyrocketing.
He took another step. “Applying for a job. Assistant Editor for the Boston Herald. Ever hear of it?”
She rubbed her skirt, wiping the sweat from her hands. Her voice was a mere rasp. “B-but I … thought Dillon …” She waved a trembling hand toward the door.
He cocked a brow and kept moving, closing the distance between them. The clean line of his jaw was firm—a man on a mission, barely six feet away. “Nah. I think I may have the edge. I’m going to marry the editor’s daughter.”
Those two pantsered sentences set the stage for the entire book! Julie did much the same thing with the two sentences that opened her first book, (A Passion Most Pure). These sentences set the stage for all seven books that were to come.
“Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it.”
Frankly, I don’t see how anyone can keep track of hundreds of details over seven long books -- whether they are pantsers, plotters, or human computers. Julie always amazes.
What Happens When Pantser Writing Co-Authors Collide?
Lorie Langdon and Co-Author Carey Corp Were Once Pantsers
“As to our writing process, Carey Corp and I both started out as pantsers - writing alternating chapters and discovering the story as we went along. But as you can imagine that didn't last long. At some point we had to begin planning ahead. Now we plot with bullet points and a synopsis, but it's still a loose plot, allowing us to infuse our creativity and have that sense of discovery as we write.
“We each write a character and then edit and polish each other’s work.“
Doon is an August release.
Lorie’s and Carey’s experience seems to show that successful pantsers will sometimes be required to plot – at least to a minimum degree.
Virginia Carmichael – ‘Flash of Inspiration’ – “To the Rear, Pantser!”
Post Ex Pantser!
As Virginia will point out in her example coming up, pantsering isn’t always forward directed. Pantsering can happen well after most of the book has been written. In effect, a writing can be a post ex pantser.
"As a pantser, one small theme of, Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs, (written as Jane Hathaway) occurred to me toward the end of the book. I suppose I could have plotted it out, but I was following the romance and not really worrying about underlying themes. Classic pantsering maneuver!
“At about 80% finished, I was wandering around on Pinterest and enjoying the American Primitives artfully displayed.
“Since my “Jane Austen” series is set in the South, history is very important and family history is paramount to the story. I decided to add American Primitive furniture as a prominent part of the plot. I won't give away any spoilers but our heroine, who has fought being the caretaker for her family's old mansion, realizes how very much she's taken all of it for granted. I think this fits perfectly with her character arc, since she begins the story wanting to escape her small town,Thorny Hollow, and ends up discovering she'd never be happy anywhere else.
“Of course, I had to go back and insert this theme from the very beginning, in small doses, so that the plot point would have the emotional heft I needed. Some people call this layering and do it during the plotting stage. I call it a ‘flash of inspiration’ and it happens when it happens."
What a great way to end this Workshop – On a ‘Flash of Inspiration!’
Now…How About You? Do you have anything to add about how you pantser or plot? Do you have any questions for our panel of experts?
BONUS MATERIAL: Not sure if you are a Pantser or Plotter? Take the test and find out. Click here to go to the Seekerville web page to download the pdf.
Please leave a comment for an opportunity to win a copy of any of the books mentioned today as available on Amazon. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Vince Mooney is a friend of Seekerville. He’s a retired marketing creative person and college teacher who now runs a real estate school by mail and writes romances and nonfiction books on writing. He was university trained to be a philosopher and runs the Philosophy of Romance web site. It’s been said that sometimes it’s hard to tell when he is being serious.