Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plotters and Pantsers and Outlines, Oh My!

Sooner or later you're going to run into the old debate about plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are folks who outline and do prep work before they start writing their novel. Pansters don't do any of that. They just go in "by the seat of their pants" (hence the term "pantsers.")

Pantsers are the folks who tend to turn their nose up at outlines. They're the ones who say things like "I write about character, not plot." Or "I let the characters tell me the story."

To this I give the ol' one finger salute.

Here's the thing: There is no such thing as pantsing.

What pantsers are actually doing is what I call "micro-outlining."

Even Stephen King, self-professed pantser who says he has never plotted a story in his life, is really a micro-outliner.

What is micro-outlining?

Simple.

Instead of planning out your story in broad strokes, you're working small scale.

A little at a time.

Start with your character in a situation.

Ask "Then what?"

And answer the question.

When you finish answering the question, look at where your character is at. Look at the situation they're in.

Then ask the question again.

And answer it again.

Repeat.

So, really--we're all plotters.

And those "pantsers" who say that they just write to discover the story and after 60,000 words they finally know and can revise with the real story in mind?

Guess what, dude--you just outlined.

Keep this in mind: Plot is key.

You'll hear lots of folks tell you otherwise.

Crap.

That's what it is.

A load of crap.

Look--when someone's telling you a story, what do you usually say when they pause?

Yeah.

"What happened next?"

Right?

That's where plot comes in.

And if your story is gonna work, you need to know your plot.

And that means outlining.

A couple of reasons people hate outlining and plotting:
"It hinders creativity."
and
"I'll be trapped with an outline."
To these I say "bullshit" and "bullshit."

Plotting and using an outline actually sharpens creativity.

Instead of being all over the place in your story, it provides focus (remember when we talked about focus last time?).

It forces you to figure out what your story is about.

Remember this:
STRUCTURE IS YOUR FRIEND.

Another thing to remember:
AN OUTLINE IS NOT SET IN STONE.

The outline, the plot, is a framework.

Broad strokes.

As you write, details that fill in that parts of the framework will come to you based on the characters and situations and the world of the story.

And yes, that can change.

So how do we outline? So do we set up that framework?

Check back next time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Focus, Focus, Focus

I see this a lot in writing forums and hear it from various "writing folks" I talk to.

I'll ask, "What's your story about?"

They'll say, "Oh, it's very complex."

And then they'll begin to tell you the main character's backstory.

Translation: "I don't know what my story is about."

No no no, Dudes and Dudettes.

Know what your story is about.

This is important!

Saying "it's complex" is a cop out. Lazy.

Also, I'll see or get this answer to the question: "It's about government oppression."

No.

That's not a story.

It's a theme. It's a premise for a story.

A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. It features a character or characters.

If you don't know what your story is about, you're gonna waste a lot of time trying to write it.

So--how do you figure it out?

Nathan Bransford uses a great format in this post about query letters.
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal]
That's one good way to do it.

My favorite way is to write what Hollywood calls a "log line." Basically, a one sentence description of your story that follows this format:
  • who the story is about (protagonist)
  • what he strives for (goal)
  • what stands in his way (antagonistic force)
Here's a few examples of loglines.
  • In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. (Minority Report)
  • A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship. (Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home. (The Wizard of Oz)
  • When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)
  • After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce. (Jaws)
Yeah, we're talking about fiction and these are for movies. But the concept is the same.

Focus.

Get to the meat of your story.

Because all the other stuff is flavoring for the meat.

All those sub-plots and labyrinthine plot twists and intriguery and double crosses and double-double crosses and ginormous set pieces?

Spicy goodness and various other nommy bits.

But what you want to know right off is the meat of your tale.

From there, we can move to the (gasp! ZOMG!) outline.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Thoughts: Transformers 3 , Sacred Blacksmith, Kaze No Stigma

Transformers 3
Recently saw this and I have to say--better than the second one. About as fun as the first. Entertaining, overall. Wasn't really expecting any more than that.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaced Megan Fox as Shia LeBeouf's new love interest and did a decent job. Although shame on Hollywood for making her run around in high heels during action sequences. C'mon, Hollywood. Make with the reality check.

