Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Plotting for Pantsers
by Mindy Obenhaus
Plotting. Some writers are meticulous about it, while others get heart palpitations at the mere thought. I’m a pantser at heart, however I’ve learned that I’m more productive if I have a good chunk of the story plotted prior to writing my proposal.
Most pantsers think of plotting as rigid and constraining. So the first thing we need to do is change our perception of plotting. Instead of approaching it as a hard-and-fast outline that you cannot deviate from, what if it’s simply a guideline to help keep us on task? That was key to turning this pantser into a plantser.
What does plantsing look like?
You have your story idea with your main characters. Perhaps you know how the story is going to end or you have a few scene ideas. Great! Write those down. I’m a visual person, so I use a very simplistic Word .doc with a chart that is broken down into the number of chapters with two boxes (scenes) per chapter. If I have an idea for the ending, I fill that in. I also add any other scenes I have in mind wherever I think they might occur in the story. Since it’s on the computer, whatever I write is easily moved to another chapter/scene later on.
With those things out of my head and on the page, I ask myself where the story begins. Every story starts with an inciting incident. That event that upends life as your h/h knows it and sets them on their journey. Like when a single mother runs into the father of her child. A child he knows nothing about. Or when a woman offers to help her neighbor who’s been thrust into the role of guardian for his five-year-old niece.
Great, we have an opening. Now what?
What’s at stake?
When the story opens, even before the inciting incident, your character has a goal (what they want), a motivation (why they want it) and a conflict (what keeps them from their goal). But what will happen if they don’t achieve their goal? That’s what’s at stake. Example: My heroine who learns her rancher neighbor is now guardian of his niece owns the local hardware store. Her goal is to expand her store before a regional building supply company moves into the area so she can establish her store as the go-to place for home improvement supplies (motivation). But her store is landlocked, so the only way to increase the footprint of her business is to purchase the building next door, but the owner has no interest in selling (conflict). Her business is what’s at stake. If she can’t expand her store, she’ll lose business to the big box store.
Stakes are important and sometimes overlooked in the pantsing process. But if the stakes aren’t clear, an editor will likely pass on your story. I speak from experience. 😉
What happens next?
That single question is key to my plotting process. From one scene to the next I ask myself, “What happens next?” Then I write down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it’s dialog, other times it’s just a matter-of-fact statement to prompt me later. However, there are those times when I have no idea what comes next. And the best way I’ve found to overcome that is with another question.
What’s the worst thing?
In his book Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says to think of the worst thing that could happen to your character in that particular moment and then find a way to make it happen. I blew that question off for years. Until I realized that it really works. It creates automatic conflict and ups the stakes. The downside is that it’s not always easy. Sometimes the worst thing takes us down a road we don’t want to travel. Been there, done that. I’ve ignored those nudges God kept giving me. It resulted in multiple rewrites. When I finally relented and gave in to God’s prompting, my editor loved the story.
If going forward becomes a struggle, try working backwards. If you know how the story is going to end, work backwards from that point. Ask yourself what happened leading up to the ending.
By taking the time to think through my story, I’m able to fill in most of the blanks on my chart with at least some basic information (like scene goals, motivation and conflict and what’s at stake). Then that aids me in writing the synopsis and allows me to write the story faster because I know what’s going to happen.
Of course, the pantser in me cannot be ignored, so I usually write my first three chapters before I start plotting. And, when working on my chart, I always allow myself the freedom to write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I’ll write entire scenes or big chunks of dialog. Then all I have to do is cut and paste. And yes, sometimes things change as I’m writing and that’s okay. Because plantsers don’t like rigid.
Are you a pantser who would like to be more productive? Consider trying something different. Even one thing that makes you more productive is worth a shot. Plotters, do you have any tips for pantsers that will still allow them the freedom they love so much?
I’m giving away another copy of my July release, A Father’s Promise, to one lucky commenter (U.S. mailing addresses only, please).
Is he ready for fatherhood?
He doesn’t think he deserves a family… But now he has a daughter.
Stunned to discover he has a child, Wes Bishop isn’t sure he’s father material. But his adorable daughter needs him, and he can’t help feeling drawn to her mother, Laurel Donovan—a woman he’s finally getting to know. But can this sudden dad overcome a past tragedy that has him convinced he’s not meant to be a husband or a father…and make a promise of forever?