I thoroughly enjoy Joya’s books and I cannot imagine that she writes by the seat of her pants – they are so well-plotted. I used to think that is was because she was magic but now I know her real secret . . .
The Organized Pantser
I’m so excited to hang with the great people at Romance University today! I have a confession to make. I’m a pantser. My reputation as a pantser spans far and wide. Well, at least within my critique group. I know how to plot. Heck, I even teach a class about plotting at the local community college. But for me, closing my eyes and letting the movie unfold in my head as I type is the way I get words on paper. Fingers fly. Ideas flow. There’s no silly plot chart slowing me down.
As important as it is for pantsers to relax and let ideas unfold, I’ve learned a few time-saving, revision-from-hell-saving tips through writing eight books. As fun as it is to let loose with characters and ideas, it’s important to be prepared and organized, too. I wouldn’t exactly call it plotting. Simply a more organized way to fly by the seat of your pants.
1. Make a “book Bible” or cheat sheet for your book/series
This is especially important if you’re doing a series. My first paranormal romance was about a haunted apartment building. It wasn’t until the first book was finished that I realized it was the first of three books in a series. Yikes! Luckily, during the final read-through, I jotted important aspects about the building into a notebook. Hallway carpeting is red…even-numbered apartments overlook the harbor…that sort of thing. When I wrote the second and third books, I used my cheat sheet about the building to be sure my facts were correct.
It would have been a little easier to make those notes as I wrote the first book. Even for a single book, though, it’s tough to remember seemingly minute details. When you’re in the moment, channeling the muse and your fingers are flying across the keyboard because the characters and plot are moving along, it’s tough to remember the little things. Are his eyes hazel or green? Does she drive a Jeep or a truck? Was his sister’s name Sally or Sue? If you don’t catch the error, your editor or reader will. No head-to-desk moment for you if you keep track of the little things as you go. Bruised foreheads hurt.
Personally, I’m a very visual person. I have a corkboard beside my desk and it features pictures of my hero, heroine, setting and essential characters. (Right now, there’s a serial killer beside my desk. Creepy.) On the wide white border of the photos, I include major pieces of information like the age of the hero/heroine, eye color, hair color, etc. This enables me to fact check at a glance.
The book Bible doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be an accordion file folder with photos of your setting and characters, or maybe a brand new spiral notebook. Spirals with tabs are especially handy because you can make sections for secondary characters, setting, research information, etc.
2. Get to know your characters
Before you sit down to write their story, interview your hero and heroine. It’s time to be nosy. Pretend you’re a counselor. Ask about their childhood, their aspirations in life. Even little things like their favorite color, allergies, and likes/dislikes can help you springboard new ideas and those fabulous “a-ha!” moments that pantsers (and all writers) love.
Knowing who your characters are can make the process of writing a book so much easier. Since romantic suspense is one of the genres I write, my heroes are often law enforcement. I’ve been on several ride-alongs, and I include the beliefs/mannerisms/habits that I observed through these officers in my heroes. They often speak in short sentences. They frequently possess the ability to listen well (and often let a criminal dig his own hole as he/she jabbers nervously). It’s research, and it’s also a way to get to know that type of character better.
3. Make a playlist
As the idea for your story percolates and unfolds, add songs to your playlist that remind you of your characters. What songs might your hero and heroine listen to? What songs express the emotions they are going through, together or alone? If you’re stuck at some point in the book (because, like me, you didn’t plot so you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next), take a walk and listen to your characters’ songs. Or listen to their music as you wash dishes or commute to work. It’ll help you feel a connection to them that can take you deeper into their point of view and whatever’s going on in their lives.
4. Find critique partners who are great plotters
Here’s where I’m very lucky. My critique partners are excellent plotters and are awesome at finding holes in my stories. If I’m not sure where the story is heading, I put out a call to my crit friends and they brainstorm me through the hurdle. Works every time.
Do you have any tips that keep you feeling like a free-flowing pantser yet help keep you on track?
Joya asked a great question – please leave a comment!
On Wednesday, Nancy Weeks, joins us to talk about the incidental character.
Joya Fields has had over 100 stories and articles published in local and national magazines. Her debut novel, a romantic suspense, was a NJRW GOLDEN LEAF WINNER FOR BEST FIRST BOOK OF 2012 and was nominated for RT Book Reviews 2012 Indie Press/Self-Published Contemporary Romance award. She’s since released five more books.
Over the years, Joya has taught arts and crafts, worked in public relations, owned a daycare center, helped her children raise prize-winning 4-H livestock, competed in three marathons, and even spent a year as a Baltimore Colts cheerleader. Joya loves spending time with her high school sweetheart/husband of over twenty-five years, two very supportive children, and two pugs who follow her everywhere. www.joyafields.com
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