These articles were originally written for Prairie Chicks Write Romance Blog. In my usual unusual way, I created writing articles with a different twist. I hope there's a nugget or two that helps you in your writing journey. Watch for more articles in the coming weeks.
Plotter Vs Pantser - A Race to "The End"
Janet S. Corcoran (2009)
Well, it’s a beautiful day here on Computer Lane where our contestants are lining up for the first annual Race To The End. I’m Charlie Chapter welcoming you to our telecast of this most literary event. We’re minutes away from the starting gun so let’s go down to our track side correspondent, Bonnie Blurb. Bonnie, how are the contestants handling the pressure?
Charlie? Wow, it is noisy down here. The eraser mascot has the crowd on their feet. Let’s take a listen.
“Where are we going?”
“Where are we going?”
“Louder! Where are we going?”
Bonnie, let’s get back to the race.
Sorry, Charlie. He’s just so cute and so pink. The race co-ordinators couldn’t have picked a better cheerleader. Our race today is between two novelists. Pantser is jumping up and down, swinging her arms, working out the kinks in what looks like a pre-race ritual. Plotter has gathered a variety of materials with her at the starting line and looks to be going through a checklist. I’m going to try and get over there and have a closer look. Excuse me. Oh, he’s kind of rubbery.
Did you just goose the eraser, Bonnie?
Of course not. Here we are. Looks like she’s checking off various file folders. Plotter? Plotter? What’s your strategy going into the race?
Slow and steady. The trophy’s mine.
Oh, did you see that? Pantser just scoffed Plotter’s way. Pantser? Do you have any last minute words for your competition?
Eat my dust, baby. Eat. My. Dust.
What have you done to prepare for the race?
Prepare? Prepare? OK, I have a character in mind, but anything more would just be a waste of my time.
There you have it, Charlie. Should be an interesting event.
Yes, indeed, Bonnie. The starter is calling the racers forward and there’s the gun. Pantser’s off like a shot, fingers flying across the keyboard. She’s definitely out to win this race, I’ve never seen a writer jump from the blocks with such speed and enthusiasm. Looks like Plotter is indeed eating her dust as that writer has yet to step over the starting line. Bonnie, has Plotter misunderstood the intention of the race?
No, Charlie, she’s started, you just can’t see it from where you’re sitting. She has a file marked character information and is right now listing traits for her heroine. I believe she has a couple of categories, let’s get a closer look. Very detailed, very organized, Charlie. There’s a column for eye color, hair color, goal, motivation, conflict, quirks, family relations, friends, and even one for most embarrassing moment. I can see that the file also contains bio sheets for the hero and secondary characters, too.
She’s going to be there for a while, Bonnie. This doesn’t look good for Plotter. Pantser has finished 30 pages already and it looks like there’s no stopping her. I swear I’ve never seen such keyboard dexterity. Impressive.
Charlie, Plotter’s taken a step forward. She’s written a first paragraph and is off the startline. Wait! She’s pulled out another file folder, this one marked Outline. Wow, this girl’s done some preliminary work. I believe she’s pulling out a scene/sequel file folder now and highlighters. Wow, this is organization at it’s finest.
Organized or not, Bonnie, she still hasn’t moved far from that starting line while Pantser is on her hundredth page. Has anyone seen a chapter heading? Anyone? Someone check the tape, see if we can pinpoint a place in the manuscript where she’s finished chapter one. This could be a setback, folks. No chapters mean she’ll have to stop and reread to determine where her chapters’ should start and stop.
As you can see, Charlie, Plotter has finished her first chapter in the ‘three act’ formula. She’s checking another file: synopsis. Color coordinated to match the outline and scene/sequel work. Very meticulous and –
Sorry to interrupt, Bonnie, but Pantser has stalled. She’s come to a complete stop, her hands poised over her keyboard. This doesn’t look good. Let’s get a close-up. Ouch, mid-sentence stall no less. Not sure what she’s going to do – oh, no, she’s opened up a new word document with a tracking note on the original about twenty pages back. And she’s off again. Whew, I thought she was dead in the water, there.
Cliché aside, Charlie, it still has allowed Plotter to gain some ground. She’s on a roll, pounding out some impressive page numbers. She, too, is using the tracking feature, making notes at various stages with reference back to her files. I love how she’s explored her options in the pre-writing stage. She’s definitely come to win.
Bonnie, this looked like a runaway, but Pantser has stopped mid-type again. She’s re-reading her entire work, right from the beginning. This is devastating. She’s looking over her shoulder and she can see that Plotter is closing in. There’s no room for error if Pantser wants to win this race. But she’s still reading. Another dead-end. This will close the gap and may prove to be the RITA turning point. Bonnie, can Plotter see how close she is to overtaking Pantser? Bonnie? Bonnie?
Did you just write your number on that eraser?
Maybe. You certainly don’t call anymore.