Then again, I'm talking about Hollywood here, right?

And we all know: Hollywood + reality = does not compute.

Nice to see Peter Cullen back as the voice of Optimus.

And kudos to bringing in Leonard Nimoy as the voice of Sentinel Prime. Looks like Nimoy tips a hat to his previous Transformers appearance (the 1986 animated movie; he played Galvatron).

Was it planned? Hmm. Can't tell. Not sure how much of a geek Michael Bay is.


The Sacred Blacksmith
LadyAce suggested this 12-episode anime to me after she'd just watched it on Netflix streaming. Good fantasy series.

I could've done without the gratuitous boob jokes, tho. Yeah, they were giggle-worthy for the first ep. Maybe the second. But when you're on the fourth and fifth and they're still cracking boob jokes? C'mon. Enough already.

And Cecily, despite wanting to be a Knight Guard, shows the heart but not the follow-through. Several times in the early episodes, she hesitates in battle and Luke ends up saving her ass.

Yeah, she eventually comes into her own but I wanted to see more fighting spirit in action rather than in words. More pluckiness and still getting beat down rather than shying away and getting beat down.

I recommend it.


Kaze No Stigma
Started this one after finishing Blacksmith. It's like Avatar: The Last Airbender but set in present day Tokyo and the airbender air magic user isn't bald with arrow tattoos. Different families control and manipulate the elemental powers.

Pretty good.

Cherami Leigh, who voiced Cecily Campbell in Blacksmith, returns here as Ayano Kannagi and does an excellent job. I noticed, though, that Ayano seems to be prone to "'Khaaaan!' a la Captain Kirk" outcries. Usually directed at Kazuma, our male protagonist.

Thankfully the boob jokes are gone. But there seems to be a pervasive penchant for panty shots here. Not a lot. But I noticed several over three successive episodes.

There's also a nice little romantic subplot involving Ayano and Kazuma, including subtle-but-not-so-subtle attempts by Jugo Kannagi, Ayano's father, to hook up the two crazy kids. The amusement park episode is hilarious.

Also, Ayano's classmates Yukari and Nanase are a hoot.

There is a rather disturbing turn of events in episode 10. Made me flinch a bit. You'll see when you watch.

Finished Part One, which covered the first 12 episodes. Now watching Part Two. Part Two introduces Catherine McDonald, an American firebender fire magic user who comes to Japan to challenge Ayano in fire magic supremacy. And according to the anime's creators, American women dress like 1800s frontier women? 'Cuz Catherine's outfit reminds me of a woman out of an old Western show like Gunsmoke or Bonanza.

Okie dokie.

Overall, another recommended series.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Danger With Dialogue Tags

Ran into this advice on dialogue tags whilst surfing the Interwebs the other day and just had to respond with a post.

The title should really be "Here's One Way To Use Attribution Tags When Writing Dialogue."

Because the author makes it seem like this is only way.

Nope.

It's just one way of using tags.

Read that again:

This is just one way of using attritbution tags.

For instance, the author writes:
Short quotes:
  • Place the attribution tag at the end, so your reader pays attention to the quote itself.
    • "I’m feeling confident about how to punctuate direct quotes," Sheila said.
Actually
Sheila said, "I’m feeling confident about how to punctuate direct quotes."
is also correct.

She also advises:
In most cases, place the speaker’s name first, followed by the attribution word:
  • Sheila said
NOT said Sheila
Um...not quite.

"Said Sheila" is also correct.

Author Juliette Wade has a post on the "Sheila said/said Sheila" issue.

Read it. There's some good stuff in there.

So what's the lesson for today?

The only rule in writing is to write a good story.

Dialogue attritubion tags?

Whatever way works best.

Seriously.

