To Plot or To Pants [Writing]

plot or pantsFor a long time, writers have referred to themselves in one of two ways. As a plotter, or a pantser. The discussion around both appears in interviews, articles, on social media…anywhere you get writers talking, the question comes up.

Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser?

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser (the term comes from ‘flying by the seat of your pants’). I rarely plan things out, though I do ruminate on a current WIP, picture scenes and work through the story in my mind (usually before going to sleep). But as for fully plotting it? Nah, not for me.

See, I tried plotting. A long time ago, when I was still in secondary (high) school. It was coming up to NaNoWriMo, and I had an amazing fantasy idea that was going to blow everyone’s minds. Because I was 17 and of course it was. I plotted and planned and wrote up character sketches and when November hit I just…lost…interest.

It was like, because I knew the story, I no longer wanted to discover it. That was the excuse I told myself at 17, anyway, and ever since. I don’t plot. I just write. And sometimes it works. But more recently, I’ve started plotting a little more. I still pants, for short stories mainly, but even then, I at least have some idea of how I want it to start and end.

But the ideas I’ve had recently require more. They require more research, more careful consideration, more solid ideas of where and when A, B, C and D are going to happen.

In doing this, however, I will also give the story – and characters – room to breathe. I might have a particular scene planned for a certain chapter, but I know sometimes the story takes a turn even I might not expect. Ideas arrive in the shower, characters whispering in your ear, and sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

So maybe I’m moving away from pantsing? At least a little. The WIP is currently in research stages, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m interested in how this turns out, if plotting will work properly, or if it’ll end up in the air, and I’ll return to pantsing. Though maybe for me, the trick is to find the sweet spot between the two. We’ll see.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a bit of both?

 

Images

Rose & Book -Image by Daria Głodowska from Pixabay

Pencil & Notebook – Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Post It Notes -Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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No Killer, No Filler

writing doesn't need fillers or killers

Ah, writing. It comes so easily, doesn’t it? The words just flowing from your fingertips, the wonderful sound of keyboard keys clanking, being hit, one after the other, over and over until you have a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter…a book…

Full of the same words.

Just. Very. That.

Suddenly. Started. Then.

There are certain words, known as filler and killer words, likely to drag your writing to a grinding halt. Not to say they should be avoided entirely, but if you have the word ‘that’ multiple times in the same sentence, it’s going to make the reader cringe. Writing flows much more smoothly without filler and killer words.

Consider the following sentences –

Just then, the doorbell rang suddenly. She started to walk towards the door, her heart beating so hard that it felt like it would burst from her chest. In order to collect herself, she paused, staring through the obscure glass and picking out the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. Then, she opened the door.

Clunky, isn’t it? The prose reads stilted and too lengthy, words jammed in and draining the paragraph of any tension it could create. So, amending it –

The doorbell rang. She walked towards the door, heart about to burst from her chest. Pausing, she collected herself. On the other side of the obscure glass stood a man, in the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. She opened the door.

Filler words tend to be exactly that, words which fill the prose without actually contributing anything. Killer words slow it down, make it seem stilted. The best rule of thumb, if you find yourself using them, is to read the sentence with and without a particular word. If it makes sense without, drop it.

Filler words: Just. Quite. Rather. Very. perhaps. Stuff. Really. In order. Had. Literally. Actually. That.

Killer words: Suddenly. In order to. Started. Sort of. Used to. So. Kind of. As. A lot. Out of. You. Then.

Remember, these words can be used, and can, on occasion, prove to be useful. But make sure if they are used, they’re not over-used, and they’re put in sentences only when necessary.

 

Images Used 

Serial Killer – Image by Republica from Pixabay

Notepad – Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

Books – Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Publication Updates

So seeing as this blog is supposed to be as much about my writing as it is about other’s, I thought I’d just drop a quick note to confirm my latest publication updates. Details of my short stories can always be found on the About & Publications page, but I know maybe not everyone visits that when they come to the site.

So, since the start of the year, I’ve had three short stories published. Two in anthologies, and one as a digital standalone in Alban Lake’s Infinite Realms bookstore.

