Tuesday, February 24

TSTL or Plotter vs. Pantser



The Illustrated Professor
Our acronym for today, my children, is TSTL–Too Stupid To Live. No, not me, although I guess I have my moments. Actually, I’m talking about the heroine in my new novel—Book 4 in the Women of Willow Bay series. I’m normally a pantser, which means I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, no outlines, no plan. I just let my characters go. But this one is requiring me to be a bit of a plotter because I can see how easy it wold be to allow my heroine be Too Stupid To Live.

This is harder than it seems because in this story, Sarah, my heroine, is being stalked by her abusive ex-husband and she has to get away from him. I want readers to believe that how she escapes makes sense and why she might not immediately call the police for help. I don’t want her be stupidly unwilling to get help in a dangerous situation, but on the other hand, I need to build the suspense and drama. Yikes!

I thought about what I would do given the set of circumstances I’d written her into. Hells yeah, I’d be calling the cops–you bet my chickenshit butt! Heck, the story would be over in ten pages if I were the heroine.

My stories are usually character-driven, sensual romances, so writing a plot-driven romance requires more…um…plotting. Yes, I still have to be in my characters’ heads and question their motivations and discover their psyches, but I also have to keep the action going. I have to move the plot along realistically and believably. And because my heroine is the one who drives the story, she has to move along believably, too. Readers will only accept her if she’s real or at least someone they can relate to.

I’m a little bogged down right now, can you tell? Today is my head-clearing day. It includes exercise, laundry, a couple of errands, and then sitting down to figure out where my heroine is going from here. The action needs to move the story along to a satisfying conclusion, which unquestionably means I need to go less by the seat of my pants and give more careful thought to how we’re going to get there. I’m already making notes… and the memo function in my iPhone is at the ready. And yes, I'm seriously considering...gasp! An outline!

So talk to me, pantsers—do you ever have to do some plotting to make the story work?

17 comments:

  1. Can't wait to hear how you do this--I might have to take me some lessons!

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    1. I'm afraid I'm seriously going to have to consider an outline, which feels daunting to me right now, Liz! I've never done one before...

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  2. In my current WIP I have to do a lil, otherwise I'd have a bunch of Recon Marines running around unsupervised. NOT a good thing

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    1. LOL, Judith! Yeah, last thing we want is a bunch of unsupervised Marines. Yikes! ;-) Thanks for coming by!!

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  3. I'm a pantser and I don't plot for anything (I tried and failed--big time). So I just figure out what the next scene should be. I do give my characters goals and motivations, which tells me how they would react at the stuff I throw at them. I also had a character (named Sarah!!) who had an abusive ex. She didn't call the cops because she was SURE he'd get out and just be more mad at her. But if you're sure your character would call the cops, just make sure every time she tries, she fails.

    I have written some characters (villains/antagonists) doing stuff, but then wonder WHY are they doing it? But I continue to write the story because at some point (sometimes at the end) it does get revealed to me. I find that's the fun part of pantsing!

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    1. Hey Stacy! The outline thing is already harder than just writing and seeing where it goes. My Sarah's motivation for not calling the cops is a little different, but we'll see how it goes. Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. I wrote a reply and it seems to have disappeared so I'll try again. I hope this doesn't get published twice. Anyway, I was an avid pantser until last year when all the attendees at the Sisters in Crime retreat received a little book entitled "The Snowflake Method." Now, I write summaries of each character and divide the book into fourths, writing a general summary of what will happen in each fourth. It's a loose guide. Loose enough that the old pantser in me can still wander from the path if my characters or plot push me. I love being a hybrid. And Judith -- I was married to a marine and don't find a bunch of unsupervised ones running around necessarily a bad thing. I think it might even be enticing -- or possibly the word would be erotic.

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    3. Claudia, you little dickens! The book sounds interesting...I'll see if I can find it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Interesting to see everyone's methods. I suppose I'm a combo--I do some basic plotting, but for the most part, I consider myself a pantser. I'm excited to see the plot unfold as I go!

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    1. Thanks for coming by Barbara--looks like we're alike in our methods! ;-)

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  5. Have you watched Stalker? I love that show and I'm usually on the edge of my chair throughout it. And Dylan McDermott *sigh*

    But that doesn't solve your problem :)

    I think as long as you give her a good reason for not contacting the police--maybe she did in the past and he got a slap on the wrist which resulted in more slaps for her--or whatever. As long as you make that believable, I think you're golden.

    Plus, a good portion of abused women are pretty beat down and have super low self-esteem--as the men generally berate them, telling them they're pigs that nobody else would want--that she might not think the police would believe her.

    Good luck!

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    1. Hey Margie! No, I haven't watched Stalker, but Dylan McDermott would be a reason to check it out. Thanks for support--I can't say why she's not calling them, but I hope it'll make sense when the story is done! Hugs, baby!

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  6. I'm a bit of both--a pantser who does some (mostly mental) plotting.

    As far as your heroine is concerned, there will always be people who will read the book and think "I would handle that situation in a completely different way." But you must remember that your reader is not that character.

    Every time I read Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, I try to put myself in the heroine's place and imagine how I would have responded in the face of her dilemma. Me, I would have ditched Mrs. Danvers and taken over the running of Manderley a whole lot sooner. But if I had been that kind of "take charge" woman, Maxim de Winter would never have married me. ;) Obviously, my attitude hasn't prevented me from enjoying the book again and again thinking that maybe the next time I read it, the ending will be different. Stay true to your characters and don't let anyone make you change them!

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    1. Totally get where you're coming from about Rebecca--even when I read it the first time when I was about 13, I thought "Fire the old bat!" I'm not too take-charge either, though and the story is still one of my faves. So glad you came by!!

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    2. You should totally check it out! And you can pretty much check it out anytime as it's mostly episodic with just a few minor continuing stories--probably don't check it out this week as it's wrapping one of those up, I think. But, next time :)

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  7. I'm more of a panster, loving to follow where my characters lead me. Yet if I were working on a series I can see how it would be necessary to have an outline and descriptions of characters and story lines, just to keep it all straight in my head.

    Your comment about abused women staying in the relationship, or not bringing in the authorities does ring true. Many of the women I have worked with over my career had such low self esteem from abuse the they thought no one cared about their situation. I once worked with a group of 10 women who had been abused by husbands or boyfriends. Out of that group of 10 women five of them had been in jail for manslaughter - they took care of their abusers in a very final way. That's another story.

    Love your work. I can't wait to read this new addition to the Women of Willow Bay series.

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    1. Hi, Carolyn! You've almost touched on my heroine's dilemma! So glad you're enjoying the Women of Willow Bay. New book comes out in March! Thanks so much for coming by!

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