You’re never home. If you spent more time there than in the bars trying to pick – what? Oh. Ahem. Looks like Pantser has found her stride and is racing to the end full speed ahead. Judges are going to have verify, but we may be looking at our winner, folks. Plotter doesn’t seem ruffled, still moving along in a very structured way. Here it is…The race is still going, folks. Pantser has a disorganized, messy first draft and will need to spend time revising in order for our judges to claim the novel finished. Looks like Plotter knew that all along as she managed to make up some ground while the judges deliberated.
This is going to be close, Charlie. As Pantser revises and edits, Plotter continues on at a slow and steady pace. I see her strategy is working after all. She’s pulling up along side and you can see the smile blossoming. She knows she has this thing in the bag. Well played.
Don’t count Pantser out just yet, Bonnie. She’s done some quick reading and I’m amazed at the post-it note talent. Wow, she’s working hard obviously not willing to concede to Plotter. They’re neck and neck down the backstretch. This is going to be close. Both of them are writing like crazy, both re-reading to check for continuity. What started out as a run away has turned into a nailbiter.
The crowd is on their feet, Charlie. You can barely hear yourself think as they urge the writers on. Plotter is doing one last check of her files and laying down the final scene. Pantser has flipped back to the first chapter, now that she has chapter headings, and is making a small change there. Looks like…could be…there it is…
Bonnie? Bonnie? Can you get a word from our winners?
Pantser? How was it? What’s going through your mind right now?
Wow, that was intense. But I went with the flow and had the freedom to explore my characters and plot and I’m pretty proud of my game. I don’t like to be that rigid.
Plotter? Come on over. How about you, how are you feeling?
Tired, but excited. I stuck with my game plan of structure, structure, structure and I’m happy with the results.
Back to –
And I’d also like to say that I, too, allowed for some exploration. I had to deviate from my original outline at the 2/3rds mark due to a plot point I hadn’t thought of. I’m not that anal.
Have you ever used storyboards?
Ooh, I have a great storyboard template that would work really well with your writing style…
Well, there you have it, Charlie. Seems Plotter and Pantser have some after race tips to share with each other. Oh, and there’s eraser waiting for me. Back to you, Charlie.
That just rubs me the wrong way. Well folks, that’s it from me, Charlie Chapter. Happy writing.
Let’s Play a Game…
Janet S. Corcoran (2009)
Remember the game – you would roll the die and count out your number, hoping to land on the apparatus with rungs. It would lead you up the game board faster, get you closer to that win over your brother, who always seemed to win anyway. Then, your next roll, more counting, and uh, oh, a serpent. You’re going down, baby. You can only hope it’s not a long one, taking you all the way back to the beginning (or that your brother’s not watching and you can get off your serpent earlier, say mid-back instead of tail end). Well, let’s talk about getting published! It’s very much like that game of Serpents and Apparatus With Rungs.
Before I thought about being a published author, I was a reader (still am). I went to the library, browsed or perhaps used the card catalog, read the back cover, made a snap decision as to whether or not that story sounded good enough to take home, signed it out. Or, did the exact same thing at a bookstore with the exception that I was now paying for the book to come home with me. I knew someone wrote the book, but had no idea of the process between “writer puts pen to paper” and “Janet buys/signs out book”.
So, after finishing my novel (I’m talking way past the first draft, with many people reading it and offering advice, critiques, and encouragement), I decided to take the next step. WOW (I would offer an expletive here, but I’ll keep it clean)! After tons of research, I discovered that the path to publication is one of persistence and fortitude. The necessary steps fit nicely into a flowchart (and mine looks fabulous), but the flowchart and Blogger didn’t get along. As I was writing out the steps I’m taking in my quest for publication (and cursing Blogger), the premise of a board game came to mind. So, let’s play…
1. Research Agencies (at least a 100). Open up the board – 100 squares!
2. Write a stellar query letter (personalized for each agent). Roll the die!
3. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
4. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down that serpent – back to #2!
5. YES? Squee with Glee, call all your friends, pump fist in air, dream of your big advance. Up the apparatus with rungs – to the next step!
6. Prepare partial submission package (usually synopsis & 1st 3 chapters) Roll the die!
7. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
8. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down the bigger serpent – back to #2!
9. YES? Squee with Glee, call all your friends, pump fist in air, dream of your big advance. Up the apparatus with rungs – to the next step!
10. Prepare entire manuscript for submission (follow all manuscript formatting rules). Roll the die!
11. Submit and wait…wait…wait (check e-mails compulsively). Count and move!
12. NO? Wallow in rejection and misery. Down the biggest serpent – back to #2!
13. YES? The final Squee with Glee! A YES from a full manuscript submission means you are now an agented author. Whew! Up the final apparatus, taking you right to the winning square!
My limited experience sees me wallowing in rejection after partial submissions. No one’s asked for the full thing yet, but I am determined she will. And I’ve read enough to know that if you get past the manuscript submission and squee with glee, the process starts all over again (from the editing stage) as you and your agent begin submitting to publishing houses. WOW!
Janet S. Corcoran (2009)
Step away from the iron, it’s not that kind of branding.