January saw the publication of the final Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology, LUST.  The fact this anthology has come to an end makes me feel sad – the WRATH volume was my first ever in print story, Dying of the Light, and I feel really proud of the story itself. Ashworth Manor was in the AVARICE volume, and actually got me the number one spot in the competition run on Scrib to find stories for the anthology. And, finally, in LUST, there’s Nina and the Raging Hormone Buffet. The fact I found a place among a group of talented writers is always a reason to smile, even if there won’t be any more of the series. You can check out LUST on Amazon US here, and the UK site here. The profits for SDS do go to First Book, so please check out any of the seven volumes!

Also realised in January was CURSE OF THE GODS, from Fantasia Divinity. My short story The Most Valuable Possession appeared in their previous anthology, OUT OF YOUR SHADOW, and will be my first paid story. Worshipped, appearing in this anthology, will be my first contributor’s copy. Worshipped shows Aphrodite, trying to navigate a modern world, and the perils that come with it. The Fantasia Divinity site (linked above) is worth checking if you want to get a copy, as they often have discounts.

And lastly, through Alban Lake’s wonderful Infinite Realms bookstore, there’s Night of the Loving Dead, published in February. I had so much fun writing this story, and hopefully that comes through in the fiction. It’s flash, coming in at little under 1000 words, and follows a zombie as he tries to navigate his new living deadness. It’s also a zombie love story. Another great publisher definitely worth checking out, and there’s plenty in the bookstore to keep you entertained.

Thoughts on Italics

unwrapping words italics (1).png

When it comes to italics, there seem to be two camps. Love them, and hate them. It can sometimes feel like the Marmite of the writing world, and just like marmite, personally, I hate them.

just can’t stand reading something when every other word is in italics.

Of course, italics do have a place. If something isn’t dialogue, but isn’t part of the normal prose, they are needed to differentiate whatever it is we’re reading. So a sign, or a note, or, in general, something the character is reading. But a letter doesn’t have to be in italics. It can be, of course, but usually if the prose switches to a letter format, we know what it means.

However, my main issue with italics is when they’re used to emphasise. For some reason, something about their use has the potential to completely jerk me out of the story (depending on the quality of writing, anyway). If I’m wrapped up in the plot, I’ll skim over it, otherwise it’ll make me pause.

The best way to explain it is to repeat the words of a tutor at uni, during one Creative Writing seminar. Italics, when used for emphasis, show a lack of trust in the reader. It means the writer doesn’t think they can work out for themselves how the words are spoken (if in dialogue) or read. And they can be jarring. Everyone will read in slightly different ways, and if the way a person reads naturally puts the emphasis on a different word, seeing it in another place in the sentence can jar them out. For whatever reason, an emphasis on word three in a sentence, as opposed to word five, might just not make sense to them.

So, basically, to me, italics for emphasis = underestimating the reader.

And then there are direct thoughts.  Something else that can, if not written well, really get under my skin. To me, too often, the character’s ‘thoughts’ don’t read like actual thoughts, and feel too much like over-explaining, too much like telling rather than showing.

It’s having a character think, Oh, I’m so frightened, as opposed to saying goosebumps scattered across their arms, hairs stood on end, they were frozen, their heart thumped, their pulse raced, etc. Or, describing the fear, then having a character think that. Once more, underestimating the reader, not trusting them to understand something they’ve already seen.

So that’s my main ‘issue’ with italics, really. The things they’re used for tend to lean towards the idea that the writer doesn’t trust the reader or, perhaps, they don’t trust their own writing to speak for itself. They have their place, and can be used for good, but should be used sparingly.

Feel The Anger

Wrath Front Cover with text.jpgFear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

We all know Yoda’s famous quote, even if you’ve never seen Star Wars. Anger is a dangerous, tricky beast, uncontrollable once unleashed, and if allowed to roam for too long, devastating for any involved.

Each of the seven deadly sins would make an interesting topic to explore in writing, which is why the Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology is such a great idea. So far, they have 5 volumes out, covering Pride, Sloth, Envy, Gluttony and now, Wrath. And, lucky me, I’m one of the writers in the volume dedicated to Wrath.

I’m very, very honoured to be included in the anthology with my story Dying of the Light, alongside some very talented writers. This marks my first in-print publication, and I’ve already ordered my copy so I can hold it in my hands and squeal at seeing my name on the front cover.

