Parsing for Plotters: Three Methods

First off, I probably need to explain my headline.  

For starters, I'm a plotter, as opposed to a pantser, though I'm not a terribly serious, must-know-everything plotter.  I know most of you know the difference between a plotter and a pantser, but there are always newbies among us and so I shall pontificate:

A plotter must likes to get the story lined out (be it novel, short story or article) ahead of time, before he starts writing.  

A pantser likes to sit down and write and see what happens.

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Pantsing makes plotters shiver with distaste.  You get stuck in black holes, they cry! You waste time going down story lines that don't pan out! You get to the end and nothing works because you didn't know where you were going!

Plotting makes pantsers shudder with disgust.  If you already know the story, you get bored writing it, they say.  You don't leave any room for the magic to happen! You are not as creative as we are!  

Okay, okay, maybe they don't say that last bit.  But they think it.  

Anyway.

I am a plotter because I've wasted way too much time trying to make books come together that I haven't thought out.  I'm a plotter because if I know where I'm going when I open a file to write, I get way more done than if I don't.  I'm a plotter because I know that even having a loose outline to follow still allows for the creative magic (the walk-on character, the unexpected plot twist) to happen.

And since I am a plotter, I am also a parser.  Even if you are a pantser, you are likely a bit of a parser, too.  Allow me to explain myself. By parsing, I mean figuring out all the shit that goes into a story.  And let me tell you, in a novel, there is a lot of it.  Which means a lot of parsing.  At least for me.

I am not the kind of writer who sits down, does an outline, then follows it.  I sit down, do an outline, write some, realize the outline doesn't work, parse, and then rinse and repeat.  And also, there is parsing a plenty when it comes to figuring out that outline.

Parsing

So, this is an article about parsing.  Because, it occurred to me while talking to a client the other day that there are three kinds of parsing.  (Maybe even more, but these are the ones I have identified.)

You may prefer to thin while parsing.  You may prefer to write while parsing.  Or you may prefer to talk while parsing.  Let's look at each style:

Writing parsing.  This is what I like to do, and what makes the most sense to me.  Writers write, right? I'm a champion writing parsing.  I feel spirals and journals with notes on my WIP and have tons of files saved on the computer as well.  I think through my fingers (to the point that if I'm to retain information, I need to take notes) and so this kind of figuring out works well for me.

Talking parsing.  This kind of parsing can happen in a critique group, with a writing coach or teacher, your agent or editor, or with a trusted family member or friend.  It can be incredibly helpful to brainstorm out loud and throw around ideas for your story in these situations.  And, a note of caution: I find this works best after you've gotten some notes and ideas, and maybe even some scenes, down on paper.  Because I've also had the experience of talking the story out before its time.

Thinking parsing.  Thinking is one of the most underrated of activities for writers.  Sometimes you just need to have a good think.  You need to ponder how things go together, what happened to a character to make her so cranky, or what's going to happen next in the story.  

Probably all writers utilize all these methods at various times, but most will also lean toward one, as I do.  Knowing which you are most comfortable with will help you move forward on your WIP because you won't be spinning your wheels trying to make notes if what you really need to do is put your feet up and think.

So, which are you?  A writer, a thinker, or a talker?

 Photo by jurvetson.

Link Round-up: Writing the Novel

While I'm teaching writing in Europe, I'm mining my eight years of articles on writing for you.  Once a week I'm posting a link round-up on a certain subject.  I'll also re-post an oldie but goodie in full on a different day. And I've got a couple of new posts scheduled for you as well. 

Today's topic is writing the novel.  Scroll down for tons of links!

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Not sure what exactly is going on in this photo besides the writing. Are you?

 

Starting & Prep

 

Finding the First Line of Your Novel

A Novel-Writing Vision Board

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One: Tools

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Ideas and the Process

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Three: Character

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Four: Story

 

The Long-haul (or, Sticking With It)

 

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Fast-Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

Never Underestimate the Power of a Writing Prompt

Willingness: The Mindset for Writing a Novel

Writing Every Morning

 

Character

 

Characters at Cross Purposes

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

The Ordinary Day

 

Setting

 

Building Your Fictional World

The Power of Place

Location, location, location

 

Structure

 

Overcoming Flat Scenes: Rising and Falling Action

Story Structure 

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Saturday Writing Tip: Scenes

 

Okay, that ought to keep you busy for awhile.  And remember, I'm teaching my novel writing class this fall, starting in October, if this has whetted your whistle for the process. 

Next link round-up is a week from today, Tuesday, September 8, on journaling!

