Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Is it pansting? Is it plotting? Or is it something in between?

As some of you may have noticed, a certain Seekervillager has given me a lot of flack about my proclivity for pantsing. For anyone who doesn’t know what a “pantser” is, it’s a writer who runs away screaming at the very mention of outlining a book scene by scene, chapter by chapter. In other words, planning in detail exactly what will happen in the story before actually sitting down to write the book. 

But that doesn’t mean pantsers don’t plan. It also (usually) doesn’t mean we randomly open a blank document on our computer, wait for inspiration to strike, and then simply let the words pour forth. (Okay, occasionally some of us might try that, but I venture to say it isn’t the norm for most working-writer pantsers.)

So let’s talk about the kinds of things pantsers might need to know before we type that first line of the book. This, of course, will be from my personal perspective and may not apply to every pantser out there.

A vague story idea. Okay, that’s a given. I begin with at least a very general concept of what and/or whom this story will be about. Will it be contemporary or historical? True romance or romantic women’s fiction? Lighthearted or serious? Or sometimes I figure out this stuff later, after I’ve written a few chapters. Well, except for the contemporary/historical aspect, obviously, because I’d better know right away whether my characters are using quill pens or smartphones.

A central story problem. Something in real life from my own experience, something I saw on the TV news, or maybe read about in the daily advice column often sparks thoughts on a situational issue, which in turn provokes story questions along the lines of:
  • What type of person would be most affected by this problem?
  • How would a story character deal with the issue? 
  • What related problems might arise?
  • Is there enough potential conflict around which to develop a complete novel with all the requisite twists and turns?
A little about the main characters. As I ponder the conflict possibilities, the protagonist and supporting characters begin to take shape in my mind. Right away these characters need names. Part of my character creation process involves exploring books and online sources for names and their meanings, both first names and surnames, until something clicks. The names must not only suit each character I have in mind but must also be appropriate for the era and setting.

Then I’ll start looking for visual representations of my central characters. Sometimes a celebrity image comes immediately to mind, and as my story’s “casting director,” I’ll mentally plug that actor into the role. At other times, I comb the web for people photos that come close to the mental images I’m beginning to form. For instance, maybe I’m picturing a tall, willowy brunette as my heroine. Using descriptive search terms, I may find images on photo sites like Getty Images or Bigstock. Another favorite source is the Hallmark Movie Channel, or sometimes I browse IMDB.

What’s the setting? I can’t get too far along without knowing where the story will take place. I’m more comfortable writing about locales where I’ve actually lived or at least visited. Yes, there’s a lot you can learn about a place online and in books, but nothing quite takes the place of seeing and experiencing it firsthand. So I start thinking about what setting would best fit the story problem and the characters involved. What makes sense for the characters’ backgrounds and current situation? How might the environment (climate, terrain, etc.) play a role in how the plot unfolds?

What are my central characters’ GMCs? (If you need further explanation about GMC—goal, motivation, & conflict—visit these posts in the Seekerville archives.) I don’t spend as much time as I once did making charts and filling out character questionnaires, but I do think through each primary character’s backstory, current situation, and future goals, along with why these goals are important to them and what kinds of obstacles might stand in their way.

Another step in this part of my process is working through both the character development and plotting sections from The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit (which I blogged about here.) This basically involves letting the cards fall where they may—literally—and then using the prompts to spur further thinking about each of the characters and where the story might take them. 

In the meantime, I’m probably doing some preliminary research and determining what types of information (historical, occupational, etc.) I may need as the story unfolds. So by now, I’ve set up my book project file in Scrivener, where all this information is being collected and organized. As character, setting, and other details come to me, I add them to the appropriate folders within the project. My research folder is also beginning to grow as I import PDFs and web pages and transcribe notes from hard-copy research material.

I may also continue my brainstorming in Scapple, a fun and flexible mind-mapping program that I’ve started using alongside Scrivener. It helps me collect ideas about possible obstacles to the characters’ goals, their relationship issues, any specific scene possibilities that come to mind, etc. Scapple’s visual connections between characters and events help me to imagine the various directions the story might take.

How will the story end? Yes, even though I don’t plan out every scene in advance, I do have an end goal in mind. Naturally, in a romance, the conclusion will be the happily-ever-after for hero and heroine. I might even have a few ideas about what those final scenes might look like and how any subplots or secondary characters could potentially play into the resolution. Nothing is ever set in stone, though, so between page 1 and the ending, anything could happen!

When does the actual writing begin? That’s one of those things I just know. When my fingers are itching to get to the keyboard. When an opening scene starts forming in my imagination and I can’t wait a second longer to write it. When I know without a doubt that no amount of brain-straining and advance planning is going to make the story any clearer in my mind and the only thing left to do is give the characters free rein to act and think for themselves and live their stories on the page.

Because the joy of writing for me is all about the discovery. The surprises along the way. The little (and sometimes big!) secret things my characters don’t tell me until the very last possible moment. 

And, contrary to popular belief, my seat-of-the-pants style generally doesn’t mean I end up doing tons of rewrites. When I allow my characters to act, speak, and react consistent with who they are, there’s an inherent logic and inevitability in the scene-by-scene progression. At worst, something I learn late in the story may mean going back to add in some foreshadowing during the revision stage, but typically I write a pretty clean first draft.

Remember, what works for me may not work for you. Every writer must find his/her own best process, and it can be a years-long journey of discovery. I’ve tried all kinds of plotting systems—believe me, I have! And ended up beating my head against the wall and screaming in frustration when I just couldn’t make them work for me. So, through trial and error, I’ve culled the most helpful tips and tricks from a variety of sources and shaped a (sometimes more, sometimes less) seat-of-the-pants system that gets my story written. A system that continues to evolve, by the way, because surely—surely!—the elusive Holy Grail of Quick-and-Easy Book Plotting is still out there to be found!