Proceeds from the anthology go to First Book, which makes me even more happy to be a part of this.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few of these stories already, and cannot wait to settle down with my copy and read them all.

Dying of the Light

Eliza and Chloe were born into a culture that relished powers. As twins, one was destined to be stronger, and with that strength came the possibility of uncontrolled rage. When others sought to steal the strong twins’ power, they chose the wrong girl. After Chloe’s funeral, Eliza makes her way to the place where her sister died, determined to find those responsible and enact her revenge.

UK Kindle

UK Paperback

US Kindle

US Paperback

How Not To Introduce Characters

girl and tree.jpg

Readers and writers, I think, all have their own little pet peeves when it comes to something they read. For the most part, these all come down to personal taste. Some readers might dislike reading something involving the supernatural. Personally, I really don’t like ‘direct thoughts’ unless they are handled extremely well. Otherwise, they feel jarring and too much telling, rather than showing.

Another thing that tends to annoy me involves, more specifically, the introduction of characters.

Introducing characters can be hard. You want readers to feel a certain way towards them, but don’t want to drone on and on. There’s a point when it becomes boring to read lengthy descriptions about their clothes and the way they enter a room. Actually, when it comes to clothes, I don’t always think it’s necessary, unless it says something particular about a character. But it’s not clothes here I’m talking about. The thing that really, really gets me, is when a character waltzes into a story and we’re told, outright, every little detail about their personality.

So, in a third person narrative with a main character, say the girl in the photo above, we might have the following –

“Jenny, a beautiful girl, was sad. She wore a white dress, and a crown made of twigs. She sat under the tree. Jenny was usually a happy, kind girl, with hopes and dreams. She loved hard. Now, the sadness was so overwhelming she didn’t feel as if she could go on. Jenny had been due to get married, but her handsome, wonderful finance, Robert, had run off with a bridesmaid.”

Bit boring, isn’t it? We’re told a lot about her, but that’s the problem. We’re told. Every writer knows the old ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, and though there are instances where this can be broken, usually it’s still better to stick to it, for the most part. Plus, when we’re told something – especially positive things, like they’re gorgeous, or kind, or plain wonderful – it sometimes makes it harder to believe. We need to see things. Plus, being shown something means, if they act against that description later, we’re not rolling our eyes, wondering, well, we were told she was kind, so why is she now acting like that? Show us her kindness, because it then leaves room for her to be not-so-kind in another situation.

So, the above could be changed to –

“Jenny reached the tree where she’d shared her first kiss with Robert. The crown, formed of twigs, circled her dark hair, and dug into her skin. She sank to the ground, drew her knees to her chest, and rested her head on them, allowing the tears to fall. Everything she’d wanted from that day was now ruined. Her bridesmaid, who’d she’d babysat for, who she’d helped out when her own husband left her, had betrayed her. The thought brought a deep, aching pang to her chest. How could she possibly go on?”

Still not perfect, but it is just an example. It gives the same information as above, but, hopefully, in a much more engaging way. Showing, rather than telling.

Keep in mind, the words of a great man: “Any man who must say I am the king, is no true king.” Similarly, if you need to state your character’s traits, it makes the reader doubt if they actually have them. I’ve always taken that quote to mean that actions speak louder than words. You show people who you are by what you do, not by saying ‘I am…’. So give your characters the chance to do the same.

tywin king quote.jpg

What about you? As readers or writers, what are the things that particularly annoy you when reading?

It’s Okay To Take A Break

One thing that’s hammered into writers, over and over, is ‘write every day.’ The idea being that the only way you’re going to get better is to produce words every day, whether it’s 100, 500, 1000 or more. We’re told, as writers, that it doesn’t matter what you write, even if it’s completely rubbish, because you can always go back and edit. This is true – first drafts are rarely going to be shining gems. But in regards to writing every day, it’s one piece of advice that can be thrown out the window.

If it does work for you, great! Keep doing it. Honestly, I prefer write when you can, when you want to. Whether that’s one day a week, or every day for a few weeks with breaks in-between. To be honest, convincing myself I had to write every day has caused me more guilt than anything else. The days when I don’t write, I used to question myself on whether it meant my writing wasn’t as good, or I wasn’t as much a writer as other people, etc. I used to beat myself up over it.

