Friday, July 15, 2016

Best of the Archives: When a pantser has to plot

Myra here! Hope your Friday is off to a great start! And can you believe it's the middle of July already??? What a crazy summer it's been around my house! As I'm getting ready to upload this post, we have a houseful of grandkids and a son-in-law limping around after surgery. Needless to say, writing has temporarily gone by the wayside.

BUT---in the midst of all this craziness, Cara Lynn James, Sandra Leesmith, and I managed to launch Seekerville's latest novella collection, Love Will Find a Way. Three inspiring romances set in America's great outdoors! We hope you'll get your copy soon (available now for Kindle).

And now, a step back in time to one of my posts from 2014 . . .


It’s no secret around Seekerville that I’m a confirmed seat-of-the-pants writer. I’ve tried a variety of plotting systems and formulas hoping to find an “easier” way to get my books written, but I always end up ditching them and going with what works.

And what works for me is setting the characters free to tell me their own stories.

That doesn’t mean my stories have no plots. It just means I get to discover the plot as the story unfolds.

(For an in-depth discussion on plotting versus pantsing, check out these posts by Seekerville friend Vince Mooney: Part 1 and Part 2.)

But even a pantser needs a plan, and with Speedbo heading into week 2, if you don’t have some kind of plan for your story, you may find yourself stalling out. At the very minimum, you need to know who your central characters are, what they want, and why they can’t have it (yet). A hard-core plotter will also pre-plan every twist and turn the story will take and know exactly how it will end. If you’re one of those . . .

Ahem. Moving on.

Wherever you are on the pantser-plotter continuum, you may find help from the “plotting recipe” I first learned while taking the Institute of Children’s Literature Writing for Children and Teenagers course. Lee Wyndham, in her book Writing for Children and Teenagers, presents a “Twelve-Point Recipe for Plotting,” which I adapted over time based on what works best for me.

By pondering the following 12 questions, I can begin to get a handle on who and what my story will be about.

1. Who is the main character? Is he or she someone your readers will care about and identify with?

2. Who (or what) is the antagonist? Have you created a worthy opponent, whether in the form of another person or a daunting situation?

3. Who are the other people in the story? In a romance, you’ll have both a hero and heroine, and probably some friends or family members. What roles will the subordinate characters play in your main character’s life?

4. What does the main character want, and why? Is it a worthy goal? Does it suit your character’s situation and personality? Is it attainable?

5. How important is it for the character to get what he or she wants? Is it vital? Are there serious consequences for failure?

6. How does the antagonist prevent the character from achieving these goals? What is the antagonist’s stake in the outcome?

7. What does the main character do about the obstacles? What event sets off the story action? Is your character taking an active role in overcoming the odds, rather than relying on luck or coincidence?

8. What are the results of the character’s initial actions? What new difficulties arise? How will things get progressively worse?

9. What do these struggles lead to? What is the Black Moment, when things can’t possibly get any worse?

10. What is the climax? What hard decisions will your character have to make? Have you made your character strong enough to prevail in the final battle?

11. Does the character accomplish his or her goals or abandon them in favor of something else?

12. What is the theme or central truth illustrated through the character’s action and reaction? What does your character learn as a result of his or her struggles? How has the character grown and changed?

You may not know the answer to every question before you begin writing, but if you keep this recipe close at hand and refer to it as you write, the questions will help you stay on track and grow your story toward its satisfying conclusion.

I have to add one final word of advice from Lee Wyndham’s book:
Never begin writing a story before you know how it will end.
Even for us pantsers who have no idea what will happen in the middle of the story, if you can keep your eye on the ending you want to create for your characters, you have a target to aim for.

Comments are closed today so Seekervillagers can enjoy a day of uninterrupted writing and/or reading. (Anyone who actually made it through the day without interruptions, report back tomorrow and we will give you a high-five!)


Hit the hiking trail as award-winning authors Cara Lynn James, Myra Johnson, and Sandra Leesmith whisk you away to three of America’s most beautiful outdoor settings: scenic northwest Connecticut, the rugged Big Bend Country of West Texas, and the expansive vistas of the Grand Canyon. Romance, faith, and adventure combine in these inspiring stories where love always finds a way!

Available now for Amazon Kindle, only $1.99!