Ana Santiago has one of those murder cases that she can’t let go. A neuroscientist with promising research.
Did his wife do it? Why does she tow around a cooler every day? Is his remains in the cooler?
Ana wants answers, but learning the truth may be more than she wants.
Available on Amazon for .99
Not understanding story is one of the biggest reasons that a pantsed book can look terrible to a developmental editor or other writers or a publisher. You throw everything in but the kitchen sink, including a 20-page scene that sounded cool, but fizzles out at some point.
Not having a story is like being out in the middle of the desert (having had way too much experience with the desert part!). It’s flat. There’s miles and miles of miles and miles. Maybe there’s a cactus here and there, or an oil barrel someone’s dumped. You wander over, have a look, but there’s nothing guiding you generally.
Story is like being a road. On either side, you have curbs, or at least the edge of the asphalt and those bumpy things to tell you if you stray off the road. You can still turn down that coolly named Aqua Ter (sounds like an underwater station) to see what’s there or check out what the heck the Stonewall Jackson Memorial is (not much, by the way).
You always have a direction, even if you aren’t sure where it’s going or ends up yet.
When you don’t have that direction, the story can turn into a mess and make you all that outlining advice be a siren’s call from across the sea.
But story is also a difficult concept to understand, and worse, it’s easy think you know what it is and have no idea once you make first contact. I read just about every craft book out there and thought I understood story. I did two novels, but during critiques of the second book, and other writers’ books, I realized how little I knew.
I’d like to say there was a craft book that could be read with a definition that gives you the lightbulb. But it’s a surprisingly complex aspect of writing. I think it’s something you have to come to your own understanding about.
So try taking a book that has been published, preferably a best seller, and read it cover to cover. Enjoy it. Don’t nitpick the sentences for flaws. If you want a book recommendation, try Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer. He’s a pantser, and he talks about the writing of the book at the end, so you get an extra surprise there.
Then go back to the first chapter and reread it.
After that, go to an online critique group and read the first chapters of those writers and mentally compare it to what you read in Michael Connelly’s book. It’s not about having the inciting incident (a term that comes out of outlining) or a plot point (another term out of outlining).
It’s that you are going somewhere, even though you don’t know where.
Bonus tip: Type the first thousand words of Michael Connelly’s book. This is amazing way to learn something new about craft.
NanoWrite is coming up in just another month, and with it will be the debate: Outliner or Pantser?
I’m not sure why there’s a debate. You write whatever way works best for you. Period. It shouldn’t matter.
Yet, if I search the internet for pantser, I get a lot of outliners scratching their heads and trying to define it, then concluding it really doesn’t work.
And they never tried it.
So what the heck is pantsing?
The name comes from “writing by the seat of the pants.” It’s not a very good name for what we do, and others have tried to come up with better ones: Gardener, organic (does that mean outliners are inorganic?), non-outline people.
But it boils down to a writer who does not use an outline to figure out their story. Instead, they write it like the way a reader reads a book—they discover it and the characters as they type the words. One writer I ran across said:
He picked up a pen and started writing because that was natural to him.
Everyone’s different when it comes to writing like this:
- They might know what the ending is.
- They might have no idea who it will end (the case with my current book).
- They might know what happens in the next scene.
- They might have no clue what happens in the next scene.
- They might write the scenes out of order.
- They might need to write them in order.
But if you read most writing books, and probably hit the writing message boards, it’s clear that the general opinion is that writing without an outline is a Really Bad Idea.
Why does pantsing get such a bad rap?
Outlining is easy to teach, like in Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan to Novel Writing. In the book, he gives step-by-step instructions on how to write a book by building an outline first (I tried this. My book failed by the time I hit chapter 3 and my creative side gave up on me).
It is also hard for people who are used to outlining to comprehend how someone could write an entire book without having everything laid out in a roadmap. People have told me that my first draft is the outline, or even that I must be lying about outlining, because they cannot comprehend that I start a story one word at a time.
But the biggest reason is a craft issue. If the writer is doing a first book and doesn’t understand the concept of story—a distinct possibility—pantsing makes it look ten times worse. Writer submits it to a developmental editor. Editor sees the horrible mess resulting from the combination of a craft issue and pantsing and declares that pantsing is the problem. So the writer thinks their way of writing is wrong and that they should outline.
There’s a lot of misinformation about pantsing out there. It’s important to trust yourself and not listen to what everyone is saying you “should” do. Outline or not, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is the finished story.
If military is in a movie or TV show, there’s usually an establishing shot of the post. It shows various buildings and soldiers running past, calling cadence.
Fact or fiction?
A cadence is a work song sung by the military when they are either running or marching. They’re also meant to keep the soldiers moving in step. From what I understand, the Marine Corps even has a school that non-commissioned officers attend to learn how to call cadence. The Army doesn’t have any such school, so sometimes the results are pretty awful, since not everyone can sing!
The fiction part of what Hollywood shows is that usually the main characters is time of day, as if soldiers out running could happen at any time of the day. Physical training is always first thing in the morning. We had PT formation at 6:30 and were done by 7:30. That was a firm schedule.