Truth is, sometimes when I get home, I can barely focus. Words on screens start to swim after a day of, well, looking at words on screens. And I know, if I were to write then, it just wouldn’t be good. I wouldn’t enjoy it, I’d struggle, and get annoyed. And honestly, what’s the point of writing if you’re not enjoying it? Normally, I do. Enjoy it, I mean. But I can’t just sit and write when I don’t feel like it.

Every so often, I come home from work, and just play video games. This might be for a day or two, or a whole week. Usually only a week if I know I’ll have plenty of writing time coming up. And on the weekends, I’m with my boyfriend; we don’t live together, so it’s the only time we get to spend decent amounts of time together. We play games, we watch things – I don’t write. And you know what? That’s okay.

It’s okay to take a break now and then. To be a writer – even a good one – you don’t have to write every day, when you least feel like it. It took me a while to realise that and to stop beating myself up for not slaving over the keyboard for another few hours in the evenings, or to not feel guilty for enjoying time with my boyfriend rather than locking down into what is, essentially, a solitary activity. Besides that, as writers we still need things outside of writing; it can’t become our whole lives, otherwise, what would we write about?

So, if you take occasional days off from writing, for whatever reason, just know it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world, and those characters will still be waiting for you when you come back. A little break never harmed anyone. You don’t have to write every day; just write whenever you feel best to do so.

Why I Write

First things first; I know, I know, it’s been….actually, over a year since I posted. I’m terrible, awful, should have updated more…I’m just not hugely good at keeping up with things. But I promise, I will endeavour to write more on this blog, not least because now I have something to actually update people with! More on that a little later.

Recently, I’ve had a little crisis of confidence when it comes to my writing. This happens from time to time, when I begin to wonder if this is something I actually am good at, or if I’m just wasting my time bashing words onto a keyboard that no one but me will ever read.

I write for the love of it. Because it is one of those things I think (sometimes) I am pretty good at. I’ve always had good feedback on my work, whether it was on FictionPress, in seminars at University, or on Scrib. Well, less on Scribophile but for the most part, the critiques are still encouraging – just more geared towards improvement than anything else. And without it, I really don’t think my stories would have improved as much as they have in the last year or so I’ve been on there.

I’m not looking for fame and glory, though I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be a nice bonus. Eventually, it would be amazing just to have an audience, even if it was just one person, and to know I’d made someone smile through my writing – whether a short story or novel – or wrote something they thought of days later, in the same way some stories cross my own mind.

Isn’t that what all writers want?

Even without that though, there are other reasons I persist.

Truth be told, before the last year or so, things haven’t exactly been easy. There have been ups and downs, and through the downs, through some of the worst moments of my life, writing has been a persistent and constant companion. I have used it to work through my own thoughts, or to draw myself into a completely different world where the things I’ve been dealing with don’t exist. I’ve also used my own experiences to give my characters, hopefully, depth; in some, they have some of the less well-known symptoms of depression, or find themselves at some sort of crossroads, where they take the path I, personally, didn’t.

I’ve always used writing in this way, pouring my thoughts onto paper in the guise of fiction. And it helps. Whether or not what I’m writing relates to what I’m experiencing at the time, focusing on the words stops me focusing on whatever is bothering me. And if I go too long without working on anything, I start to feel drained, my fingers itching to get something written, no matter what it is.

Things have been a lot better more recently. For a variety of different reasons. But still, I write. I write because I can’t not write. I write because when I don’t, ideas and characters crowd my head begging to be let out. I write because, well, I’m a writer. I kind of have to.

The Value of Feedback

Every writer knows (or should know) the worth of feedback. Yes, we can pass our stories to friends and relatives but unless they have an eye for details the most one could expect is “I like it” or “Wasn’t fussed”, and some of them will say it’s great just to spare our feelings.

As writers, what we really need is good, constructive feedback. It’s great a story works but we need to know why. Similarly, a pair of objective eyes can go a long way in pinpointing what’s wrong, what doesn’t work, awkward sentences or grammatical errors we may have just missed.

I used to be a fairly active member of FictionPress. For those who don’t know, FictionPress was the sister site of FanFiction.org. I actually joined both in the early 2000s; FanFiction once I discovered I could write about Harry Potter, and shortly after, FictionPress when it started. Then I stopped, for a while, but while at University (possibly a little earlier) I rejoined the website and started posting more, as well as participating in The Roadhouse forum, where you could exchange reviews.