Writers, are you a panster, a plotter, or something in between? Talk about your struggles and triumphs in the comments. Readers, share your perspective on the subject, too. Let me know if you’d like me to drop your name in the hat for a chance to win one of two giveaways of the Audible audio edition of my novel One Imperfect Christmas.

Graphic designer Natalie Pearce faces the most difficult Christmas of her life. For almost a year, her mother has lain in a nursing home, the victim of a massive stroke, and Natalie blames herself for not being there when it happened. Worse, she’s allowed the monstrous load of guilt to drive a wedge between her and everyone she loves—most of all her husband Daniel. Her marriage is on the verge of dissolving, her prayer life is suffering, and she’s one Christmas away from hitting rock bottom.

Junior-high basketball coach Daniel Pearce is at his wit’s end. Nothing he’s done has been able to break through the wall Natalie has erected between them. And their daughter Lissa’s adolescent rebellion isn’t helping matters. As Daniel’s hope reaches its lowest ebb, he wonders if this Christmas will spell the end of his marriage and the loss of everything he holds dear.

Connect with Myra online at her website 
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Helen Gray said...

The coffee pot has arrived!

I'm a plotter. A planner. A schemer. A tortoise. But I get to the end.

Marianne Barkman said...

Actually, Myra, it doesn't really make a difference to me as a reader what you call yourself, as long as you keep those books coming! And Helen, although I'd love you to write a book a week, I'll take it whenever it comes out! I've got ONE IMPERFECT CHRISTMAS, Myra, so please don't put my name in the dish.

Trixi said...

Honestly, I don't care one way or the other HOW an author gets the book written. As long as the jobs done & done well! So there you go, Myra, my two cents for all it's worth :-)

Since I don't listen to audio books, I'll pass on this one, but thanks for the offer *big smile* Just wanted to give you my readers opinion ;-)

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I'd say from what you have described that a court might call you a 'constructive' plotter but not an actual plotter. 'Constructive' means in a dispute the court would rule that your behavior was sufficient to 'construe', for purposes of the law, that you can be treated as a plotter. This 'constructive' concept is found all over the law. I think it is useful.

In a way, I might be called a 'constructive' pantser because I pantser as much as I can within my plot outline. And consider this: when I create a long plot outline that outline is being pantsered into existence. I don't think I can plot the plot. At some point pantsering must take place.

Now, I'd love a chance at the Audible file of "One Imperfect Christmas". I heard your reader and I think she is one of the best. At this point, I'd like to just listen to a novel.

I'm reading "A Horseman's Heart" right now and I really like what I am reading. Whatever you are doing it is working. I wouldn't let anyone change you.


Mary Connealy said...

I am confused by and fearful of plotting and I don't know why.


Cindy W. said...

I never liked to outline when I was in school and that was when I had a fully written document (usually history book) in front of me. I am more a panster, I get the 'germ' and then write out some general 'notes' of the story line, then go back and flesh out my characters a little before beginning the story.

I would love to have my name thrown in the drawing for your book Myra. Thank you for the chance to win.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Helen, thank you!!!!!!!

And I love your self-description, because yes!!!! That's it! No matter what we are, if we put the work in and get to the end, we're writers!

Go you!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, we plot mentally.

We have an idea of where it might go.

That's plenty. :)

Jackie said...

Hi Myra,

I wish I'd read this post years ago. You make me feel almost normal. I have key events in mind for my story planned, and then I usually pants my way from one point to the next.

Thanks for sharing, and I'd love to be included in the drawing.

Jill Weatherholt said...

"Because the joy of writing for me is all about the discovery. The surprises along the way." YES! This is exactly how I feel, Myra. I completely freeze when I try to outline, like Mary, I don't really know why.
I'd love to be entered in the drawing. What a cute picture of you!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Myra Love this post. I so agree. I think it helps to have a bit of both. I definitely do better with an outline and plot written down. However I need the pantster element to bring life into that dry outline.

I agree with Ruthy as I love the photo.

Lyndee H said...

Hi Myra!
When does the actual writing begin? For me, right now in my reality, this was a question of conviction! I know that's not what you were driving at, but I've been struggling with outside forces that have relegated my new words on the page to one or two here or there. Your post is bigger than that question, but for me, that question was key. I think I've been given that Fatherly shove.

I am a pantser. So much of what you say applies to me. I don't want to take time with outlining and character studies. Someone once told me that was lazy. Maybe so. I want to discover my people as they come to my fingertips. We all have our own way.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks for the coffee, Helen

I brought some bagels and cream cheeses from Einsteins. Help yourselves.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Lyndee You won a seeker prize from me. You need to email the Seeker addie to collect.

Don't forget folks, that when you win, you need to let us know the info we need to deliver the prizes. We don't rely on addies we might have from previous wins because they often change. Thanks a bunch and happy holidays.

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! Always fun to pop in and see who our early birds are. I'm still getting my act together--you know me, no morning person here! Let me pry my eyes a little farther open and I'll be back soon to chat!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Myra. I love this thorough look at your writing process. We're similar to a point. I go further by planning actual scenes that would fit the h/h's goals, but like you, I write based on how the prior scenes ended, that forward progression that's logical and inevitable. Conflict spurs it all. I love conflict!

I brought cinnamon rolls drizzled with frosting and warm from the oven. Perfect with Helen's coffee.


Richard Mabry said...

Myra, even though I consider myself a "pantser," there are things I figure out before I start writing. After the "hook" comes the cast of main characters, as well as the setting. I try to plan out the mid-point surprise that keeps the reader turning pages. And I have in mind what Jim Bell calls a "knockout ending." Only then do I get things started, and I'm often ten thousand words in before I know the shape the book is going to take.
Hope you and yours have a wonderful, meaningful Christmas. Hard to believe we've been at this so long, together on parallel roads.

