Plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?




A lot of ink — both actual and virtual — has been spilled over which style of writing is “better,” plotting (planning out the work in whatever detail suits the author) or pantsing (writing freely, letting the story grow organically and as it will).  Tempers can flare over this difference. No, really.

Frankly, I don’t care which style you use. I have read some great books written by plotters and some great books written by pantsers. And some lousy books written by both as well.  My problem arises when people who go one way disrespect people who go the other.

Don’t go around saying that pantsers are sloppy thinkers with no discipline. (I’ve heard that.) Don’t spout off that plotters have no imagination and are all about rules and painting by the numbers. (I  have heard that one, too.)

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. Call me a plantser.  I need to know where the story is going. An overview, a road map. I don’t need turn-by-turn directions, as it were. I take detours when I travel because often something looks interesting on a side road. I do the same when I’m writing. A new idea will occur to me, and off I go down a somewhat different path.

But when I travel, I’m still headed for, say, Atlanta, Georgia. If I decide to take a little side-trip to spend a little time at a family cemetery in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, my goal is still to arrive (albeit a couple of hours later) in Atlanta.

When I write, my story ending is still (probably) the same. I might take a somewhat different route to get there, but I’ll get there.

My outlines are pretty vague. High points, plot points I want to keep in mind, and the ending I’m shooting for. My character studies are much more in-depth, though. Story grows out of characters. Understand your characters and your story will grow and work for you.

So why the sheep, you say? I thought you’d never ask. Don’t let yourself be a sheep, herded into one writing style or another. Try one. If it works for you, great. Do that again. If it doesn’t, try the other. Try a combination. I found out the hard way that I couldn’t pants my way through a novel. I pants short stories. Novellas are closer to pantsed than plotted for me.  Novels, however, I must plot. If not I wind up following spaghetti strands of ideas into oblivion.

Giveaway for new Elizabeth Bear book!

I don’t often promote this way, but this is a great new book from a wonderful writer.  Go and enter for the giveaway, and if you don’t win, buy the book anyway. :)

That was then




I often hear, “Why can’t I write like (fill in the name of a famous writer from the ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s?)”  Folks tend not to like my answer: That was then. This is now.

Tastes change. Trends change.

I came of age when you could title a play “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad,” or “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade,” or a book “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.” These days, the smart money goes with short titles. One to four words. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe shorter attention spans.

And, yes, some writers of the past wrote paragraph-long sentences full of descriptive language that advanced the plot not one inch. Readers today have so many other options for entertainment, and, frankly, they have shorter attention spans. They won’t stick with you if you take tangents. Again, because little in writing is absolute, some writers working today still get away with it. James Lee Burke is one. Unless you have his chops, his following, and his backlist, I’d suggest you not try walking this particular high wire.

Push the envelope a bit if you want to. Don’t shred it. That’s my advice anyway, for what it’s worth.

Well, NaNo was a bust



I suppose the title says it all. I blew NaNo to bits — and not in a good way.

I started getting sick in late October, but I figured the illness was just bronchitis (which I’m prone to) and would pass in a couple of weeks with proper medication. So off to the doctor I trundled. Yeah, well, not so much. As I type this little update, it’s 25 January, three doggoned months later, and not only am I not better, I’m probably worse. Three different antibiotics and now a course of Prednisone have failed to clear my bronchial tubes. My sinuses are now involved, too. I can’t smell, have had no sense of smell for maybe two weeks. And the headache? My poor skull has been crushed to powder since October. Ugh.

All righty then. Do I have any less depressing news? Why, yes, thankfully. :)

I have a book cover for my upcoming short story collection. I’ve finished the edits on a terrific followup book for a client. This book will be out in another month or two. I’ve picked up a couple of possible new clients and begun edits for a for-sure new client. Business is good, y’all.

Want a look at the book cover? Here it is. The wonderful Renee Barratt of The Cover Counts is the artist.

Book cover Roots of Darkness

Book cover Roots of Darkness

It’s NaNoWriMo





I’ve started NaNo again. I’m working on (depending on how it goes) one or two zombie novellas. I wrote for about an hour between midnight and 1AM on 1 November, just getting things rolling a bit. I put down a bit under 600 words.

I’ll try to drop my word counts here, probably not every day because that’s boring, but every few days.

If you are a writer who has never taken a shot at NaNo, there’s still time.  If you can shoot out 1,6667 words every day in November, you’ll finish a 50,000 word rough draft. Will it be ready for a publisher? Oh, heck no. It won’t even be ready for an editor. But it’ll be something — and it will be ready, after you take a couple of days to put some distance between you and your work, for a rewrite. For making that rough draft into a second draft. Which you’ll probably need to re-rewrite into a third draft. Who said writing was easy, anyway?

Baby, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Writing might not be easy, but it’s awfully rewarding.


photo credit: menken at

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