Saturday, April 7, 2012

Whoa, There…Leave Your Pants On! With Raine Thomas


You just have to love how Raine Thomas, author of the Daughters of Saraqael trilogy and the upcoming Firstborn trilogy, worked the Hoover Dam into this one!  

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’ve been asked this question any number of times in interviews, and every time, it makes me wince. Perhaps it’s a testament to my school days, but when I hear “pantser,” I envision bullies in hallways reaching for the much-too-high waistbands of unsuspecting nerds. Humiliation simply oozes from the word.

The bottom line is that I’m a Type A. “Pantser” has no room in my vocabulary.

Okay, that’s a little extreme. In truth, when I write my books, I’m a little of both. I always, always, always (yes, it’s worth stating three times) start with an outline. My first outlines were more general, giving me a basic guideline for the beginning, middle and end of the story. The outline for my current WIP, Shift, on the other hand, is a chapter-by-chapter outline that is so thorough it allowed me to write 10,000 words a day when I actually had a full weekend to dedicate to just writing.

That said, I’ve never stuck to an outline. Not once. Even with Shift’s outline being so detailed that the story could practically write itself (ha, ha), I’ve strayed from it. I believe in letting my characters tell their own stories, and I’m not going to be limited by an outline, despite its importance.

Writers who indicate that they write “by the seat of their pants” cause me serious concern. Writing is tough. Like other professions, it requires strict adherence to certain mechanics to ensure a quality final product, even if the end result differs by “engineer.”

Do you think the Hoover Dam was built on a whim? That a group of individuals just decided to wing it and throw up a structure to contain the Colorado River?

Of course not. They had a carefully crafted plan before they started. Sure, they had to vary from that plan as they faced unexpected challenges, but they stuck to the main goal and ultimately made it happen.

Writing an effective story isn’t so very different. It’s important to have a clear plan for a story before getting started. This doesn’t mean having some vague idea of a cool character overcoming a challenge. This means laying out the bones of the story so that when it’s put to paper, it stands strong.

I suggest starting with character sketches of the main protagonist(s). Writers should know their characters inside and out. I create sketches that contain details I never reveal in the actual books, but that compose the cores of my characters. As long as I know those details, the characters come alive on the page.

Then comes the general outline. How will the story begin? How will it end? What will happen in between?

In truth, I think many writers can create full-length novels using only the above devices. If they want to write more quickly, I suggest using the detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline that I mentioned above. It’s amazing how much time is saved when there’s no pause between chapters, trying to figure out what to write next. Thus, taking the initial time to create an outline will save tons of time later when it comes to actually writing.

Am I a plotter or a pantser? I’m a plotter, baby…and you should be, too! 

Raine Thomas is the author of a bestselling series of YA paranormal romance novels about the Estilorian plane, including the Daughters of Saraqael trilogy and the upcoming Firstborn trilogy. She is a proud member of Romance Writers of America and is a contributing blogger to The Writer's Voice. When she isn’t planning weddings, writing or glued to social networking sites, she can usually be found on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches with her husband and daughter or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Follow Raine here:

27 comments:

  1. Great post. I just figured out from reading this that I'm a plantser. I start writing because something pops in my head, it starts to take shape, then I have to go back and figure out what I'm going to do with it. I don't outline, but I do use story arc diagrams to the point that I spent all of last October making a posterboard of my story arc for NaNo...I even used glitter!

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    1. Glitter is important in everything, Lorca.

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    2. Ooo...glitter! I wish I was that crafty. *sigh*

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  2. Thanks for having me by the blog, Kelly! This was a fun post to write. Oh...and I'm glad you enjoyed the Hoover Dam reference. I wasn't about to contribute a guest post without it!

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    1. Thanks for coming this, Raine. Wonderful post, proud to have you here.

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  3. I love how you tie in the Hoover Dam, and the importance of both planning and "pantsing." I'm struggling a bit with that myself my characters refuse to wait for their scenes and keep popping in and out... I think it's important to have a general direction, and then allow the little rascals some latitude.
    Aloha
    Toby

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    1. Thanks, Toby! I have to say that even being a Type A, I can't imagine writing something strictly by an outline. That would get quite frustrating when your characters start yammering about the direction they REALLY want to go...