Myra Johnson said...

Okay, a little more alert now. HELEN, thanks so much for putting the coffee on! Yes, we must do whatever works to get that book written! If you're a plotter and a planner, more power to you! And I'd say you're really been producing lately--you go, girl!

Myra Johnson said...

MARIANNE, thanks for the confirmation. Readers know what they like, and in the end it doesn't matter how we get there as long as we tell a good story.

Myra Johnson said...

TRIXI, your "two cents" are golden in Seekerville! Share anytime! ;-D

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, I'm so glad you like the narrator they chose for One Imperfect Christmas! She does have a clear, resonant voice, doesn't she?

So I'm a "constructive plotter"? Who would have guessed! You can call it whatever you want, really, but it won't change how I do it.


Myra Johnson said...

MARY, I'm right there with you. Plotting just gives me a headache. How do I really know what my characters are going to do until I give them the chance to do it???

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY W, that's it exactly. We get the germ of an idea and then see where it takes us.

Oh my goodness, outline for high school research papers??? Even the reminder of those ordeals makes me want to go hide in the closet!!!

Myra Johnson said...

What, RUTHY, you can't imagine me all decked out for the holidays???

Plotting mentally. Yes, as long as it isn't written down anywhere, anything can happen, right? And no one is the wiser.

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, we are normal. It's the plotters who are strange. I mean, really. Where's the fun in writing an outline? Just let me write the book!!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JILL! Glad you can relate, because it really is all about the journey of discovery. Other pantsers have said that if everything's planned out ahead of time, why even bother to write the book? You already know what's going to happen.

Myra Johnson said...

SANDRA, you just go right on plotting and outlining if it helps. ;-D I have found that even if I do force myself to formulate a plot outline, as soon as I start typing, it flies out the window and my characters take over. So I've learned to stop wasting my time and just let them tell the story the way they want to.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, LYNDEE, exactly!!!! I've often asked myself if I was just being lazy by avoiding in-depth character studies and plot outlines. But I realized I have to be in the story--deeply into the story--before I can "see" and feel what's supposed to happen next.

Sounds like your inner voice is telling you it's time to put words onto the page. Go for it, girl!

Myra Johnson said...

JANET, your process makes sense. I do sometimes imagine a few key scenes that may--and that's a key word!!!--pop up somewhere in the story. But these ideas are all very ephemeral, somewhere in the ether of my brain, so if they happen, they happen.

But conflict--yes! When I'm pantser-writing each scene, conflict is always in the back of my mind. How will it escalate? How will it affect the overall story goals for each character? How can I make things worse? What kind of scene or chapter ending hook am I building toward?

Myra Johnson said...

RICHARD, I'm sure you do have to know more than a few key details about your story and characters in order to write those spellbinding medical suspense novels! But it's good to know a pantser can still make the process work!

I really like Jim Bell's "mirror moment" theory for the midpoint of a novel, too. I don't always consciously plan one, but I've noticed they are somehow just there in my books even when I'm not intentional about putting them there. I've been called an instinctive writer before, and I kind of like that terminology.

CatMom said...

Loved this post, Myra - - another for my Keeper Files as a good reminder of basics.
I'm definitely a pantser (or however it's spelled, LOL) because as you mentioned, "the joy of writing for me is all about the discovery." YES!! Even though I've got the main characters, setting, and plot ready to go, the fun and exciting part is when something unexpected happens. Love those moments! In my last story my hero rescued a puppy from a busy road. I *never* saw that coming, but really liked that scene so it remained in the manuscript (it was a very cute puppy, by the way!). ;) That also added another way to show a "warm, fuzzy" side to my hero.
Thank you for sharing this today, and I wanted to add that I really, really enjoyed RANCHER FOR THE HOLIDAYS (and posted a review on Amazon). :)
Hugs, Patti Jo

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, PATTI JO! Oh, I do love those unexpected moments when our characters do something surprising! And usually it turns out to be very appropriate for the scene and for character development.

So glad you enjoyed Rancher, and thank you for posting a review! That means so very, very much!

Myra Johnson said...

Hey, all, I have an appointment this morning so much step out for a bit. I'll return as soon as I can, so feel free to chat among yourselves. In the meantime, enjoy another cup of Helen's delicious coffee along with Sandra's bagels and cream cheese.

Missy Tippens said...

Good morning everyone! Myra, this is a great post to show the in-between people. I have a feeling most people are not strict plotters or pantsers.

I'm something in between, too. What's funny, is I started out just sitting at the keyboard and opening a document and then writing. Then eventually I moved to being a strict plotter. Now I've become something of a planner but only plan a few chapters at a time (and also know some main plot points plus the ending).

Missy Tippens said...

Lyndee, you're not lazy if you don't do all the pre-planning! Just remember whatever you write is revisable, so jump right in! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Janet, I wish I loved conflict! That would sure make writing easier. LOL That's why I need you challenging me to torture my characters! :)

Carolyn Astfalk said...

Great post! Your "system" sounds pretty close to mine. I don't have much on a page structure-wise, but there is a lot of thought and a lot of notes that are in order before I get that itch to write that you describe so well. That IS the time to begin!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Many writers fear plotting in much the same way that many bachelors fear commitment.

Commitment puts a face on the dreams of an ideal mate. Similarly, a plot locks in the potential ugly truth that a given story really isn't that good -- but you're willing to settle!!!

A true pantser always has the hope that a fantastic ending will appear and make the story the best romance ever. It could happen! Why give up to hope? Why settle for a plot before potential improvements in the story have yet to unfold?

A plot is the holding up of a mirror so Don Quixote can see the reality of his true state.

