World Building Pantser-Style


Woman with umbrella walking across plaza in the rain
Since we’re getting rainy (and snowy) weather, I thought I’d share that with you with a picture.

A few years ago, I went to a panel on world-building at a con  I was kind of cautious because my experience with any kind of world-building always started with this recommendation:

Buy a 3-right binder and a pack of tabs.  Take this list of questions and answer every single one about your world.  Only then can you write your story.

Pretty much a huge turn off to a pantser like me.  It was one of the reasons I didn’t do speculative fiction for a long time.  By the time I did all that recommended world building, I’d have lost interest not only in the story but even the world.

But this panel did something different, and I was reminded of while I was working on a scene.  They said, first just start writing the story, then world build…because otherwise it’s possible to never get around to writing the story.

They also said to think about why cities or towns were built in a particular location, and this got really interesting because I hadn’t thought of cities like that before.

With a lot of the modern cities, it’s not always that obvious.  If you walked out to Alexandria, VA today and looked around, you would never know that it was site of bustling tobacco trade in the 1700s.   Now pleasure boats are hooked up to the docks and people feed the ducks.

There are also ruins in Egypt for places that no longer exist because the Nile changed course and that part of the world dried up.  Clive Cussler did a novel called Sahara with something similar where there was a river in the 1800s and a Confederate ironclad got into the river.  Shipwreck in the desert!

Still one of my favorite books.  But I digress.

I wandered in this direction today because in my scene I have a town that’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.  And it really is about connecting the dots and making sure all those connections get into the story.  I was surprised at how many pieces were already there…creative brain was just sitting back and laughing at me until I figured it out.

For your reading pleasure, some interesting reading on why cities are built where they are.

 

 

Golden Retriever Writing Process


This week, I started Dean Wesley Smith’s writing workshop on “Editing Yourself.” One of the things I had to do was think about how to describe my writing process.

The first thing I thought of was this video:

 

 

2017: The Year of Craft


In 2016, I published 22 ebooks (might have a couple more before the end of the year).  That’s an astounding number, and I want it to be higher next year.  The only way to make money as a writer is produce a lot of writing (as opposed to writing one book and have it become a best seller.  A best seller has a shelf-life of probably a month).

But I also don’t do well with typical goals that most writers set.  Like writing X words a day.  Or writing X books in a year.  The last time I set a specific goal like it, none of it happened.

So it’s a different goal: The Year of Craft.

I’m still working out that means in how I will be doing things in the new year.  Then I’m a pantser, and it’s discover things as I go along!

Things I’m not doing this year

  • Submitting to anthology deadlines. Okay, I’ll probably still submit to a few of them, but I get pummeled at work by deadlines every month and I just don’t need that on the writing side.
  • I will not take workshops to for learning how to fix a writing problem.  The whole writing culture is about “Your story is born broken, you have to fix it,” and for pantsers, they’re told even worse.  I’ve treated craft I’ve struggled with as something to be conquered, sometimes with a battering ram.  That’s going to stop.  It has to. It’s  very frustrating for me when I write and ruins the fun.

Things I’m doing this year

  • Taking four workshops.  I’ve got four workshops planned out:
    • Advanced Character Dialog: I’m actually taking this because I’m really good at characterization and I’ve largely ignored any skills because of that.
    • POV:  This is another advanced class, because I want to play with the POV.
    • Cliffhangers: I want some better understanding about how to end my chapters in an exciting way.  Sometimes writers think that it’s bad to do a cliffhanger because they think it means “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” at the end of every chapter–not as something to make the reader turn the page.
    • The last one’s open.  Might be Pacing or B Story.  Haven’t made up my mind.  Could also be a new workshop that shows up that piques my interest.
  • Studying best selling writers.  I’ve been typing Michael Connelly’s first three chapters of The Reversal and learning a lot.  Typing the scenes is like an artist painting a Monet.  It’s amazing.  I see things that I didn’t when I was reading.  It’s also a relatively low cost, and enjoyable, method of learning.
  • I’m branching out into other genres, like Mystery, and experimenting with series.  I never thought I could do a series until I wrote Crying Planet.  Before I got to the end of it, I wrote a short story with the same characters, which placed Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.  Then I got an idea for the next book (which is either called Cursed Planet or Lonely Planet).
  • I’m going to try writing in groupings of something.  Like I did a mystery story set in Morro Bay, so I’m going to try writing other stories set in Morro Bay.

Finally, Crying Planet is coming in January, my first science fiction novel.  And it’s a series!  I never thought I would be able to do a science fiction story, let alone any kind of series.  I’m just waiting on it to come back from the copy editor.