 

While She Was Out

PrintshopI grew up partially in my Dad's printing plant.  One of the many things I loved about that was hanging out in the front office, which was cleaner and more organized than the rest of the shop, but not by much.  And one of the best things about the office was the office supplies.  I particularly loved the pads of paper headlined "While You Were Out" with handy pre-printed lines to write the message on. I LOVED those pads.  

Alas, they did not survive.  But check out the photo to the left of some simple scratch pads that did. The business itself did not survive the onset on computerized printing in the eighties, and went bankrupt.  Tough times.  But I digress.

Because the point is that I will be out.  Overseas. Across the pond. Gone fishing.  Whatever.  It is time for the annual Let's Go Write workshop in France, this year in Collioure.  Last year, I think I actually managed to post once or twice, but maybe I just made that up.  It might well happen this year, too.  

But I have also made provisions for while I am out.  I have lined up a couple of fun oldie but goodie posts from the archives, written and scheduled a couple of new ones, and also created a couple of link posts that I think you'll like, drawing on the eight years of content (and 1266 posts) from this blog. So there you have it.  All will not be lost.  There will be a dim shadow of a Charlotte here.

But, alas, I've put the Inventive Writing Prompt blog and weekly posts on hiatus until I get back. But don't despair.  As of this writing, there are 392 prompts there, so that ought to keep you busy for awhile.

One more thing–don't forget that my Get Your Novel Written Now class starts in October, and I've extended the early bird registration until I get back so go SIGN UP NOW.

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #55

It is Saturday! Time for my weekly prompt round-up, with prompts taken from my Tumblr blog.  Pay special attention to this one, because I'm taking a brief hiatus from these posts for the duration of my time in Europe.  But there's almost 400 prompts on the Tumblr blog, so head over there if you need a hit of writing inspiration.

#386 Does your character like to dress up?  Do you?

#387  What is the one thing your character will not tolerate, the thing that is a deal-breaker for her or him?

#388  Try something new.

#389  When the smoke cleared, what they saw was…..

#389 When I was a teenager, my best friend told me of her habit of fantasizing elaborate scenarios wherein she was stuck in a cabin in a blizzard with a dashing man.  We started calling our daydreaming bouts “blizzardizing.” Does your main character blizzardize?  What about?

(Yes, I know there are two #389s.  Its because I like that number so much.  Not because I'm a dork who can't count.  Really.)

#390 When he looked outside, all he saw was a sea of _______________________.

#391  Use the word cheese, red car, and curtain in a sentence. Now use that sentence as a prompt.

#392  Wishing and praying doesn’t make it so, but ___________________ does.

#393  And then they came to the end….or was it?

Happy writing, everyone!  

 

5 Things on Friday: Feeling Frazzled Edition

Paris-parigi-eiffelturm-1577018-lWhy I'm Frazzled: BECAUSE I'M LEAVING FOR EUROPE ON TUESDAY. That's why.

What I'm Reading: Same thing I was reading last week, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael Singer.  I'm about 10 pages from the end, and was going to finish it at lunchtime but then the phone rang and I got distracted.  But, for your curiousity pleasure, here is a list of books I've downloaded to take with me:

The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb

My Very Best Friend, by Cathy Lamb

(She's a Portland author and when I learned from a friend at church that she had stayed up until 4 in the morning reading Lamb's most recent book, I decided to check her out.)

Splinters of Light, by Rachael Herron (love her!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (love me a good science fiction read every so often and this one is loooong–great to take on a long flight)

There's no way I'll get all of those read, especially because last year on the way home from Paris I discovered that watching movies back to back makes the time pass really quickly, and when I'm traveling I don't read as much.  But I like to be prepared.  Because, what if the Iceland volcano blows and we're stuck in Europe? (We should be so lucky.) I will need books to read.

What I Have Left to Do Before I Leave: Host one family dinner, engage in a board of directors bonding outing, attend one birthday party, finish reading one manuscript, exchange one cardigan, write two newsletters, get my hair cut, and pack.  That's not so bad, is it?  Is it?

What I Love This Week: My new phone.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 Note.  It has a stylus!  A freaking stylus!  I went to the AT&T store on Saturday and ordered it.  (Wasn't in stock, small store.) Had great service there.  Went to a different AT&T store on Wednesday where they could do a data transfer and had, um, shall we way, interesting service.  As in, all the worker people telling me, "You're switching from an Iphone to a Galaxy? Girl! You're going to be back in here telling us you want your Iphone back."  Also telling me I have way too many contacts (Is 323 really that many? I didn't think so, either.) And so on.  Hear me now: I WILL NOT BE IN THERE TO SWITCH BACK. Because I'm stubborn that way.  And because I love my new phone.

