Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | July 23, 2011

What animal am I anyway?

Organizing my electronic and paper files took up a lot of my writing time this week; while comparing saved dates and amount of bytes is totally fascinating, I found myself thinking about the pantser versus plotter debate. Before you think to yourself, “not again!” I was trying to pigeonhole my own behavior.

I am both, or neither, I suppose. I have the grand scheme in mind, boy meets girl story, or fairytale character meets human or something of that sort. What happens after that, I don’t always know. I write in spurts, with long planning sessions intertwined. I write a rough outline, but I don’t always write in linear time. I might really want to write a later scene, then an earlier scene. I’ll think of a scene that would work well, but that may be pages ahead from where I am at the moment.

I find that the character has to be real to me, has to inhabit my brain in a way that if I weren’t a creative writer, would have me in a comfy room in a quiet place where I could talk to my imaginary friends all day long. Once I know the character, I know what they are going to do, and so it flows. I’ve also had characters do the equivalent of striking, sitting right where they are, saying, “If you think I’m going to do that, or say that, you just do not know me.” That’s when I realize I don’t know the character well enough.

I’ve written pieces that may be memoirs, although they may still be too painful, and may have to be fictionalized; what is strange is I wrote those the same way I write fiction. So what animal am I anyway?

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Responses

  1. Nancy, your writing method sounds rather similar to mine. When I begin a new project, I try to do enough world-building and planning in order to have a general sense of where I want the story to go. The beginning is usually much more fleshed out, with concrete benchmarks and ideas for scenes; the latter half of the book is pretty vague. I hate the idea of having to stick to a rigid plan — part of the fun of writing, I think, is seeing where the story and my characters take me (I suppose this places me a bit more on the pantser side of the debate).

    I definitely agree with what you say about characters: I have ‘conversations’ with mine all of the time (I’ve always been like this), and I do my best writing when they’re being loud and unruly. I’ve frequently had times when I’m in the midst of writing a scene and had a character say something that I was expecting (this usually leads to me pausing and asking “Are you SURE?”, and they usually say yes). Still, I try my best to rein them in. 🙂

    • Phew, I’m so glad to find out someone else works like this, Jamila. I don’t even write my academic writing from start to finish. There I do have a strict outline; I fill that out more and more from sentences to paragraphs. But even there, I write a part I want to first–it gives me the impetus to get through the part I find less interesting.

      I have always talked to my characters, and almost always take their advice. 😀

      • Whoops, just saw this response. Yup, I’m the same with my academic writing — create a basic skeleton outline, and then hop around and work on whatever seems the most interesting at the time.

        While writing the other night, I was informed by a minor character that my MC is in the midst of a love triangle, and lo, a rakish airship pirate was born. I’m actually at the point where I can spend my days staring off into space and depend upon my characters to entertain me. :p

      • Oh, I just love it when a minor character gives you the scoop on the others. I’m loving the rakish airship pirate!

  2. Perfect post for me today. I was reading your ROW80 check in and popped over here. Just today I was pondering the linear style vs. popping around and writing the scenes that are calling to me. I’ve always written from A to Z without skipping. (a bit Type-A, I admit it). But your post inspired me to try another scene and see how it works. Hmmmmm.

    Thanks for sharing! (Now I’m going to pop back over and comment on your ROW 80 progress… see I can be nonlinear). 😉

    • I’m glad for the timing, if it has helped you think about a different approach. I’ve tried writing from A-Z and it works in some professional writing, but not so much in the creative writing.

      Give it a shot next time a scene is singing its siren song in your ear. It might work for you.

      Thank you for stopping by, and keep working on the non-linear side of your brain!

  3. Thanks, I’ll see where the muse takes me!

  4. Nancy, I just wanted to let you know that when I clicked on your link for the latest update (7/27) I got a “page not found” message. Looks like you might need to repost!


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