Writers fear plots for good reason. A plot is like a selfie taken in the shower! Some would prefer not to see it.

Poor Tony Hillerman was a pure pantser. He often said that if he did not know what was going to happen next, his readers surely would not know either. It is said that Hillerman had a big chest full if half finished manuscripts that he could not pantser his way out of. Wouldn't it be great if his daughter could finish those novels! Wow!

If you don't know how your story is going to end, then you risk the total production not being very good. The questions is: do you want the bad news before you write the first draft or do you want it after you finish the first draft?

Aren't philosophers fun? Can you see why they are often exiled? Socrates was executed. Aristotle would have been but he left town first. Aristotle did not want to allow his beloved Athens to be responsible for a second sin against philosophy.


Sharee Stover said...

I'm a total pantser. I tried doing the outline thing and you're right, I wanted to run screaming out of the building. I make notes as ideas pop into my brain but the ideas flow best for me when I'm actually writing. In all fairness, it usually requires me to go back and make adjustments when I suddenly want a character to shoot someone and forgot to give them a gun. True story...

Thank you Myra, for showing that pantsing isn't a crime :)

Being a crazy avid reader too, I'd love to be included in the giveaway :)

Barbara Scott said...

Good morning, MYRA! I was a whiz at outlining research papers in school, but plotting every chapter of a book gave me hives. By the end, I didn't even want to write the book. Besides, the final story only faintly resembled the outline. Where's the fun in outlining?

So, I finally embraced my inner pantster. I usually know the hook, the mid-point, and basically how it will end. Boy and girl live happily ever after. More like you, RICHARD MABRY.

I'm not sure if this is common, but I have to daydream my scene first. While I'm exercising, I run several scenarios in my head like a movie with different outcomes. Then I turn the characters loose on paper, and they still surprise me.

No need to put me in the drawing since I've already read ONE IMPERFECT CHRISTMAS. Great story, folks! Plus Audible books are too dangerous for me. I get so involved in listening to them that I almost drive off the road or trip while walking. :)

Sarah Claucherty said...

I'm with Jackie! I have certain points I want to include, but how I get there or what develops from those ideas is up to the keyboard and my thought trails when I start typing.

High school paper outlines? Blech! I could never finish those, or follow the ones I did manage to eke out.

Mary Connealy said...

Okay my current Irish heroine book....plotting.
This is a Seeker novella for the future so I'm not really...what I mean is, I didn't have to turn in a proposal as I do for traditionally published books.

So this is wide open.

In the Seeker Novellas lately I've been mining old books for secondary characters to tell their story.
Mainly the grown up children of Belle Tanner from The Husband Tree and the grown up children of Sophie McClellan from Petticoat Ranch.

So I often start in these cases with a character who needs a story. You can see how I come at a story from a different angle if the character already exists and has his story. I mean Silas Tanner Jr. has a past set pretty much in stone already.

In my books I propose sometimes I draw on an already existing Character. Example the hero of book #1 of my next series is Heath Kincaid, the little brother from The Kincaid Brides series.

In the With This Ring novella the characters are Big John Conroy from the Trouble in Texas series and the little sister of Audra Kincaid from The Kincaid Brides series. She'd mentioned a little brother and sister and her fears for them because of the way her father treated her, but it was very minimal and I had to do some serious hunting to even find their NAMES.
I wasn't even sure I'd ever used their names.

I think I'm rambling, but proposed books require a proposal's worth of plotting.
Other books require less.

I used as little as possible.

Jan Drexler said...

Good morning, Myra!

I'm definitely a plotter. Story Diamond (from The Moral Premise), index cards, character descriptions...everything. And Scrivener works perfectly to keep everything organized!

But then within that framework, the story forms itself. Once I start writing, things come out in the scene that I never would have thought to plan. So I've learned not to try to plot the minutia - so I guess I'm a pantster on that level!

It's so much fun to see how every writer is different!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, MISSY! Got a few minutes to pop in while waiting. Yes, we do have to adapt our writing process sometimes to meet editorial requirements or just to make those deadlines.

Wilani Wahl said...

I think I must be a pantser or something in between. I do plot out the beginning and know the direction the story is heading, but it always takes on a whole new world while I am writing.
thanks for helping to explain this more clearly.

Please enter me in the drawing for an audible version of Imperfect Christmas.

kaybee said...

Myra, I think I misunderstood pantsing. I thought pantsers just sat down and literally winged it. You do a lot of, if not plotting, PLANNING. It makes more sense to me now.
I'm a plotter, most of the time with Three-Act Structure, but if a character takes it in a different direction, I am game. Because that means they are taking on a life of their own.

Debby Giusti said...

Myra, I think you're really a plotter. You just don't write the story outline in detail, yet you have most of it in your head. I don't have a lot of the middle section, although I know where the story will lead. The middle unfolds as I write for the most part.

I liked your mention of character names. I once wrote 2/3rds of a story, and the hero had the wrong name. He just wouldn't come to life until I found his true identity. Then the rest of the story fell quickly into place. Strange, but true. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

When I first began writing, I didn't know what I was doing--and it showed. Florescent-green newbie writer me splashed words on the screen with gleeful abandon. As I began studying the writing craft, I became pantser, working with a general idea of the story in my head. There was still a good deal of splashing going on, though.

As I became more knowledgeable about everything that goes into a story, I began doing more plotting. I don't have all the lists some full-blown plotters do. While I admire those who have most of the details nailed down before beginning a story and make a nice, neat dive into their stories, I like to remain open to those flashes of inspiration or those moments when I surprise myself and something amazing gushes from my fingertips. I've evolved into what I call a planster.

Missy Tippens said...

