Organic Writing

Or “Don’t Ask Me, I Just Make This Up As I Go!”

I am a die-hard pantser. John McClain. Yippee-Ki-Yay. Yeah, that kind of Die Hard. *grins* I’m not the Hans Gruber type with the well laid-out plan. I’m the grab a fire hose and jump off a building type.

There is a long-running discussion about how people write, but generally your fiction writers get lumped into two groups: those who plot out their book ahead of time, directing the movements of their characters with military precision. And those who don’t. The first group is called plotters, the second pantsers.

*grins* Lisa hates the term, so she uses “fog-walker,” which I think works just as well. However, I’m not averse to the term pantser because I’ll freely admit a lot of what I do here is by the seat of my pants. I like to pretend I know what’s going on, but more often than not I’m surprised by the crap my characters get themselves into. I also use the term organic writing, not in the least for the amusing fertilizer connotations.

Here’s the deal. I get an idea for a book. It’s usually out of the blue as I’m walking down the street, in the shower, napping meditating on the couch. And it’s usually so insanely crazy that I run into things or accidentally inhale water, or fall on the floor. There is a resulting mad scramble for paper and pen (Not hard to find in our house, believe me!), or voice recording, or computer, or cell phone.

I have scribbled things at stoplights, made passengers write things down, even pulled cars over while driving so I could capture an idea.

I know, I’m crazy. *waves hands* The voices in my head say that’s okay.

That first chunk of whatever gets sent off to my critique partners. And by CPs, I mean those invaluable, incalculable ladies who freak out with me or email me back with a gentle: “That’s lovely, Katy. But it’s all backstory and not the place to start a book.”

Which is fine, because I am admittedly a little OCD about backstory. Though that’s a post for another time. Let’s see, what was I talking about? Oh right! Pantser.

Now, if you’re a pantser, you have to be willing to do a couple of things. You have to be willing to dump large amounts of text because the storyline you thought was going to work suddenly dead-ended on you. You have to be able to think about several aspects of your plot at once so you can weave as you go. And you have to be cool with writing more than one draft of a novel. Because pantsing does require a lot of clean-up at times.

So, confession time! I’m not really a full-fledged pantser. I don’t know that anyone is. Normally for me I get about halfway through a novel and think: “where in the hell is this going?” πŸ˜€ I print out a hard copy and do a read-through. Along the way I gather up threads that were left unattended, (like the plot point on page four that was never addressed again) so I can weave them back into the story. I move things around, (like the climatic battle scene that somehow showed up on page 170 when it really should be at the end of the book) because in my excitement I tend to just brain-dump everything.

Then I take all those notes and I sit down to make some kind of outline for the remainder of the book. Sure it often looks like this: stuff happens, hero/heroine runs for his or her life, BOOM, happy ending (or not). But it’s an outline, I swear. I have a big whiteboard that I use, along with the practice of tagging what I call a “running outline” at the bottom of the manuscript I’m working on. That’s really just a slightly more detailed list of things that changes a lot depending on what shenanigans my characters get up to.

I have very lovely (and did I mention awesome?) critique partners who are willing to go through this process with me. *laughs* Not to mention a few beta readers who catch things like a plot point that was ignored or a scene with a complete lack of a purpose. These folks keep me on track, and I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to be a pantser, you really need to get yourself a group of people who are going to help keep you on track.

So what’s your process? You got a plan, or are you just making this up as you go along?

K.B. Wagers

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10 responses to “Organic Writing

  1. “stuff happens, hero/heroine runs for his or her life, BOOM, happy ending (or not)”

    HEH. This really does look like one of your outlines…

    If I even do that? I’ll probably end up changing it. Heck, whenever I think I know what’s going to happen in an upcoming chapter beyond the vaguest of ideas, my characters usually grab the story and run away with it in a completely different direction. I get scenes in my head that do play out the way I imagined, but they take their own sweet time about it, as if letting ME decide where they fall in the story is just too much power to give away.

    After all, I’m just the lowly writer… And FYI? Honest to god fogwalkers do exist. Kate is one, and the fact that I often don’t know how a book will end until it does, more or less, suggests that I am, too. =)

    • I think the most important thing to do with outlines is give yourself permission to change them. It’s not written in stone. πŸ˜€ It’s not even written in sand as far as I can tell because every single outline that I’ve written has gotten changed up at some point in the process.

  2. Raymond Bolton

    When I write fantasy, I can (and do) write as a fogwalker. However, that does not work at all for thrillers. I am still adverse to outlining in the traditional sense, but I need to have a much more defined idea of where the plot is going and how I will resolve it in the new genre I have chosen. In fact, it required more than two months of research for me to begin the opening scene of Fallout (working title), the one I am currently working on.

    In some ways, I miss writing about a world in which I create all the rules from my imagination. In another, I find it immensely rewarding to create a threatening situation and subsequent resolution within the constraints of what is really possible.

  3. Jar O' Marbles

    Yes but can you wok this way.

    I’m a planner in life..big time planner, I plan trips way in advance, have multiple to-do lists and contingency plans.

    You would think that would translate to my photography. But nope. I am whatever the photography version of a pantser is. My photography process is…. 1. ooo that’s pretty, shiny, fascinating(insert appropriate word) 2. raise camera to either eye level or strange interesting angle 3. click to take photo 4. upload photo to computer to see if process worked.

    lather, rinse, repeat. =)

  4. I’m, I hate to say, the ultimate fogwalker. I honestly don’t know – Lisa usually knows at least this – whose POV a chapter or a scene is in until I’m actually writing it. When I say I don’t know what’s going to happen, I mean exactly that. I have concept, no plan, not even the next sentence. And for me, each sentence leads inevitably – without conscious thought on my part – to the next one and so on until I – usually with a gasp of surprise – hit the end.

    So every single day I write on faith. I HAVE to believe that somewhere in my head there is a plan. Even more than that, I have to be careful, very very careful, not to allow my subconscious mind to even peek its nasty little head up above the waves. If I do, if I force it by trying to brainstorm or plan (even the tiniest bit) – I can’t write at all.

    Fogwalker Kate

    • I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with that, Kate. πŸ™‚ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been writing along and a character says or does something that makes me go “Oh, now why did you do that?” *laughs* and throw my hands up in frustration.

      I think whatever works for folks works!

  5. I write much the same way you do. I have a ‘test drive’ period where I’m feeling out the story and characters, seeing who these people are and what their world is like…and then I hit a point where I either CAN’T go further until I figure some things out or my questions about where this is all going outweigh the pleasure of writing blindly and I have to sit down and do some thinking about what it all means.

    Truthfully, I CAN’T outline too much; if I do, it triggers this feeling that I’ve already written the story and no amount of persuasion or effort on my part can make the spark ignite again. So even when I’m figuring things out or writing my “outline”, it’s more of a beat sheet; a list of things I want to happen or that I don’t want to forget, clues that I need to lay down for my endgame, whatever it is, etc. But it’s very loose and often only a sentence or two and is subject to change, if the story takes a sudden veer sideways.

    • Thanks for commenting, PT!

      I love the “thinky” phase. *grins* Where else do you get to just sit around (or listen to music, or watch YouTube explosion videos) all because it’s helping you figure out a plot.

      *laughs* I can’t outline much either, and they really are in the vein of – “shit happens, things blow up, people die, everyone deals with it” – rather than some pretty, well-kept set of words. I’m with you and I think that I’d probably have a hard time writing it all out afterward.

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