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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Pantser’s Secret Tool

Please welcome guest blogger Keri Stevens

I’m a sucker for the classic image of The Writer. She sits at huge oak desk before a bay window, gazing intently into the rain, and then types furiously on her bright red Royal typewriter. She reaches absently for her ever-steaming mug of tea while her cat twines between her legs. And then she types again.

At the end of the day, she cranks out the last sheet of paper and lays it neatly on the stack. Wrapping it in brown paper and tying it with string, she mails it off to Penguin to become an immediate classic. She’s no plotter, The Writer. She pantses her way to brilliance every time, throwing a balled-up sheet of paper into her square wooden wastebasket simply because her cat needs an excuse to knock over said wastebasket and bat something around.

I’m no plotter, either. I pants my way from “Once upon a time” all the way to “The end” in my first draft. But even us diehard pantsers need structure.

After I draft, therefore, I create a spreadsheet scene list. In this list I record:

1. Page numbers in scene

2. Scene number

3. Location of scene

4. Date and time of day of scene

5. The point-of-view character (and if I switch POV, I add another entry for scene 29b)

6. The main action of the scene (in one sentence; if it takes more than that, I know I’m trying to do too much.)

7. The emotion I want to evoke

8. The hook that leads to the next scene.

Armed with this info, I can rearrange scenes to my heart’s discontent, creating both consistency and variety. If I have three ten-page scenes back to back, I insert a small interlude for variety. If the same character controls POV for 40 pages, I rewrite a scene from another perspective. If my hero ends a scene by falling asleep, I know my reader will too.

If you are a plotter reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes. Turn back to your beautiful white board with its neat rows of multi-colored post-its, because I’m not talking to you.

If you’re a pantser like me, this is the minimal structure I feel we can get away with and still create a story that feels creative and spontaneous. Fear not: a scene list is not “plotting.” If anyone ever accuses you of that, throw a wad of paper at her head.

Keri was raised in southern Missouri and has lived in Germany, Arizona, North Carolina and Kentucky. Along the way she acquired degrees in writing and German, a romance hero of her very own, three sons, two miracle cats and a mutt who licks her when she speaks German.

Her husband gave her a Jade Lee novel--her very first romance. A few years and a couple thousand novels later, Keri took up her laptop and began writing her own love stories.

By day, she's a mild-mannered yoga and Oriental dance instructor. By night she creates mayhem and magic in small-town paranormal romance novels like her award-winning debut, Stone Kissed.

Stone Kissed

When Delia Forrest talks to statues, they talk back. She is, after all, the last of the Steward witches.

After an arsonist torches her ancestral home with her estranged father still inside, Delia is forced to sell the estate to pay his medical bills. Her childhood crush, Grant Wolverton, makes a handsome offer for Steward House, vowing to return it to its former glory. Delia agrees, as long as he’ll allow her to oversee the restoration.

Working so closely with Grant, Delia finds it difficult to hide her unique talent—especially when their growing passion fuels her abilities.

But someone else lusts after both her man and the raw power contained in the Steward land. Soon, Delia finds herself fighting not just for Grant’s love, but for both their lives…


Julia B said...

*lol* No, I'm sorry, to me that's plotting! Throwing myself into a blank page with just the wind at my back is the way I roll - or sail.

But seriously, that actually looks like a nice compromise and I'll have to try it out next book I write. Thanks!

Alicia McCalla said...

Hi Keri:

I am a pantser and sometimes feel like a fish out of water. Thanks for your post. K. I'm in the middle of rewriting and it's majorly blocking me up. I did go through my first draft and laid out my scenes on index cards but it feels so draining like life is being sucked away. How do I move pass this feeling? Is it just something to ignore? I'm not nearly as productive rewriting as i've been with drafting. Any thoughts?

Keri Stevens said...

Hah! Julia, you are Hard-Core!

I know exactly what you mean by that sludgy feeling. I did another blog post, elsewhere, on my rewriting process which I'll try to link to in a minute. Basically, I rewrite from the outside in, working on trimming verbiage before messing with the big stuff. It allows me to get at the story several times before making a serious cut, so that by the time I DO major revisions, I'm confident they'll make the story better. It allows my subconscious to stew for awhile.

Stacy McKitrick said...

I have a similar process, but I like the page number and POV parts - I'll have to add that. I already do the date and time thing. I'm organized, but definitely not a plotter. Go figure!

Thanks for sharing.

Keri Stevens said...


That's the link I promised. Stacy, page numbers shift all the time, but if I stay on top of it, it really helps when establishing chapters.

KAK said...

That spreadsheet has got to be a great tool for writing the dreaded synopsis too.

Oh, and I'm totally taking your tip for #6 -- If it can't be summarized in one sentence, too much is happening.

Marilyn Muniz said...

I plan a similar tactic when my first draft is finish. Writing is the hardest part and the organization is the easy part. At least for me.

Anita Clenney said...

Great post. I think I'm more of a plotter, but I only work from notes and a lot of brainstorming ahead of time.

Alicia McCalla said...

Thanks! I'll take a look at the link. This is all great information.

Keri Stevens said...

Thank you everyone--I'm glad you're finding some things useful.
You know when pantsing doesn't work? When doing taxes. Can't pants your way through them :(

Kristal Lee said...

Thanks Keri!
I'm going to try your scene list. I've tried several plotting techniques that instigated a severe allergic reaction in my muse. Maybe this will help to reign her in a little.

Keri Stevens said...

I think it's important to point out that I only invoke The Spreadsheet AFTER I've got a crapdraft down. Even if the last few scenes are all out of order and skewed...

Tarot By Arwen said...

W00T! Go Keri go! :) I loved this blog. I'm a bit of a plotter while my writing partner is more of a pantser.

Keri Stevens said...

ARWEN! Did you go to RT this year? I didn't. Hope to see you on the conference circuit soon...