You’re a Pantser, a writer who likes to just sit down and see what grows organically from your keyboard or pen, but you’ve got a problem.
Everything is blank. Oh, sure, you started out in a burst of creative ecstasy, but it was the equivalent of a one-night stand. Well, maybe a month-long stand. But you still need to know what happens next to move your story along.
There’s help on the way. Not a guy in a white hat or a knight in shining armor to take you away from all this stress and mental fatigue—no, he’s the kind of guy who probably got you into this mess—the guy on the computer screen just lounging around waiting for some stage direction or a script from you so he could emote.
The help is right here in the following creative, non-plotter ways to plot what comes next.
I say “non-plotter ways” because Plotters are notorious for being outline dependant, but we Pantsers run screaming from the room if outline is even whispered within our hearing.
Yes, I say we Pantsers, for I, too, would be lost without the rush of not knowing much about what comes next. Well, most of the time. There are those instances where my hair is standing on end from being pulled because I don’t have an idea of how to continue.
But no longer. I now have plans—not outlines—but systems for guiding my fumbling fiction fantasies back onto the page where they belong.
Perhaps some of these will work for you, too!
“Be the hero, be the heroine. Be the villain, if there is one. Heck, be the dog! Sometimes getting a clear visual in mind is what will kickstart a stalled story back into action.”
You’ve probably heard of this. They do it in movie studios to flesh out ideas for camera angles, if nothing else. And no, you don’t have to be able to draw to do this exercise. All you need is the ability to imagine yourself into a scene. It could be the last one you completed, or you can step in where you left off in the current scene. This kind of storyboarding is all about acting things out in your head. Be the hero, be the heroine. Be the villain, if there is one. Heck, be the dog! Sometimes getting a clear visual in mind is what will kickstart a stalled story back into action.
Could you do with another one, or one less? If you’ve been writing in 1st person and keep stalling out, back up and switch to 3rd person. Get into more characters’ heads. They might tell you something you hadn’t known before that will give you that light bulb moment.
This ties into Point of View (POV). It keeps track of what different characters are doing when they’re not in the same location. I don’t do this too far in advance, perhaps the night before or while I’m waiting in line somewhere. Sometimes it’s all jotted down mentally, sometimes physically. It tells me that while the heroine is doing this, the hero is off doing that, and any other characters that have POVs are doing whatever. Once I’ve written the part in the heroine’s POV, I know to go to the hero’s, then the 3rd person’s POV. Before you realize it, you’ve written a complete chapter.
“Once I’ve written the part in the heroine’s POV, I know to go to the hero’s, then the 3rd person’s POV. Before you realize it, you’ve written a complete chapter.”
I named this after a method I used while working on one of my historicals. There were a number of elements I knew I needed beforehand. I had no idea how I’d actually use them, but I gathered these materials: a map of the area to be traveled by the characters; a book of Civil War era slang and language that I’d skimmed through, selecting insults for my male characters to sneer at each other; a collection books about towns that were along the route at the time period of my story and the “sights” that were still there (bless the AAA and Texas tourism guides!); and a dreamed-up list of things that could happen to a buckboard or team of horses during a long journey.
I cut up the guides, keeping things in the same geographical area together, and pinned my insults and period words to the inside flap of a folder. I kept the folder next to the keyboard and when I finished with scenarios that related to one day’s travel, I moved on to the next bit of info about the next town and, figuratively, lifted my skirts to climb back aboard the wagon.
Now, to some, this may sound like an outline. It isn’t. It’s a totally different...er, creature. It looks at the underlying skeleton of a story, any genre of story, and helps you determine what sort of scene you need next. If we use the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark and build a skeleton from it, it would have visuals, action sequences, goals gained and goals lost, new goals, character identifications, backstory, and information provided.
My mother once asked me why I did such terrible things to my heroine. I told her it was because I had to have something that would push her to do what she might not do otherwise, and that meant it had to be terrible or she would have an option and I couldn’t let her have an option. So, have you left your characters an option? Either take the story in that direction or take the option away from them. Complications keep the story moving. I’m sure you know the questions to ask along the way though. Not just “what if?”—who, what, when, where, why, and how? Find out more and use it to write your way out of that box canyon or move your face away from that block wall you’ve mentally crashed into.
