Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mark Twain converts from pantser to plotter!

How come you never see plotters converting to pantsers?  Would this be an unnatural evolution?

I started out as a pantser, but did a lot more pre-plotting with novel #2 and even more with novel #3. I don't think I could go back to writing by the "seat of my pants." My life is so busy with other commitments that it's hard to justify the time to do first drafting without a plan, when I know it would result in restructuring and major re-writes.

Heads up: fantastic example from the Hunger Games coming up soon. Feel free to skip my musings on different plotting methods.

I'm still a panster, too. While I'm writing my first draft off my plot outline, suddenly a new idea will pop into my head, or my character will go off in an unexpected direction, and I go with it. That's pantsing.

But it's not a complete reversal from plotter to pantser, because before I go too far, I revisit my outline and work the new direction into the plot and my character sheets, readjusting to make sure everything still fits together.

With NaNoWriMo starting in less than a month, I'm spending October brainstorming and plotting to get ready for take off on November 1st.

Here's some pre-plotting methods I recommend:

First novel: after realizing that pantsing my novel resulted in glaring plot holes alongside way-too-complicated plot tangles, I chose the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall to outline my new, streamlined plot for a massive re-write.

Second novel, first draft: used the Marshall Plan with modifications from the Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler, which elaborates on the mythic structure of the hero's journey,  found behind most storytelling.

Third novel, first draft: used a combination of the two methods above, plus a beat sheet and other great tricks from Save the Cat, by Blake Synder.

So this year I am using all three methods above, plus another popular one: the Snowflake Method, developed by Randy Ingermanson at

These methods are actually pretty easy to combine because they are all based on the Three Act structure but each offers additional insights, tips and tricks.

I had to give the Snowflake Method a try because I recently read a tip from Randy Ingermanson's October newsletter that really impressed me.

You'd think folks would have run out of fodder from the Hunger Games by now - I've read soooooooooo mannnnnnnnnnnnny posts on writing technique with examples from this great book (and they've all taught great lessons). Here's yet another great lesson, thanks to Randy:

The Hunger Games is a deep and powerful story. The reason is very simple. Each of the two main characters has three values that are in conflict. Let's look at Katniss's central values:
* Nothing is more important than survival.
* Nothing is more important than my sister.
* Nothing is more important than avoiding love, because the more people you love, the more you have to lose
Each of these values is in conflict with the other two. Katniss decides early in the story that she values her sister more than her own survival. The ongoing conflict in the story comes as she feels a growing attraction to Peeta. Can she dare to return his love, when she knows with certainty that they can't both survive the arena?
Likewise, Peeta has three central values:
* Nothing is more important than survival
* Nothing is more important than protecting Katniss
*Nothing is more important than being true to who you are.
For Peeta, these values are in massive conflict.

I really believe Randy pinpointed the reason why the Hunger Games is such an emotionally gripping story. He goes into a lot more detail in his October newsletter. It's worth reading in full (actually, all of his monthly e-zines are worth reading).  But here's a great summary of it:

Look into your characters. Push them against the wall and make them fill in the sentence, "Nothing is more important than _________."
Take what they tell you and run with it. For the novelist, nothing is more important than values in conflict.
As I'm snowflaking-hero-journeying-beat-sheeting-Marshall-planning I'm also going to be brainstorming conflicting character values.

Story is characters in conflict, but powerful stories are also values in conflict.

BONUS: hey, just figured this one out my own! Identifying your character's values that are in conflict is a giant help with character development. 

Yeah, it takes me a while to see the obvious! (shaking head at myself)

Please share. Do you have a recent favorite movie or book where the main character has a conflict with values? (If you are especially brave, ask yourself this question about your own values, too. I have a HUGE conflict between two of my values. Maybe I'll share that some other time...)

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