What Will Happen to This Blog While I'm Gone: Read my post Monday to find out.

Happy weekend! What are you doing this weekend?  Something fun?

Photo by al lannin.

5 Things on Friday: August 21, 2015, Better Late Than Never Edition

Cat and puterHere it is Friday afternoon on a beautiful day in Portland.  And here, at last, are my five things for the week:

What I'm Reading: The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer.  I'm leading a discussion group on Singer's most popular book, The Untethered Soul, in October, which is why I got onto this title.  It is fascinating, all about how he essentially just said yes to whatever life put in front of him.  With fabulous results: he's build several multi-million dollar businesses, wrote a best-selling book, and still manages to maintain a rigorous twice daily meditation practice.

What I'm Writing: I'm kind of going back and forth between what I call prep work for my next novel and the actual writing of it. I was going great guns with the writing until I wasn't. As sometimes happens.  That is a sure sign one needs to go do some planning.  And it has paid off, as always happens.  I know a ton more about my character now.  (Don't forget I'm teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now Class in October.  Go here to learn more.)

What I'm Loving: My new computer.  I'm switching from a Mac to a PC, so there's a bit of a learning curve.  I was also using a version of Word from 2007 on my old computer, so, yeah. And don't throw things at me if you're a Mac lover but I'm thrilled to be back in PC land.  Sorry, but I kinda don't get what the mystique of the Mac is all about.  Anyway, my new baby is a Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 laptop with a touchscreen (and a stylus).  At 13", it is smaller than my old 15" version but I like that.

What I'm Grateful For: The neuro-prolo therapy that I got at my naturopath's office this week.  I've mentioned my problems with different length legs and the issues it was causing a few times in passing.  It was seriously cramping my style, most especially my love of walking.  But this new therapy is amazing!  Its not for the faint of heart, as it involves much injecting of solution into the body with tons of tiny needles, but I walked pain free for the first time in a couple of years yesterday.

What I'm Doing This Weekend: Moving furniture and boxes.  As you know, I've moved my office downstairs.  We accomplished that a couple weekends ago.  Much busy-ness ensued.  But now we have to deal with what we left behind–specifically my old office suite and, oh yeah, all those boxes of books and office supplies.

What is new with you? What are you doing this weekend?

*** My photo captioning is not working but in the above photo you can see that Lieutenant likes my new computer, too.

How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

JournalAugust2015

The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few–a very few minutes–out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about–or ponder–why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #54

Ah summertime….I've been on vacation, I've been slacking…no scratch that last one, I have not been slacking since I got home.  There's much to do to catch up from vacation and get ready to be out of the country for three weeks.  Awk! The thought of it makes my heart pound–in a good way and a bad way. Anyway, all this is by way of saying that this week on my Tumblr blog, I missed a few days.  Blame it on brain overload, but I thought I had a bunch of prompts scheduled to run and then I came home and realized I didn't.  Alas.  But I did publish two prompts on one day to make up for it!  So here you go:

#376  The look on her face said it all.

#377 There was nothing she could do but quit worrying about it.

#378  Write about what happens when your main character travels.  Is she intrepid, an adventurer? Or does he hate leaving home, needing everything to be just as he likes it?

#379  How does your main character want others to see her? How does she see herself? Are the answers to these two questions the same? If not, explore the rich space in between.

#380  What is your very first memory?  What is your main character’s?

 So, yeah, a bit sparser than usual.  But there should be enough to keep you going for a little while. How is your writing proceeding? 

Five Things on Friday: August 14, 2015

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I saw a sunset just like this one!

Where I've Been: I kinda fell down on posting at the end of last week (no 5 on Friday post) and the beginning of this week.  That's because I was at the beach.  I stayed with my family at my daughter's in-law's house in Garibaldi (thank you, Dennis and Carlene).  We also visited old, old, old (and by old, I mean since birth) family friends in Arch Cape.  I shouldn't be posting about Arch Cape here because it is pretty unknown, as in on a weekday in summer the beach is deserted, and I would like it to remain that way.  So don't go there, (as one of our favorite governors famously told people about coming to Oregon to live), please.

What I've Been Reading: Have I obsessed about Dietland here yet?  It is the best book I've read in ages, so full of unflinching, radical and incredibly brave commentary about body image and the way women are treated in North America.   Every woman should read it immediately.  Men, you should too, but prepare to become very defensive.  I'm now reading The Ambassador's Wife, by Jennifer Steil.  I kinda put it down to read a couple books about writing, but I like it well enough.  