A shuttle departs from a spaceship on the cover for The Crying Planet

 

Books on Sale for November


November is Veteran’s Day, so I’m offering my Desert Storm memoir at a sale price of .99.

Soldier, Storyteller: A Woman Soldier Goes to War

 

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Within twenty-four hours, he controlled the entire country. Five days later, the United States was deploying soldiers and had named the military operation Desert Shield. This would be the largest deployment of women at the time. Soldier, Storyteller is a rare inside look at war from a woman’s perspective and answers “What was it like?”

Available from your favorite bookseller, including Amazon.

 

 

 

 

November is also Nano Write, so both my craft books are on sale for .99.

Writer's Guide to Military Culture

 

Former soldier and Desert Storm veteran Linda Maye Adams walks 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 your favorite booksellers including Amazon.

 

 

 

Cover - Pantsers

 

For writers who don’t outline—called pantsers—it’s hard finding anything on how to write that doesn’t involve outlining.
Author Linda Maye Adams, a pantser writer, cuts through some of the myths and may save you wasted time looking for solutions.
In this guide, Linda Maye Adams addresses the issues that derail pantsers and also provides tips to make the writing process easier.

Available from your favorite bookseller, including Amazon.

This and that for last week of September


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.

Why outlining doesn’t work for everyone


It took me a long time to figure out that most writing craft advice that I find in books and online assumes that you’re outlining.  It’s so common that even people who don’t outline don’t realize they’re being told to use outlining techniques.

So much so that one of them periodically creeps into my writing and becomes like a big boulder that falls on the mountain pathway.  No way to get around it to the other side other than to zap it with a laser beam into bits and pieces.

My book is in three parts, with each part being a particular planet.  I started writing the part that takes place on the second planet and a big boulder dropped in.

It was a simple piece of outlining advice, which is to know what’s going to happen next. 

So I plopped in what I thought happen next and the story stalled out.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on as I tried to get around the boulder, but far less time in the past.  In fact, Scrivener helped because I could visually see scenes and chapters.  Part 1 had 13 chapters.  Part 2, where I had 3 chapters. 

This is a major section of the story, and I was zooming through it like it wasn’t important.

That’s because when I use one of these recommended outlining techniques, it kicks the natural development of the story to the curb and aims at the event, I suppose, like an infantry man charging a hill.  It’s more of “accomplish the mission and get that event in there,” not follow the natural course of the story. 

The result in the past was a very busy story that made no sense because I kept trying to use all these outline techniques that are recommended for pantsers. 

So it’s pretty important to understand what works and recognize what doesn’t.  Everyone tends to treat outlining as a once size fits all, when the writing process is completely different from person to person.

Bouncing around in the story


When I write, I like to move around in the story and pull everything together as I go along.  Dean Wesley Smith calls it cycling

What it isn’t: Revision.  I’m not tweaking words or sentences (though I fix those darn typos).  I’m also not throwing out scenes because I don’t like them or I think they’re no good.

Because I’m not outlining, the story is evolving organically.  Something may come in much later in the story that changes something in an earlier chapter.  If I don’t fix it, it keeps nagging at me because it feels out of alignment, and eventually, if I ignore it completely, it will wreck entire the story.  At one point, I’d heard that it wasn’t a good idea to cycle (then I was calling it revising as I wrote), so I didn’t, and I was shocked at how twisted the story got.  It went from a ten car pileup to a plane crash took out a whole city. 

Yes, it was that bad.

Right now, I’ve returned to Chapter 1.  My creative brain finally said it was time to fix a couple of issues.  One is that I did a little research on the setting, which is a captain’s cabin (on a spaceship, in my case).  Cool military picture alert!  I had fun looking at the pictures and trying to figure out what my skipper character would have, and how the main character would react to it. 

The skipper’s characterization also changed from that early chapter.  It was something that came in much later in the story, and my creative brain started to fuss at me about it.  So now I’m going back in time to bring some of those elements in.

It’s kind of fun because it’s like seeding treasure everywhere.

One of the things I like about never outlining my stories


’ve been working on a science fiction novel called The Crying Planet.   It’s set in the near future, where space travel is possible, and earth has created a command for its fleet of space cruisers.

I also did not outline it.  I don’t have any idea how it will end either.

I got the idea form an anthology call, and it kept wanting to be a novel, so I went for it and followed the characters and story down into a rabbit hole.  Had a few wrong turns, too, and dropped 7K.

Also had a character I thought was going to be important.  Nada.  She’s gone now.

Was losing the 7K painful?  At the time yes.  But it’s part of the process of writing without an outline.  There’s always going to be something that ends up coming up because it doesn’t fit as the story takes shape.