Carolyn A and Myra, I too get that itch to write. But I think I often get it too soon! I sometimes have to sit on myself and try to wait until I know more what's going to happen.

Missy Tippens said...

Mary Connealy, you're right in that the novellas are different. I've found on those that I tend to write sooner. Maybe I'm just more relaxed about it. :)

Just Commonly said...

Hi Myra and authors. As a reader, it really doesn't matter to me how you go about writing your book, as long as the good work keeps coming. As a designer, I know some designers likes to wing it and see how the space "feels" for them and go from there, and some designers will plan down to every little detail of the space. It really is based on the person's preference, and I guess writers are like that too. There's no right or wrong way to a creative process. Like clients, readers care more about the outcome - the book and the story, not how the designer /writer got there.

I just recently started on audiobooks, so feel free to add my name to the hat. Thanks! Annie

Mary Connealy said...

I do Lay (lie? Myra) awake at night and daydream what comes next.
Is that plotting?

I know the next maybe two scenes I want to write and I know happily ever after and there needs to be more between now and HEA.

But I'm at 8000 words. Honestly, it's almost time to hit the black moment and start to wrap up a 20,000 word book.

Sandy Smith said...

I have to outline first, but I am also writing as I go along at some points, so I guess I am something in between. Very interesting post to learn your process.

Mary Connealy said...

Missy used the words 'Mary Connealy, you're right....'
Must copy and paste and print this.

I will make a copy to share, make one to hang on my wall (googling FRAMES right after this comment) and of course, one to carry around with me, perhaps near my heart!!!

This is a sweet moment.

Jeanne T said...

Myra, I love your ways of planning for pantsing. Your method makes so much sense!

I am most definitely a plotter. I may be able to morph someday into a blend of plotter and pantser, but I'm not there yet. :) I still find that my characters surprise me, and the story takes different turns than I originally expected. But I have a good feel for where the story is going before I begin writing. :)

Myra Johnson said...

I'm back! Sorry to be AWOL, but sometimes you have to go with whatever times your favorite hairstylist has open.

CAROLYN, yes. There's a lot going in on my head that never makes it to paper (or a computer file) before I get the irresistible urge to start writing!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, VINCE, you are making my head hurt again!!!! And the whole selfie-in-the-shower analogy? Um, this sounds like philosophy gone rogue!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SHAREE! Glad you can relate. There is something--dare I say magical?--about letting the ideas flow straight through our fingertips to the keyboard. It's only then that I can "see" the story unfolding and get a glimmer of what needs to happen next.

And if we occasionally have to go back and make adjustments or add in layers, so what? All that really matters is how the story turns out in the end.

Pam Hillman said...

I'm a bit of both, depending on how desperate I am. lol

I also like to use Scrivener, and I prefer to write in a linear fashion. But as I think about my early plotting, the bulk of it is the external forces that drive the story forward.

Oregon Trail: Are my characters traveling across the prairie? Are there major points of interest along the way?
Castaway with the Cowboy: Ship sinks, in a small boat, land, landfall, new location, etc. etc.
Stealing Jake: See boys, cute meet, mines, snow storm, robbery, etc.

I know that the hero and heroine are going to feel attraction, but for one reason or another are going to resist. In a novella, the reasons are usually a little less "dramatic" than in a full-length novel. I don't plot that internal stuff as much as I plot the external. The internal comes more by feel.

That's my thoughts on my process at this moment in time. Ask me tomorrow and it will probably be different!

Myra Johnson said...

Exactly, BARBARA! Too much planning and outlining ahead of time takes all the fun out of creating! And I do the daydreaming thing too! As I begin writing each new scene, I sit for a while and imagine what needs to happen next to keep the story moving. I start to see the characters in action and hear them speaking in my head, and when just the right opening sentence takes shape, here I go.

Um, yes, I'd say you have already read One Imperfect Christmas, my wonderful and amazing editor! :) I will always, always, always be grateful that you gave me the chance to see my very first novel make it to publication!

Myra Johnson said...

SARAH, I was so bad at high school research outlines that I typically wrote the whole paper first and THEN went back and compiled my outline!

Pretty much the way I write books and then the full synopses after the fact. :-/

Myra Johnson said...

Right, MARY. We do have to go at this planning/plotting thing entirely differently when we're selling our books on proposal. It's still painful as you-know-what for me, and as you said, I do as little as possible, just enough to show the editor I'm not completely clueless and that this absolutely CAN develop into a really good story.

Myra Johnson said...

JAN, I admire you for being able to think through the Story Diamond. I have the blank form at the ready in case I ever get brave enough to fill it in. But just thinking about it makes me want to curl up in a tight ball and hide under a quilt!

You make a good point, though, about keeping the outline loose enough to serve as a road map but still leave room for flights of inspiration.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, WILANI! We all have to find our own way into our stories. If you know what you need to know to get started, you're on the right track. The hard part sometimes is not letting our imaginations send us down rabbit trails that turn out to have no connection to the main story line.

Can't remember now who said this, but there's some writerly quote about how writing is like walking along a dark path in the woods with just a flashlight showing us the next step or two. You can make it all the way through the forest with just that much light if you just keep walking.

Myra Johnson said...

Exactly, KB! It's hard to get anywhere if you don't really know much about your starting point and even less about where you're trying to go.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, DEBBY, pleeeeeeeze don't tell me I'm a plotter! Honestly, it may seem that I do a lot of pre-planning, but I really have NO CLUE what's going to happen from scene to scene until I let the characters take over.

Myra Johnson said...

A "plantser"--good one, KELI! Enough planning to know where you're going but not so much that you don't leave room for inspiration. We must each find what works best for us personally--how much or how little we need to know before typing the first word.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Myra, I read your above comment to Debby...I'm convinced we're related. :)

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Love this post, Myra! I realize now that I'm somewhere between a "panster" and a "plotter"(although extensive plotting makes me hyperventilate). I especially love the GMC tip - for a character's goal, motivation and conflict. Thank you!

