Confessions of a Former Pantser

Plotting out in advance? Bah, that’s for amateurs… so said me, and probably an awful lot of other writers. Why plot when you can allow for the pure magic of writing? Story developments suddenly spring out of nowhere, leaving you exclaiming to open air – ‘Well, where the heck did that come from?’

No, no, far better (and much more fun) to fly by the seat of your pants. Hence, the popular term ‘pantser’. And the totally unnecessary picture above.

Yes, I always had an idea of how a story starts and how it ends (and most of mine do so happily), but you could outline that planning in three sentences. ‘Student girl and boy swap bodies with a middle-aged couple. A scientific experiment they didn’t know about. They swap back,’* kind of thing.

Until a few weeks ago, that is. There I am, minding my own business, muddling through the messy middles of several books and wondering why my characters keep getting distracted from their real purpose when an email wings its way towards me.

Nick Stephenson is an indie success story who also teaches the art of writing and selling your own books. He is currently trying to persuade me (and others, I don’t get personal emails from him) to sign up for his Story Engines course, one of those write a book in a month type programmes.

The freebie incentive is a pdf that outlines basic plotting, showing how it works through demonstrating its application in popular novels such as The Great Gatsby, Me Before You, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Tripwire.

The premise is you first work out who is the hero, who is the antagonist, what’s the conflict and what’s at stake. Then, you set out a rough plan for a preparation phase, then a reactive phase, a proactive phase and then the end. Each stage is marked by a gamechanger.

I’m summarising. And making it sound formulaic. Not all great writing does this or needs this. There might be one or more heroes. An antagonist might not always be that way. Gamechangers can vary significantly in scale.

But when I worked out a two-page plan for three of the projects I’m working on, it was easy to see what was missing, what was in the wrong place and what was doing nothing for the plot and/or character development.

I’d argue that plotting is more straightforward to do once you are into a book. By that point, you know your characters well, and you know what will be a gamechanger for them. Start with your general idea, write about a third of your book and then hone. That’s my advice anyway.

Happy writing!

*And there you have it. The spoiler-free plot for The Girl Who Swapped.

The Girl Who Swapped

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Preparing to write your novel with NaNoWRiMo 2017

Some great advice for anyone who wants to have a bash at those 50,000 words next month!

Caron Allan Fiction

I’m adding my voice to the current slew of advice posts aimed at anyone thinking of joining in the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month through NaNoWriMo.org in November this year. Whether you are a seasoned author or a newbie, this is a great challenge to give you a big push to writing a complete novel–though it could also be non-fiction if that’s your bag, baby–by taking the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

I’ve done it several times now, and still haven’t quite made up my mind whether or not to go for it this year, as I am revising my WIP ahead of publication this December. But I can say unreservedly that it is a great idea and I think also a valuable writing experience. If you’re not sure whether to do it, I say, give it a go, what have you got to lose? And…

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Beauty and the Vampire

Ten thousand words into a book and I needed matchsticks to prop up my eyes. And I’m the author. It’s not good when you’re boring the pants off yourself. It doesn’t bode well for a book.

I’ve wanted to write a decent YA novel for AGES. I’ve tried a few times, but not managed. I like one of my attempts, but a YA book it ain’t – more a coming of age thing meant to appeal to other people who grew up in the 80s/90s.

This time, I thought I’d try a tale about a girl who ends up a YouTube star with her make-up for spotty girls channel. It started off okay. I’d found her a boyfriend. I’d introduced them in the tried and trusted Pride and Prejudice way. I’d even injected a little social grit as my heroine had a little sister who was dying (she was using her channel to raise money to get her sister to Disneyland), and she’d gained a ton of followers online who hung on to her every word. Sometimes they were nasty to her, in authentic YouTube style-y.

And then…yawnsville. Darn it, the writing just slogged on, words clinging to the pages instead of dancing in the air.

Inspiration struck this week. I get a lot of my ideas while out walking. Keep her as a YouTube star, I thought, pacing out the steps to Asda, but change the world and make her motivation different. Let’s throw in vampires!

Now, instead of a YouTube make-up channel for spotty gels, she’s got another audience in mind—those who want to look like ordinary human beings, instead of bloodsuckers.

My heroine still needs to look after her little sister, as her family can’t afford the healthcare for vampire immunisation. Only rich folks can afford it, and that means I get to take a sly dig at Donald Trump too.

Always a bonus, right?

Throw in some Romeo and Juliet conflict via a potential vampire love interest et voila! Something rather more entertaining.