So last night, I was working on a scene between two of the characters.  I knew one thing I wanted to do, and the creative part had another thing entirely.  It popped in as the writing was flowing out, which was the term “The Crying Planet.”  I didn’t know really what I was going to do with it.

Today, I was walking to the library and trying not melt, being as it was 93 degrees out and so humid my living room windows fogged out.  Then it hits me: They have to go to the Crying Planet.

And just like that, the story changed.  Now I’m discovering what’s going to happen there.

That is just so cool.

Bicycling in and out of the story


I’ve found it curious that anything that works really well for a pantser (person who doesn’t outline) is often deemed by the writing community as a “Do not” and a “Really Bad Idea.”

Like moving around in the story as you writing and making changes.  It’s called cycling.

It’s not editing or revising as you write, because I’m still creating the story.  Unless a sentence is making me go “huh” I don’t fix at the sentence level.  Well, except for typos.  They’re fair game.  I add more description, foreshadowing, maybe whole scenes that I realize I need.

But I have some set guidelines too.  I don’t need to them any longer, really.  But the major two:

  1. Don’t move around when I’m stuck, since it can turn into a procrastination tool.  On my first novel in the Dark Ages, I’d get stuck and cycle back and start actual revision—changing big things.
  2. Don’t change sentences because they have to be perfect. I used to work with a cowriter, and he was always trying to change the individual words because the thought if we used happy instead of glad, it might be less marketable.

Knowing these helped me resist temptation to fix something that didn’t need fixing and focus on the story instead.

 

Organizing vs. Organizing


I just saw another one of those posts where an outliner writer tried to describe a pantser (person who doesn’t outline), and ended up making it sound like the pantser was terribly disorganized because they didn’t outline. It’s nothing new actually, but it hit me differently this time.

It was on organizing itself, where there’s about the same response to people who are creative and messy. Organization tends to be associated with being neat, though that’s not a qualification of being organized. Yet, if you travel the organization sites, a lot of them pound their fist and say that being messy is a sign of disorganization.

Whereas, for anyone creative, the process functions in a very different way.

When I was in the Army, I got a lot of this from my squad leader. I never quite understood it at the time; I knew where everything was, and I was working on it besides. And it didn’t help that HIS desk was disorganized and messy. What was he complaining about?

I even had another sergeant hover—actually hover—over my shoulder while I was cleaning up two supply drawers, then go back and “straighten” everything out after I was finished. Like I hadn’t done it right.

*Sigh*

So I came out of the Army thinking I was horribly disorganized. Every time I tried to organize in the “proper” way, I would lose everything.

One day, a coworker in my civilian job admired how organized I was. I was flabbergasted!

The perception is like the outliner seeing the pantser: They can’t see how it can work the way it does, so it must be wrong.

I’ve been looking at organization these last few weeks because it’s the end of the year, and also because I do need to look at things from the perspective of starting my own publishing business eventually. Honestly, it’s best to do it now while it doesn’t count, then learn how at the wrong time. And I still see how much all the advice that I’ve heard over the years that doesn’t work for me gets into how I do things.

Things I’m trying for working out my process:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Most systems get pretty complicated pretty fast. I’ve found over the years that too many digital subfolders means I have to remember where things go, and sometimes I don’t always remember the same thing later on. The result has been that essentially stuff gets into an “inbox” and never comes out. I created an info dump digital file, renaming individual files and dropping them in there. Only files currently being worked on stay elsewhere. I’ve been amazed at how much old stuff I was storing with current stuff. And also how much disappeared behind layers of subfolders.

Top Drawer Current; Bottom Drawer Last Year.

Bookkeeping files are hard to save because you’re always going to have more past files than current ones. For the creative person, they become part of the big picture, rather than the logical sequential order of things. Moving the older files to the bottom drawer keeps them available but out of sight, and out of mind.

Separate folders for bookkeeping years

About five years ago, I bought a system called Filing Solutions, which works great. It’s prelabeled files so it was easy to set up. The one flaw is there’s one folder for, say, all the phone bills. Because everything was in one file, all the years got mixed together. It took quite a while to make sure I got all the old records that needed to be shredded, because I had to touch everything. I separated them by year in the bottom drawer, so next year, I can just pull one folder.

10 Stories in 10 Weeks Update

This next story was a time travel story, which was for a specific call. When I got the idea, I thought it was going to a particular type of story, kind of nice and feel good.

Then, as I started it, I stopped to read the guidelines and thought that I needed to get time in up front. So I typed the first sentence, and it was a different story.

So the other one can also be a story as well …

Learning Thing: Writing science fiction and time travel. I typically write more fantasy, but I want to venture into science fiction. That’s a muscle I’m going to work again.