Myra Johnson said...

You're right, JUST COMMONLY: "There's no right or wrong way to a creative process." I'm sure it must be the same way for other creative types--artists, composers, designers. There's always going to be the genesis of an idea to kick things off, but what happens from there all depends on what works for the individual.

Myra Johnson said...

Lie awake, MARY. You lie awake. Got it?

And it must be working for you, because you write some really fun books!

Myra Johnson said...

SANDY, sounds like you have found a system that works for you, and that's all that matters!

Myra Johnson said...

JEANNE, it's good that your characters are still surprising you, because even within the confines of your plot, you're giving yourself room to let the story emerge as it needs to.

Myra Johnson said...

PAM, I'm a linear writer, too. I have never been able to understand how some writers can write scenes as they come to them, whether early or late in the story, and then arrange them in an order that makes sense. I can't know what happens in the next scene until I write the current one!

Good point about figuring out some of the externals, though, like landmarks along the Oregon Trail. Knowing what those were gave us logical places to aim for in our novellas, plus inspirational fodder for what might happen at or along the way to these stops.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I sure don't want to make your head hurt. The 'selfie in the shower' was an attempt to create an instant Gestalt awareness that bypasses the need for philosophical inquiry.

Can you stand to 'see' your plot by itself or can you look only after it has been all dressed up with all the bows and ribbons?


I'm on chapter 5 of "A Horseman's Heart" and it's five star wonderful on every page. I couldn't read these stories when they were print only. Now I can. So here's the big question:

How far along were you with Scrivener when you wrote the "Horseman" series? Because that writing is about as good as it gets on a reward per page basis.

I'd love to compare your 'before Scrivener' works to your 'after Scrivener' works. That's what a philosopher is likely to do.


Myra Johnson said...

JILL, I would be honored to be related to you! ;-D

Myra Johnson said...

Glad to be of help, LAURA! Yep, I just even have to THINK the word "plotting" and I feel ready to hyperventilate!

Myra Johnson said...

Wow, VINCE, I had to go back and look at my files to see when I started using Scrivener. Nope, A Horseman's Heart was pre-Scrivener. I actually started using it for the next book in the series, A Horseman's Gift, and of course at that point I was a rank beginner with using Scrivener.

Thank you so much for the "Rewards per Page" compliment, though! I'm truly honored!

Mary Connealy said...

You know Myra I KNEW it was lie awake but it just sounds wrong.

Hmmm.... I blame my elementary teacher who was no doubt a slacker.

Myra Johnson said...

Right, MARY. If it makes you feel better, you just keep blaming that teacher. I'm certain it was all her fault.

Chill N said...

Gracious, there are quite a few writers like me after all :-) Oh the methods I have tried and the frustrations I encountered ... only to return to my original approach to writing. Characters appear fully-developed (backstory, traits, etc.) and with names. I am subconsciously aware of enough of the story to launch into research (including finding character pix), draw maps, sometimes draw houseplans, read newspapers of the period.

I saved a quote with which I identified: “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” ― William Faulkner

Interesting to read about different writing processes, Myra. Thanks!

Nancy C

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, I love that Faulkner quote, NANCY!!! Just perfect!

Yes, yes, the frustration of trying all these other methods because surely there must be an easier way that what we've been doing. You are definitely another intuitive writer. Welcome to the club!

Richard Mabry said...

Myra, I hope you have your decorations up, your cards in the mail, and your presents bought--because there's no way you can do it and answer all these comments. : )
I love your term, "instinctive writer." I plan to steal...er, I mean borrow it for future use.

Meghan Carver said...

Good afternoon! I am definitely a plotter, so it's interesting to see that you pantsers are not as fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants as I had imagined. :-) Thanks for mentioning the brainstorming kit again, Myra. I'm looking into that as soon as I leave here.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, RICHARD! I have no hope of catching up with cards, shopping, etc., by Christmas! Is it really December 8 already???

The word I was actually looking for when I typed "instinctive" was "intuitive." Probably very similar in meaning. Feel free to use whichever one you like best. :)

Myra Johnson said...

MEGHAN, I have really come to depend on the Brainstorming Kit. At least it gives my imagination a kickstart so I'm not flying completely blind into my story.

Vince said...

Head's Up!
"The Greatest Gift of All"
Victoria's Secret Show Tie-in Tonight!
CBS Tonight 9 et /8 central

"The Greatest Gift of All" opens with the girls talking about giving their husbands the gift of something naughty like you might see on tonight's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. Charity is really into this scene.

Watching this show then would be an ideal use of your research time whether you're a plotter or pantser!

Lyndee H said...

I did send a note on (Dec 1) and receive a confirmation of said note regarding winning your generous prize (also on Dec 1). I will resend it though. Thanks! I appreciate your generosity.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Thanks for the info on your adoption of Scrivener. I am going to read all three Horseman books in a row and now it will be very easy to see if there is any difference in how the stories unfold. This is so convenient since all three books are on my Kindle right now. I should tell you that the horseman and horse trainer are among my favorite themes. Tina did these themes very well with her first books.


Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Thanks for the info on your adoption of Scrivener. I am going to read all three Horseman books in a row and now it will be very easy to see if there is any difference in how the stories unfold. This is so convenient since all three books are on my Kindle right now. I should tell you that the horseman and horse trainer are among my favorite themes. Tina did these themes very well with her first books.


Lyndee H said...

Thanks for the encouragement. Can't express how much it means. How much all the SEEKERS mean to me. I feel like I have an army around me, weathering the writers storm.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh my, VINCE--Victoria's Secret? Okay, you do know this is a PG-rated blog, right? ;-D

I'll be very interested to hear your insights into the three Horseman novels. I loved writing all three of them, but the first and third are my personal favorites.