What I'm Excited About: A really, really, really, really good publisher is considering my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Think good thoughts, please!

Where I'm Teaching Next Fall and Winter: I'll be teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class right here online this fall, starting in October and early-bird pricing is good until I leave for Europe on September 1st.  And then, for those of you farther east and south, I'm part of the staff of the reborn Room to Write in Nashville in January.  Join me at one or both.

What I'm Obsessing About: Clothes.  As in, what to take to Barcelona, Collioure, and Paris.  I gave away half my wardrobe (not exaggerating but I will admit to having a lot of clothes) earlier this summer and felt like I had nothing to wear.  So I've been ordering things like crazy.  I love shopping online.  I think I have it all figured out now.  And I realize how very lucky I am to have this problem.

Oh, and by the way, I'm going to try my best to post regularly from Europe.  Yeah, that worked out well last year.  But on the off chance you've had an idea for a guest post, this would be the time to hit me up with a query about it.

And also–follow me on Instagram because I'm going to be posting photos from my travels there, and at the moment you can see pictures of Poo and Mr. Rock.

What's going on in your world? Please do tell.

How To Have Writer’s Block

Blocks_262707_lI don't know about you, but I sure want writer's block.

I have absolutely no interest in writing quickly and easily.  Or feeling like the words are tumbling off my fingers so fast I can barely keep up.  Uh-uh, not me.  

I would MUCH rather sit and stare at the blank screen on my computer.  And when that gets boring, look out the window.  I'd prefer to do laundry, or scrub the kitchen floor.  Or organize my junk drawer. I don't know about you, but I find that surfing the internet all day is vastly preferable to getting a lot of writing done.

But, writer's block.  No matter how hard we try, sometimes it is just damned hard to get there.  So I offer the following suggestions so that you, too, can spend whole days not writing:

1.  Don't know where you are going.   Start randomly anew each day, without any concern for what came before.  Just pluck inspiration out of thin air and write.  Because, you know, that happens.  Not.  But fortunately you don't want it to, so you are all set!

2.  Don't do any prep work.  Similar to above, remember that you don't need to know anything about your characters, or where they live and work, or the theme, or absolutely anything about anything at all.  Just tell yourself to write!  Not knowing any of the above will bring on writer's block faster than you can whisper grammar.

3.  Don't write regularly.  Nah.  Much better to give yourself, oh, say an hour every month or so. Because then by the time you've remembered what it was you thought you might write, your time will be up–and you won't have written anything!  Which is, after all the goal.  Writer's block, baby!

4.  Focus on how blocked you are.  Because, you know, what you focus on, you get more of.  So pondering your writer's block in all its glory is a surefire way to make sure it sticks around!

5. Check email every five minutes.  Surely something to distract you will have arrived.  Oh look–here's a missive from a nice man in Nigeria who wants to give you money.  It's probably worth writing back to him, don't you think?

Wait, what? You're tired of having writer's block after all? Your kitchen is sparkling, your laundry is finished, and there's nothing happening in the world worth reading about on the internet  You want to write again?  Geesh.  Some people.  Well, if you insist, here are the antidotes to the above suggestions:

1A. Always have a place to go.  Hemingway famously stopped mid-sentence at the end of a writing session.  That may be a bit much, but leave off somewhere that you know what happens next.  And/or, write yourself a note about where to go.  Time and time again I find that I flounder when I'm confused about where I'm going.

2A.  Do your prep work!  This will help enormously with #1A. A really fun approach is this book called The Writer's Coloring Book, which I just discovered today.  But even if it doesn't suit your style, do some advance work.  Think about character, setting, theme and plot.  It will pay you huge dividends if you do.

3A.  Write every day.  Just shut up and do it.

4A.  Good, better, best.  The Qi Gong master I follow emphasizes this.  Do your best in the given moment, whether that is five minutes of writing or two hours.  And focus on what you've done, not what you are not doing.  Good is better than nothing.

5A.  Shut out distractions. Ha! I'm the queen of checking email and looking up news stories.  But I also use Freedom, which disconnects me from the internet for a pre-set amount of time.  It is a lifesaver for a writer, and at $10, a steal of a deal!. (I just went to the website to check the link, and you can also download a tool that blocks you from social media.)

That's it for my suggestions.  How do you encourage writer's block–or find ways to get over it?

Photo by wbd.