Pantser or Planner: Which is better for you?
Are you the type of writer who can get any old idea and bang out 1000 words or more with no worries at all, or are you the type who needs to ruminate on ideas for a fortnight and hope that when you put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard that you will have the flow of a story?
That’s the basic difference between “pantsers” and “planners”. Fly by the seat of your pants, or plan it all out.
Let’s assume for now that you need help planning your story, so today, we’re going to look at how to establish a workable timeline for your NaNo writing.
Here’s the KISS for that:
Last year, I lost over 10,000 words in my final week. I still to this day have no clue what happened to it. I had the written part long since past in my other saved [typed] pieces, but that section somehow didn’t get saved or was lost in my laptop’s hard drive forever. It’s a bummer when that happens (understatement of the day) but you can recover. I did over 30000 words that last week alone.
You have your genre, theme, characters, location/time, and now we’re going to focus on the story-line.
There are some basic guidelines to adhere to, in order to make your readers want to continue reading your story. Answer these questions, and you’ll start to develop a sense of what it is you want to say to your audience. Keep in mind these questions are meant to be a starting point for your own imagination and desire to tell the story; they are not the be-all-end-all of writing.
In keeping with the 5W/1H idea, let’s do three questions for each of the following:
Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How:
Who are your readers?
(The demographic you want to write for; are they kids, preteen, young adult, religious, hardcore nerdy/geek, elementary/high school/college/university level students, etc)
Who are your characters?
The specific antagonist/protagonist (hero/villain, anti-hero/anti-villain, etc)
Who’s perspective are you going to write from?
The reader will need to know which character(s)’ eyes to look through for the story. If you plan on writing an anthology of sorts, you will need to be kind enough to your readers and never assume they just KNOW you are want them to read it as a new/different character. The reader wants to be entertained.
What is the purpose/meaning of the story you are trying to convey?
We write to entertain, but answering what it is that you want to entertain with will help you truly begin to discover how important your characters, plot, location, and everything else connected with the story truly is. Little Red Riding Hood had a specific story, but there was an intentional hidden meaning [moral] behind it. Like most children’s fairy tales, there is an element of learning that is tucked away as a morsel of truth that is the underlying reason for the story’s existence to begin with. The evolution of the story on top of the meaning is secondary. Don’t get preachy, but if you choose to have a hidden truth buried deep inside (ie Animal Farm having a FULL revolutionary cycle that was based off the fall of the Soviet Union), make it meaningful so when people discover the allegory, they aren’t feeling cheated by the story itself. We’ll cover more about the plot-worthy plot pieces in #4.
What is the main issue/story of your plot?
This might seem similar to the previous question, and it is in part. But this relates to the actual story. The “meat” of your story (again, we’ll go into how to develop that meat in the next article) – are you having characters clash, or find themselves, or settle a score or learn something?
What do your characters do to be memorable to their audience?
Forgettable and dismissive characters don’t make for entertaining reading. Getting your characters to have depth is something we will look at in #5.
Where is your story set?
(Time is included in this for the era – for instance placing the story in a believable medieval setting will not give you ability to access Amazon or eBay online for the characters, so stick to the location and setting you have chosen, unless you are purposely hopping in a time machine).
Where do you want the story to go?
This one might be a bit tricky to plan, as it’s a fluid story idea. Unless you have a situation that you know you have A happens, then B, in order to get to C, for D’s resolution (ie a murder, the body found, the investigation, and finally murderer found), you will likely want to let the story evolve as you write. Even if you do have a “this is what WILL happen” kind of story, being flexible between the points will allow the reader to see the situation more believable, rather than a perfunctory A-B-C-D straight path. We’ll look at specifics for plot details in #4.
Where are your characters within the story themselves?
Giving descriptions can bring a realness to the story in order to paint a vivid picture of the actual surroundings. Bring the reader on your journey with you.
Why ‘this’ story?
You have a desire to write, and getting those words down is important to you. So do them justice and tell your story so that you are remembered.
Why do you have the story flowing in the direction that it is?
Sometimes, the best stories aren’t the ones which flow straight. (We’ll cover this in #4)
Why are your characters they way they are?
Do they have specific talents that are going to become necessary as the story develops?
When are you setting the story? Remember, we’ve already established in the previous NaNo Prep that you’re going to need a timeline set into a particular time. Even if you never share that with your audience, there are things that need to be explained to them. They don’t need to know it is a Tuesday afternoon in July. They do however need to know when you’re writing in time. The way you can do this without giving dates/places even, is through the language you choose to write with, the description of clothing, food, culture, and so on that you allow the reader to see. The more details you give, the clearer the picture. You can give hints even to other situations in the same time frame, but remember to stick in that time once you have set it. Julius Caesar and Al Capone never met, so if you’re planning on doing that, you best have that trusty time machine.
When do you want the story to start and end?
This is a tricky one, because so much can happen in five minutes, while other times, life can feel like it is so boring and mundane and tedious for years on end. Deciding (and sticking with as much as possible) that specific timeline will help you create the parameters of your story and give you concise boundaries not to exceed unless necessary (through flashbacks/forwards, etc).
When do your characters arc, move, flow, live, and die?
Having your readers love your characters enough to want to emote when something huge happens in their life requires a story that gives them reality and likability. If your character cannot be believed, your character will not be liked enough to be mourned over. Without naming names in order to stop possible future spoilers, I’ll just say the specific deaths in Harry Potter have far deeper meaning than a random red shirt or storm trooper we never learn the name of. (And yes, movies are stories, as they have screenplays and those are just as valid for writing as a novel!)
How do you intend to convey the story?
We touched on this previously, being first or third or what I classed as a ‘creepy mix of both’. The reason I say creepy, is that most stories are set with the intended reader to have their own voice reading to them, or the main/side character. Making the reader switch between their own and a characters’ voice is odd, and doesn’t usually work. There’s a creepy element that is added when the story (I can think of thrillers/dramas/horrors that tend to try to utilise this perspective the most, many with horrible outcomes) when the narration supersedes where the character should be able to ‘see’ or know, giving it a stalker-ish feeling.
How do your characters come to life?
We’ll touch on this more in #5 for sure, but it’s good to start thinking about their quirks, their skeletons, their strengths and weaknesses.
How do you reach the reader and compel them to stay?
This is the apex of all of it, isn’t it?
Getting a reader to read it and love it so much they stop random strangers on the street to tell them to not only read this book, but that it will help them in some profound way.
Perhaps it’s to motivate them. Or empower them. Or entertain them. Or to validate them. Or… well you get the idea. Give them a reason.
There are boundless ways to tell the story, so next time, we’re going look at plotting plots!