ADD A SECONDARY STORYLINE
This, of course, doesn’t work if you’ve got a manuscript requirement of 65,000 words or less, but it can if you need 90,000 words or more. It means entwining a second story within the first. The additional storyline could be a sleuth’s personal life coming in behind the case they’re on; could be a second couple’s love story, one quite different from the primary couple’s; it could be life within the town. It could be a lot of things. But what it must be is 1) interwoven with the primary story, and 2) possible to remove if you go over the word count and don’t really need it in the long run. Tough call, isn’t it? Of course, if the secondary storyline takes over, then you were writing the wrong story the first time around.
WALL OF NOTES
The cops on TV use these. A blackboard or white board that they pin things to, write data on, draw lines that connect newly discovered bits of information that tie one part of the case to another. And what else is your story but the collection of data bits that you are still in the act of gathering? Pin ‘em up, stand or sit and stare at them. If you’ve got the technology to do this with a touch screen, great, but Post-It Notes on a wall also work well. The idea is to find some dots to connect to what next needs to be written in the logical flow of things.
Sort of a take on the Wall of Notes, but not exactly the same. This looks at things from a different angle. Take some small element and expand it; take a major point and reduce it. Or turn it on its side, have it rotate at a different trajectory, throw some obstacles in its way. Discover what takes this idea from being part of a nebula cloud or star nursery all the way to super nova.
Did you put any in? I’ve even drawn floor plans to have some idea of what a place looked like. No, this isn’t Plotter fixation on details, it was stage setting. I’ve also gone into the windowless bathroom and left the light out so that when I lit a match, I got a different sensory feel that I rushed back to the keyboard and recorded. Does your reader know what the room looks like, what dinner smells like? Sight, sound, scent, taste and touch. Explore them all. And what is everyone wearing? Do they have ticks or tells, physical or verbal ones?
“The act of listening to the specially chosen music can bring characters and setting or action clearly to mind...”
THEME SONG or SOUNDTRACK
Ever get inspiration for a story from the words of a song? Does the rise and fall of action and emotion in a movie soundtrack get your imagination spinning? Mine responds to both. The act of listening to the specially chosen music can bring characters and setting or action clearly to mind for you to work with or simply mentally integrate yourself into the story, walking around watching your actors, rather like you were a ghost they can’t see but can sense.
Ever considered if there are too many people in your storyline? Or not enough? Do your main characters need someone to talk to? It sure cuts down on the reader feedback about “too much internalizing.” However, the trick here is to make sure that any additional cast member contributes something to the story beyond being a ready ear. But perhaps that’s what you need to move ahead!
Our last sample is borrowed from agent Donald Maass. He suggests interviewing your characters about their goals and satisfaction level with what’s happening. Take a character one at a time out of the middle of a scene that isn’t going well and roll the time back to before the scene. Ask the character how confident they feel going into the scene...rather like a sports anchor quizzing the coach or a player before the game. Ask what their goal is, what they expect the outcome to be. Take each character in the scene aside and do the same thing.
Now, go back and reread the scene. Take the character out at the end of what you have written for that scene and ask them the exact same questions. Oddly enough, the answers aren’t usually what you expect them to be. Characters can be such contrary creations, taking on a life of their own. Perhaps your problem was that you thought you were controlling them.
And that’s my collection of creative ideas for how to work around obstacles when they raise their ugly hydra heads like a mythological serpent.
Don’t think I use all of these each time. Some stories require different finessing than others do. Use what you think will work best for your manuscript. It could well be a completely different way of looking at your work.
Try some of these creative ideas to cut down on the amount of hair you pull free or the holes in the walls from where you’ve banged your head in the hope of jarring loose an answer. And if none of these work for you, put on your thinking cap. You’re a fiction writer because you enjoy living in a dream world.
Dream up a solution!
Beth Daniels spins stories as Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane, Lisa Dane, and Beth Cruise, and has seen 26 different book titles in print so far. “The Dragon’s Tale” will appear in Mother Goose Is Dead, an anthology from Dragon Moon Press in 2010. And she reports she’s found another way around her dislike of writing detailed love scenes. She teamed up with a writer who likes to write them.
To find out more about Beth, visit her website www.RomanceAndMystery.com or contact her via e-mail at beth[at]RomanceAndMystery[dot]com.
Enjoyed this article? Check out some of Beth’s articles on WOW!:
How To Dissect Romance Novels and Create Rules for Writing
Romancing the Genres: Breaking Into the Romance Market
Fiction Writing: Preparing To Tell Lies
How To Combat Writer's Block