I might still bore it up. Wish me luck. And in a blatant attempt to direct you to my Wattpad account, you can read the first instalment here

The Ten Bonuses of Writing for a Living

Writing for a living—glamorous, well-paid, and sort of sexy and bohemian, right? Bohemian regarding the pay, certainly, but here are some of the reasons why I love being a writer…
1. You get to work for yourself, and most of the time your boss is kind, understanding, reasonable and supportive*.
2. You don’t have to go to meetings. (Well, not many of them.) When I lived in the office world, most meetings I went to were like the ones they show on the BBC show, W1A. Here’s a link to a clip for anyone not familiar with this most glorious of satires.
3. Your fingers get a good work-out every day. C’mon. We’re like pianists, our digits moving at double quick time over the keyboard.
4. As a copywriter, you get to find out a little about A LOT. This week, among other things, I dreamt up sales statements for cars (not bad for someone who knows SFA about horsepower, torque and HUD), dug into the importance of living wills, and entered the world of vintage Danish furniture.
5. Writing every day is great practice for what every copywriter really wants—to write novels (my own wee attempt is here). Yes, being forced to think up lots of different ways to make cars sound exciting, and vintage Danish furniture appealing hones those creative skills.
6. You can do it anywhere. So long as you have a connection to the internet, the world’s your oyster. If you want, you can become a trendy digital nomad.
7. Being praised for your work. This might not always happen—and sometimes the opposite occurs—but when someone says they love your stuff, your heart soars.
8. Doing what you love. Every. Single. Day. Hey, even those car statements. And those blogs about cleaning.
9. Reading. You can’t write for a living without doing a LOT of reading. Sometimes, it’s of the dull variety, but it’s always very varied, and I don’t know any writers who don’t also love reading too.
10. The money. That’s my little joke. My bad. Take it from me, kids. You don’t do this job for the moolah.

*You get the odd day when your boss is the BITCH FROM HELL.

The Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-HumeThe Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-Hume by Gordon Lawrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always great when a writer takes an intriguing character from a previous story (The Piano Exam) and further develops them, as is the case here with The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell Hume, a mysterious woman with many talents – not least music and the way she wears clothes!

This collection of stories about Mary and her efforts to better the city of Edinburgh (by committing the odd crime, but solving them too) is entertaining and laugh-out-loud in places. The book is peopled with fantastic characters and situations you will probably recognise in part. You might even find the odd reference to a certain Edinburgh department store familiar… Just the ticket for relaxing reading.

View all my reviews

How to Procrastinate Like A Pro

If a cat sits on your laptop, this also gives you the perfect excuse not to do something.

I need to re-write a book. I know how to start, I know what needs doing, and I’m still avoiding it.

Naturally, you can check out the web for lots of tips on how to avoid procrastination (admittedly an exercise in putting off itself), but what’s the fun in that?

So, if you too have something you are putting off, but are rapidly running out of reasons, try these out…

 

 

 

  1. Twitter! Made for the procrastinator (as are most forms of social media). Check out the trends. Follow the links. Spend ages dreaming up witty posts of 140 characters or less. Schedule them, so you have a steady supply of amusing Tweets.
  2. Take pictures of your pet for Twitter/Instagram. This takes AGES. You need to get a seriously good piccie, one that will get plenty of ‘likes’ and shares. Then, you can spend an age obsessively checking just how many ‘likes’ you get.
  3. Research. Whatever comes into your brain at this precise point, look it up online. Where did they film the Boston scenes for Outlander Series 3? (Glasgow, I think.) What are the nutritional qualities of caraway seeds? (Fibre and some essential oils). What is the weather forecast for the next few days? (Rain.) Are there exercises you can do to slim your face? (Yes. And there are LOADS of videos you can watch on this too.)
  4. Write a blog entry and pretend it is part of strengthening your brand and your marketing efforts*. Yeah, right.
  5. Email others you know enjoy the art of procrastination. They will probably reply quickly, asking a few questions of their own which will demand your immediate response. You can keep this up for hours, if necessary.
  6. Make sure all the apps on your phone are set to send you push notifications. Your phone will repeatedly bleep with lots of lovely, shiny new news!
  7. Fill in your tax return in advance. I know. You can tell just how much you are putting off something when filling in a tax return seems like a viable thing.

Of course, if you do want to avoid procrastination you could do the opposite to all of the above. You will, however, eventually need to fill in your tax return.

 

*Oh. Had better self-promote then. You can buy The Girl Who Swapped, a chick lit, humorous read, here

How To Survive The Shelved Story Coming Back From The Dead #Writers #AmWriting

Some smart advice from Lucy…

BlondeWriteMore

Your story died at 21,456 words.

It was a sad state of literary affairs when you wiped away your tears, blew your nose and decided to shelve your half-finished novel.

There were too many things that weren’t working with your fictional romance, about two emotionally broken food lovers finding each other on an online dating site for foodies. Too many alarm bells ringing in your head when your hungry love birds came together. No sign of any conflict and no matter how many times you instructed your brain to come up with beautiful and poetic ways to describe your characters kissing, it only offered you phrases such as ‘the thought of herkissing him made his stomach juices curdle,’ and’his snogging action was similar to her food blender on super fast speed.’

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