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  4. Love readin' bout Raine or anything written by her,be it the Hoover Dam,or..just what she thinks bout life.You make anything interestin' me honey darlin'! Can't wait ta read Firstborn! xoxo

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    1. I just love anyone named 'Grandma'. :)

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    2. Big hugs to you, Tina! I can always count on you for a shot in the arm. There isn't a better indie author supporter out there. :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. Your method sounds exactly like mine. I used to write by the seat of my pants, when I was starting out and didn't know any better, but hey, I was 13... It took me into my 20s though to realise that wasn't an effective method. Once I started outlining, I had much fewer GMC problems and plot holes. But sticking to it strictly would miss many golden sub-plot opportunities!

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    1. Yes! It seems that outlines are tools largely used by more experienced writers...which is odd, since we learn how to outline in grade school. Maybe those teachers had something right after all!

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  6. Love hearing your process, Raine. I've only published nonfiction but write both. Definitely a different process -- for me, anyway. I love hearing about the outlines -- so important for character development, as well as plot. Your books are amazing so obviously your process works!

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    1. Interestingly, I also write nonfiction, Rachel. I've created general outlines in that genre, too, but as you said, it really is quite different. Whatever you're doing, it's clearly generating success--so keep it going!

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    2. I actually tend to have a more detailed outline process for non-fiction, because of course, I know exactly what happens. My fiction tends to be more loosely organized, and dynamic as hell, because I can alter it on a whim.

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  7. Great points, Raine. Awesome guest, Kelly!

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    1. Super high five to you for dropping by and showing some love, D.C.!

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  8. Oh my gosh, I am such a pantser and I hate it. Raine is correct, kids. Pantsers stare at pages while plotters sail on through. I'm going to be a plotter next time around and save the Blues Sisters a little tongue;-) Thanks for the advice. I must say this was an excellent way of slipping in our beloved, damn dam, dammit.

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  9. I do everything by the seat of my pants. That first idea comes in and I run with it...and once we get going (me and that idea) we come to an understanding. I don't do outlines really, but I do create the entire story in my head, where it stays until it's all written out. I admire you for having the discipline to do outlines.

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  10. Loved this interview with Raine. She's one of my favorite characters. I'm with Erica, too. Seat of my pants even if they might get torn out in the process. LOL

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  11. Beth: Did you like that dam reference? I thought I managed to slide that in without too much jarring. lol Thanks for the reinforcement of the value of outlines!

    Erica: You're still outlining, just in your head. That works, too!

    Amberr: Admit it. You know you like it when your pants get torn off. ;)

    Thanks for dropping by, ladies!

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  12. I definitely need an outline, especially for a longer work. 1000-words or less, I can grasp to a central idea, flesh it out, and leave it at that. But if NaNoWriMo taught me anything, it's that I don't like writing just any old crap on my page, with the characters willy-nillying all over the place.

    And I agree that it's odd that it seems to be the younger writers who write from the seats of their pants, while the older ones tend to practise with outlines, first. Maybe we're just grasping for more control! :D

    Nice post!

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  13. I'm so much of a plotter that I'd call myself a plodder instead, though on rare occasions I've written more than 25,000 words in a day. Mostly I manage 2-3k. That being said, I adapted the following saying:

    "No plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force. Only the layman thinks that he can see in the course of the campaign the consequent execution of the original idea with all the details thought out in advance and adhered to until the very end."
    --Helmuth von Moltke

    This is often restated as: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."
    I restate it for a writing tool as: "No outline survives contact with the characters."

    Once I've turned my character into a living breathing figment of my imagination, they behave according to character and not according to plan. So the end of the story is often completely different from what I originally envisioned. Even so, the plot is essential, because without a set of goals to accomplish the most real-seeming character will get lost in the weeds, because that's what happens with real people too.

    I really enjoyed reading about your process, especially because it makes me feel a bit better about my own. I envy successful 'pantsers' (though I hate the term too) but there's not much point in worrying about it--I'll never be one (in either sense).

    My debut novel: http://tinyurl.com/792oqpd

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  14. I think the best method depends a lot on personality. I've tried the "plotter" route and for fiction purposes, it made my writing move slowly and took the fun out of it.

    Pantsing for me moves quickly, the story feels real, and it's just as exciting for me as it is for the reader. Pantsing isn't for everyone, but plotting isn't a solution for everyone either.

    Having said that, the plotting suggestions you give are great ones for those who can't "pants".

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