Myra Johnson said...

LYNDEE, we love you, too! Yes, the writing life can seem really stormy at times, but it's so reassuring to know we are all here for each other! I don't know where I'd be today without my Seeker sisterhood!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Haven't you heard: Those Victoria Secret models are angels.

Myra Johnson said...

Not goin' there, VINCE. ;-)

Janet Dean said...

Debby, I've experienced the difficulty of writing the story when the character's name just didn't work. Yet my dh and I somehow managed to name our kids correctly--before they were born. :-)


Chill N said...

OH MYRA! I love the term 'intuitive writer.' A label I will wear with pride.

Nancy C

P.S. The blurb for One Imperfect Christmas has me wondering if Natalie and Daniel reach a happy ending. Please enter me in the drawing. I can listen while I prep for the holidays :-)

Cate Nolan said...

Hi Myra,

I do think we're secret sisters. :)

Although I prefer to describe my method as writing into the midst, basically it's a rather refined form of pantsing that I've developed over time.

I used to be a charge ahead into the midst type writer, but once you have deadlines, that can be problematic, so what's a pantser to do??

When I am beginning the story, I seize on whatever idea has popped into my brain and I just start to free write until I figure out what the story is. The first hundred or so pages have a lot of "what if" and "maybe I could" until they give way to more and more scenes. Eventually something clicks into place. Often I'll go write the end at that point and then go back and layer in what I need to get to that point.

When I get to the revising, I usually find that there's heavy work to be done in the beginning - culling, editing, rewriting, but the end part is usually in pretty good shape because by then I've hit my stride with the story.

It sounds terribly inefficient as I write it out, but it's turned out to be a much faster way of writing for me. If I sat around trying to plot it out in advance, the story would truly never get written.

Myra Johnson said...

NANCY C, I love "intuitive" too! I think it was my agent, Natasha Kern, who first told me that's the kind of writer I am. Makes me feel so special!

Myra Johnson said...

CATE, it does sound like you've found what works best for you. I could never write the ending that soon, though, because I have no idea how exactly everything will unfold (except there has to be a HEA, naturally).

I remember a writer in a crit group once who sat down with a legal pad and wrote chapter numbers down the left side of the page, then started jotting a sentence or two about what would happen in each chapter. I could only stare with my mouth hanging open. Seriously??? She could figure all that out so easily???

Preslaysa Williams said...

Hi Myra! I am (ashamed) to say that I am a pantser, I need to be a plotter...or at least a plotser, lol. I usually let ideas sit in my head for a long time, and then I work them out through many drafts of a story. But I'm hoping to improve my story planning methods to lessen the number of drafts that I have to go through! I really love your ideas on planning a story :-)

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, PRESLAYSA! No need to hang your head in shame about being a panster. Some of us are just wired that way. And judging from today's comments, there are quiet a few of us! This writing biz is definitely NOT one-size-fits-all!

Sarah Claucherty said...

MYRA, I just totally skipped the outlining thing altogether unless it was required! I had a thesis and an introduction in mind, as well as a few points I wanted to make, and then I let the research take the reins. Perhaps I'm in between plotter and pantser, because I usually have the basics in my head or scribbled down somewhere before I write...

Myra Johnson said...

SARAH, my teachers usually required outlines, sometimes to approve our approach before we wrote the paper. I was REALLY in trouble then!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh good grief!!! My husband just pointed out that I misspelled "pantsing" in the post title!!! Slinking away before Grammar Queen lectured me about proofreading more carefully.

Myra Johnson said...

And now I am commenting on my iPhone so that's my excuse for future typos.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I'm so happy this is your day to host at Seekerville. I'm reading, "A Horseman's Heart" and you are right here to question in real time.

Okay, I'm 33% into "A Horseman's Heart" and I finally figured out how you are getting such high reward numbers: It seems each of your many characters, even the horses, are highly sympathetic characters. I've never seen so many characters that the reader's heart goes out to sympathize with and root for. I wouldn't even feel bad if the hero decided to marry the heroine's mother!

Was that a plan? Did you decide that each character in the novel would be wounded in some way? I don't know which charter to love more.

I'm going to have to think about how you did this and how I could do something like it. It's amazing.


P.S. You have a lot of named horses in this story. How did you come up with all the different names?

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, I'm thrilled you're enjoying my Horseman story do much! Many of the horses are named for some favorite horses at the therapeutic riding center where my husband and I used to volunteer when we lived in Houston. Those years played a huge part in the background and inspiration for this series.

I honestly can't explain how all the characters became so sympathetic. Could we just chalk it up to the magic of pantsing? ;)

Tanya Agler said...

Myra, Thanks for the post. This is one part of writing that totally depends on the writer and what works best for him or her. I'm glad you've found what works for you and are sticking with it. (It obviously works.)

With my past couple of books, I've been very much a plotter. This last book I had questions answered and was about to write out the plot on index cards when NaNoWriMo arrived so I started writing. And a couple of days into the book, a major plot device finally resolved itself and I've been plugging away ever since.

Thanks for the great questions that are wonderful to think about prior to starting regardless of whether one is a plotter, pantser or plotser.

Myra Johnson said...

TANYA, yes, it totally depends on the writer. Glad you were able to resolve that major piece of your plot and have been able to keep up the momentum!

Just Commonly said...

Yep! :)

Walt Mussell said...

I am most definitely a plotter. I have stories mapped out scene by scene for my novels. I'm obsessed with making the plot intricate.

Janet Kerr said...

I am becoming more of a plotter since writing myself into corners!

Elizabeth Van Tassel said...