Arizona Senator Lori Klein Is A Dumbshit

Pardon my politics but I think this needs to be said.

Senator Lori Klein is a dumbshit for pulling a stunt like this.

Jim Hines said it best in his recent post on the matter.

Go read it. You'll enjoy it.

Okay. I'll put my politics away now...

(Yeah, yeah. So I'm behind. Gimme a break. I'm playing "catch up.")

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Idea Overthink

I see this a lot in writing forums. Folks will post and ask "Does this sound like a good idea?" Or "What do you think of this idea?"
Stop.
Just stop.
Stop thinking. Start writing.
Ideas are everywhere. Everybody and their dog has an idea. (We talked about this last time, remember?)
What counts is the execution of that idea.
Think about it for a sec.
 Idea: Boy and girl from two different world/societies fall in love despite differences. 
Execution: Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story. Titanic. Avatar.

Here's another--
 Idea: Two mismatched cops become friends and partners and solve the case. 
Execution: Lethal Weapon. Rush Hour. Miami Vice. Bad Boys.

One more--
Idea: Zombie invasion. 
Execution: Night of the Living Dead. 28 Days. Resident Evil. World War Z.

Getting the point yet?
Good.
Now stop overthinking and get back to writing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Truth About Inspiration And Your Muse

Waiting for inspiration is the mark of the amateur.
Why are you waiting?
You should be wanting to write.
To not write should be painful. Or at least uncomfortable.
If you're waiting to be inspired just so you can work on your current story or novel, you're doing it wrong.
Start writing. Even if it's just a sentence. Or even a word.
Just the act of doing it will get the ball rolling, get those mental gears moving.
It's all about momentum.
And don't just take my word for it.
Try it.
Now.
"But I'm waiting for ideas to come to me," you say.
Oh, yeah--you'll hear people say "I need to find my Muse" or "I'm waiting for my Muse."
You're probably saying the same thing to yourself.
Hell, I sometimes do it.
But them I remember the truth: the Muse is always there.
It never really goes away.
What makes the difference is how much you've fed your Muse.
Wait. I'm giving it to you straight. No mumbo jumbo here. No esoteric bullcrap.
What we call "the Muse" is just that storehouse of information in your brain. All that "useless" trivia you picked up over the years. All the stuff you've read and seen and heard and experienced.
That's your Muse.
Nothing mystical about it.
You don't need to wait or find your Muse.
It's already there.
Dig into all the stuff that you've stored in your head and you'll find 90% of what you need.
In On Writing, King talks about the "inspiration" for the novel Carrie.
Two unrelated instances that were already in his head (in his information storehouse, in his Muse) came together to form the premise that turned into the novel.
Go dig out your copy (or go get the book) and read it. (In my edition, it's Chapter/Part 28, starting on page 65.)
And speaking of reading from books, here's another one.
In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury has a great essay on how to feed your muse.
Go dig out your copy (or go get the book) and read that essay.
You'll see what I'm talking about.
And you'll also see why in last week's post, I talked about reading a lot of stuff.
(P.S. If you click those links above, you'll be able to get the books through Amazon. Or head over to your nearest bookstore to grab a copy.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Jesse James Dawson!!

Just sending out the word that fellow writer K. A. Stewart just released A Shot in the Dark*, the second book in her series about Jesse James Dawson.
You may remember K. A. from my post about Comic-Con last year in which I was her proxy for the con.

Here's a picture of me, K. A., and her editor, Anne Sowards.

A Shot in the Dark should be available now at fine booksellers everywhere.

And if you haven't read A Devil in the Details, the first in the series, go get that one.

Then get A Shot in the Dark

Better yet, get them both at the same time.

Go.

Get ye to yon bookshop.

NOW.

*This is an affiliate link to Amazon. If you buy from this link, I get a little extra to help pay for a mocha or two.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

"Here's to America's colors, the colors that never run. May the wings of Liberty never lose a feather."

Have a great 4th of July.


(photo: The Expired Meter)