Probably one of the reasons no one did it later was because we ran on the streets, and if everyone was doing PT at the same time, there were fewer cars to compete with us. During the morning, you could hear the cadences being called everywhere as the units all went out for their runs.
BTW, even our local fire department does cadence. I’ve sometimes seen them out running–on the sidewalk (couldn’t run on the streets in our area. Too many cars). Early in the morning.
This week …
Lots of rain for Washington, DC. Alexandria’s King Street flooded, as usual. The street ends right at the Potomac. In the 1700’s, it was a big, important port for shipping of tobacco. The city built out then, so the street goes in a deep slope at that point, down to the river. It also floods every time it rains heavily. The first picture in the link is deceptive, because you can see the pavement. The river is on the other side of the fence.
Pantsing turned up twice this week. I suppose as we’re approaching Nano in November, people are starting to think about process. One of the writers, who was a pantser, said she’d been told that the only way to write was to outline. That’s what following the “rules” imposed by other people gets you. The only wrong way to write is the one that doesn’t work for you.
The one thing I don’t like when any of the discussion comes up is that it tends to be an outliner who’s heard about pantsers. They try to define it, but it’s obvious they’re scratching their heads and checking the rule book, and can’t make sense of it. And this is what most of the pantsers see!
There are exactly three books on writing without using outlines. Most of the other books start out with the definition of a pantser and an outliner, and then give outliner advice, which tends to mean they’re written by outliners. It’s very hard to advise someone how to write a certain way if you haven’t done it!
So I define my selection as books being specifically about writing without outlines.
Story Trumps Structure: This is a more generic book, typical of the craft books you will find, though it assumes you’re not outlining.
Writing into the Dark: This one gives actual tips that you can use. Interestingly, nearly all the tips are the ones outliners say not to do.
Pantser’s Guide for Writers: You Are Not Alone. This one’s mine. I never thought I would do a writing book because I feel like I never know enough. But I was tired of seeing books that treated the way I write like I didn’t know what I was doing, just because the writer didn’t understand how I did it.
And here’s one website, The Extreme Pantser’s Guide, by Kate Paulk. She’s been on panels at conferences I’ve attended. In fact, I’d found this site a few weeks before a con, and she was on panel, and I’m looking at her name and going, “Wait a minute…” We chatted for a few minutes after the panel.
This morning …
Early this morning at about 4:36 I woke up to a woman screaming from somewhere outside. Close.
I tried to see if I could spot her anywhere from my window, which has a pretty good view of the corner, but she was not in view. I called 911, and the operator said that other people had called in, too. Hopefully if she was in danger, the police arrived in time. They have a fast response here, but even two minutes is a very long time when anything is happening.
This week was the Air Force’s 69th birthday, so I got an opportunity to see the Air Force Drill team. The performance I saw was about five minutes. I found a video online of a longer one–bear in mind that those have real bayonets. Only the most elite train for these, and they have to be very athletic. Just watching, I can understand why!
Vampire hunter Abby feels like she’s all washed up. Approaching fifty, she’s been derided by her fellow hunters.
The gym is the last place she should be.
But she has a mission, and it might be the last things she does.
Available from Amazon for .99.
Former soldier and Desert Storm veteran Linda Maye Adams walks you step-by-step to help the civilian fiction writer understand how military culture works. From enlistment to war, this book takes you on a tour of what it’s like to be a soldier. Do soldiers curse non-stop? Do they always yell, “Yes, Drill Sergeant!” after every sentence? What is the difference between an officer and an enlisted soldier? If you don’t know anything about the military, this book will tell you where you can research information without having to go through basic training yourself.
Available from Amazon for $2.99
Still picking on Star Trek here, though I’ve seen this example on shows like Criminal Minds where a really good promotion is offered to a character and they turn it down to stay with the ship/group/etc.
The Hollywood Version:
In one of the early episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation, Riker is offered command of a ship and turns it down so can stay on the Enterprise. He is later offered command again and turns it down again, for the same reasons. After the second time, Starfleet warns him he might not have another opportunity.
In a way, it’s kind of a pointless episode because we all know the actor isn’t leaving, so Riker’s going to turn it down. But they make it kind of noble, like he’s turning down opportunities because he’s doing good where he is.
The Military Version:
The Army—and probably the other services—want you to progress in your career. So much so that they provide opportunities for going to college, such as a program on Fort Lewis where you could go to school on work time.
In fact, you’re expected to progress.
If you don’t, that’s a big problem. The Army has a time in service/time in grade thing set up, so if you have too much time and haven’t progressed, they’ll kick you out. There is no option other than to progress. You can’t homestead where you are.
We had a first sergeant in charge of our company (first sergeant is like a high up personnel manager). He liked working with the troops, and being a first sergeant gave him first hand experience with that. A promotion opportunity opened itself up so that he could be a command sergeant major, which would have put him in a more administrative position.
He didn’t want it. He wanted to stay where he was.
The battalion’s sergeant major told he had two choices: Take it or retire.
So my first sergeant retired.
Hollywood makes it sound like it’s a noble thing to turn down a promotion, but to the Army it’s more like “What’s wrong with you?”