This worked out really well. I got to read some really good stories posted by other writers, and received a lot of great feedback on my work. Encouraging feedback, too, and through the reviews managed to realise exactly what I was doing wrong, and learned a few things about grammar that I hadn’t actually known before.

At University, studying Creative Writing, seminars were made up mostly of reading and critiquing people’s work. It was more important to be honest, and to be specific; to help pinpoint exactly what was right and wrong with another student’s story. And, under the right tutors, we were encouraged to experiment and try different techniques, styles, and to be completely honest in what we told others.

It’s something I’ve really missed since leaving University. I stopped posting on FictionPress when I realized I wanted to try to get my work out there. So there was no source for that sort of feedback. And it isn’t just on a spelling, grammar, etc level where the feedback is valuable.

It’s a confidence thing, too. Entering competitions and entering stories for possible publication, I constantly found myself wondering – is this good enough? Even with stories I really like, I still get that tremor of fear. But, with places like FictionPress and in a seminar, even when the feedback contains points to improve on, people will still tell you the things they liked about the story.

So, knowing I needed some way of getting feedback on what I’ve been writing, I joined Scribophile. I’ve only been on there a week, giving critiques, and so far have two stories posted up. The first has  had some really good critiques on it, which will go a long way to polishing it and making it much better than it currently is. I’m still waiting to get a few more on the second, but the other writers on the site have shown themselves to be kind, welcoming and eager to help everyone. The forums are entertaining, and the site has some brilliant articles in regards to writing. Overall, so far I’m enjoying the experience, and it’s given me exactly what I need. A place to get good, honest feedback, to help me grow as a writer and to give me that little boost of confidence I’m going to need going forward.

In Defence of GRRM

With the new season fast approaching, news is leaking out all the time about Game of Thrones, with hints thrown at fans as to what direction this season might take. The last season already diverted from the books, and with characters cut out or merged, and story lines completely dropped, it’s safe to say that the TV show has, for a while, been heading somewhere different from the books. Yet despite this, with almost every new piece that comes out, someone will berate the author of the popular A Song of Ice & Fire series for still not finishing the next book.

A lot of people refer to prolific author Stephen King when arguing that it cannot be that hard to produce a novel regularly for the fans. And yes, King does come out with novels at a fast rate. As a King fan I can’t keep up, but among the books that come out are short stories and novellas, not just full length novels. And not everyone writes like King does, not everyone can produce work that fast. And, secondly, let’s not forget that it took over twenty years for him to complete his Dark Tower series. The first book came out in 1982, the last book in 2004 and a further novel in 2012. In contrast, A Song of Ice & Fire had its first book in 1996 and the fifth book in 2011. Yes, the latter is going to take longer but King only returned to Roland and his ka-tet after a pretty bad car accident.

Furthermore, although there were many people writing to King asking him to complete the series, it wasn’t on the same global mainstream scale as GRRM is now facing. Personally, I can’t imagine how much pressure he must be under to get the next book done. But that pressure, the knowledge that so many people are now waiting for it, is probably going to filter in and cause the dreaded writer’s block. And it’s not like he hasn’t done anything.

GRRM has been working on other stuff, other stories, working on the show, etc. And people complain about that, about getting short stories or spin offs or whatever and not the real thing. Problem is, and I’ve felt this myself with novels that are yet to see the light of day, sometimes you get stuck. Sometimes the characters just refuse to budge from a certain situation and the only way to get around it so you know you can come back with a clear idea is to work on something else.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe he has been procrastinating and putting it off and to be honest, I’ll be cheering along with everyone else once the book is finally released and I can actually read it but, if I’m honest, I’d rather him take his time and deliver something decent rather than give us something not that good just to get people to shut up.

And in the meantime…there are literally thousands more books out there I want to read, and some of them include GRRM’s older works too (so far I’ve read the Wild Cards anthology, his Dreamsongs collection but just volume 1, Windhaven, and a couple of the Egg & Duck graphic novels…) so it’s not like I, or anyone else for that matter, is sitting at home twiddling their thumbs with absolutely nothing to read until the next book comes out.