Thanks for this lively discussion! I've always liked calling it more of a dress slacks or couture approach—pantster sounds off somehow. I loved how you acknowledge that the loose approach still needs rough outlining. I've studied the techniques others use and adapted them to my more loose way of writing. I keep an outline going while I update each chapter and ask myself key questions like, "What's the character learned this chapter" or "How has the character grown?" I also ask myself how each element serves to move the story along and if they don't I remove them. I learned all of this from wonderful mentors that love to outline. And I've learned to be more fluid from friends who also are in the couture slacks category. It helps to know yourself and find your "zone." I've also learned to never stop growing and keep reading craft books. Always remain a student. Thanks for blessing us so Myra! I love your writing!

Myra Johnson said...

WALT, I wonder if more detailed plotting is a guy-brain kind of thing. Well, if it's working for you and gets the book written, what can I say but keep doing it!

Myra Johnson said...

JANET KERR, doing some advance plotting is definitely one way to make sure you don't write yourself into a corner. My plotting is done only one or two scenes at a time, but I am always thinking ahead about how what happens next might change things further along.

Myra Johnson said...

Couture slacks--love it, ELIZABETH! Except . . . I'm more of a sweats kind of girl in real life. The more loose-fitting, the better!

Hmmm . . . am I sensing a parallel here? Loose sweats, loose plotting???

But you are asking yourself all the right questions as you move forward with each scene. If something isn't advancing the plot and/or isn't relevant to character development, it doesn't belong in the story.

And always remain a student--yes!!!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I just bought "Where the Dogwoods Bloom" which is the last of your Truly Yours books that I did not already have. Are there any more Truly Yours books yet to come? That line plus the Harlequin Medical series have what I feel is the perfect length for a novel.

I'm now 50% into "A Horseman's Heart" and if 'by their fruits they shall be known' is true for writing, then "A Horseman's Heart" may well make me a big fan of your method of pantsering.

What's so nice about the enjoyment of reading "A Horseman's Heart" is the knowledge that there are still two more books in the series. I can enjoyed the story without the heavy heart of knowing that when it's over, it's over.

As I said, I'm at the middle of the book and there is this revitalizing scene, that I had fully predicted to happen in order to get the second half of the book off to roaring start, which just turned out to be the exact opposite of what I was expecting. I bet over 90% of romance writers would have taken the turn I predicted. Now I have to see if that move pays off. You choose less conflict, not more conflict. (I bet the GMC crowd would surely be shaking their heads at this point. :))

I sure hope you still have some more horseman romances in your writing stable. I think I like the cowboy horse trainer stories and heroines as barrel racers stories, the best of all romance themes.


Myra Johnson said...

Hi, VINCE! I have just those 6 novels in the Truly Yours collection. Those were originally Heartsong Presents print books that Barbour retained certain rights for after the sale of the line to Harlequin. Now, of course, the HP line is no more.

It's been so long that I can't even remember what the middle-of-the-book scene is that you're referring to! May have to pull open a copy and look for it. You'll have to let me know at the end of the book if it worked for you or not. ;)

Rancher for the Holidays has some horses and riding but not like the Horseman books. I'm working on a new story now that has horses. We'll see if it gets anywhere with my target publisher. Prayers may be in order!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I don't expect you to remember all the scenes from all your books.


The scene in question is at the 50% mark in the Kindle book format.

This is a potential early 'black moment' scene where the hero, who is in doubt about the heroine's true intentions, chances upon the heroine and a 'boyfriend' in a compromising situation. The heroine and 'boyfriend' do not know they are being observed by the hero.

I know what happens in 90% of these situations. In fact, what happens is why the scene was written in the first place. Well, you didn't take the road most traveled. I don't think many romance fan are going to expect what happens next. If that is the result of pantsering, then long live pantsering. (What a week! I've come to like Charity the best of the O'Connor sisters and now I am much more inclined to like pantsering!)

BTW: I got "Rancher for the Holidays" sent to my Kindle the day it was released and I was reading it when I had my fall. For some reason I not only thought that I'd read it but that I had also posted a review. But no, I'm only 11% into the story and now I'm just going to start over and be sure to finish it before Christmas.

Also, Amazon book reviews can be tricky. I've written reviews. Amazon has sent an email saying the review has been posted with a link to check the review for errors.

So far so good.

However, after I check the review out and fix any errors, the review is never posted by Amazon so that anyone but myself can access the review. Sometimes I can't even get back to the review again. I just have to post the review all over again. Odd.

This just happened with my review of "Home For Christmas". I posted a big review on three of the four novellas, checked it, and then it totally disappeared. I could not get it back. So when I posted my review of Julie's, "The Greatest Gift of All", the last novella, it just appeared by itself. I'm looking into now but I just want to let you know that I did review the other books.

Writing these posts helps me deal with the pain. Thanks for putting up with me.


P.S. I'd be happy to pray for more horseman books. I'd like to return some prayer favors. God may think it strange however getting prayer requests to help Cheryl St. John and Myra Johnson decide on book deals. : )

Deanna Stevens said...

I do enjoy Christmas stories & this one sounds soo good!
toss me into the draw please ;)

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, you are such a faithful supporter of Seekerville and Christian romance! Thank you for posting those reviews, and I know I speak for all the Seekers in praying for your quick recovery after your accident.

BTW, I did go back and look at that scene you were referring to. Yes, I remember thinking about all the possibilities of what might happen next, and my choice just seemed right at the time.

Myra Johnson said...

Got you in the drawing DEANNA! Thanks for stopping by!

bonton said...

Thanks for enlightening me on the process used in writing your wonderful books, Myra!! My comment is: "don't fix what isn't broken", lol - I certainly enjoy, and appreciate, your writing!!

Thanks for the giveaway opportunity - I already have the audio book.