It’s when an author writes in a specific subgenre, exclusively. Let’s think of some examples: Mary Balogh – historical romance (regency, sweet, amazing), Susan Elizabeth Phillips – contemporary romance (with attitude, love her), Suzanne Brockmann – romantic suspense (with hot Navy Seals, excellent). Well I could go on, but you get the idea. These talented authors write novel after novel in that subgenre, and the public has come to depend on them. I’ve come to depend on them (SEP’s newest novel is out and I’m dying to crack the spine).
So, I’ve written a medieval romance. Does that mean I should focus on writing medieval romances? If I want a following, such as the authors I’ve mentioned above, then yes. My name would be synonymous with historical romance. I will brand myself in the world of romance writing. (Projecting wonderful things coming my way, including “The Call”, a contract, and perhaps a three-book deal – you know!)
But, wait! I don’t know if I want to write medieval romance forever. I have another two medieval romance ideas – one the sequel to Lady Bells – but I also have a couple of works in progress that would fall under romantic comedy (I think I’m funny, others might not). I also have a WIP that I would classify as romantic suspense (drug smuggling, hot cop). And should I mention my idea for a romance set in Tudor England?
Houston, we have a problem!
Luckily, there are authors out there who have succeeded in more than one subgenre. Jayne Ann Krentz, her married name, writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She also writes historical romance under the pseudonym Amanda Quick. That is how I found this talented author; I was on an historical romance reading frenzy. Now, she’s not finished yet. She also writes as Jayne Castle (her birth name). Under this name she writes futuristic/paranormal romance. Wow, now that’s working the market. As a trivia bonus, she began her career writing for Harlequin under the name Stephanie James.
Another example is another favorite author, Elizabeth Lowell. She crosses genre lines writing science fiction under Ann Maxwell, romantic suspense under Elizabeth Lowell, and crime fiction with her husband under the name A.E. Maxwell. And, of course, the queen of romance fiction Nora Roberts also writes under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.
So, it can be done. But these authors were established in their own right before taking on a new subgenre. Everything I’ve read says to brand yourself and then when you get a following you can branch out. Well, fine and dandy – I’ve written a romance set in the Middle Ages. Now I could argue that I have not found representation for that manuscript, so I should go ahead and write what I want. But what if, as I’m finishing and polishing that romantic comedy, someone offers to publish Lady Bells? I abandon the WIP, pull out my other medieval ideas and get my butt in gear? The romantic comedy might sell as well, so I should really finish it. The (I’m sure it’s coming) three-book deal is hinged on writing medieval and with time spent on another genre, well I have my work cut out for me.
Have you seen the commercial for the lactose royal highness (shh, Dairy Queen – copyright police may be reading) and the poor mouth that can’t decide? Single? Double? Single? Double? What are you doing? I don’t know, what are you doing? OK, I like that commercial. And it’s exactly how I feel when I think of branding. Historical? Contemporary? Historical? Well, you get the picture.
I have no idea what to do. So, I keep writing. When an agent does call and says, “Hey, I’d love to represent you and your work. What else have you got?” I’ll tell her about all the stuff on the word processor. She will squee with delight, sign me on the spot, and my only worry will be to come up with a couple of pseudonyms. J.D. Robb’s out, right?
I Wish Taglines Were This Easy…
Janet S. Corcoran (2009)
I looked up at the store’s green awning then down at the slip of paper in my hand. This had to be the place, but the store seemed deserted and I couldn’t see through the blackened windows. Well, I hadn’t come all this way to admire the façade. I squared my shoulders and opened the door.
Black was the color of choice. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, and not a stick of furniture, but then I wasn’t shopping for a couch. “Hello?” The word hit the walls and echoed back to me. My confidence level plummeted.
“Yes? What do you want?”
A voice surrounded me in a blanket of velvet. I spun around, glanced up, but there was no one in the room. I swallowed. “I thought I could purchase a tagline here?”
“Taglines R Us, you’ve come to the right place. Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I’m a writer trying to find an agent and then publish my first novel.”
“A middle aged writer discovers joy in the written word, but finding others who feel the same takes a toll on her mental health.”
“Hey!” I didn’t know if I should be offended at the middle age comment or the fact this voice thought I was cracking under the pressure. Of course, both were true, but really. “I don’t need a tagline for myself. I need one for my manuscript.”
“Oh. I apologize. What genre?”
The apology didn’t sound sincere. I glanced at the door then decided to give it another chance. “Medieval romance.”
“White knight rescues damsel in distress –”
“Whoa! My hero is not a white knight.”
A heavy sigh settled over me. Surround sound at its best, with a voice of liquid silver – this should be going better than me standing in a dark room wondering if the first tagline artist in the phonebook had been a wise choice. “He’s a man who marries a stranger in order to keep his shameful past a secret.”
“A man’s marriage to a stranger may not guarantee his past remain a secret.”
“I could have come up with that.”
“Yet you didn’t.”
I clenched my fists. “Do you get a lot of repeat business?”
“Fine. Tell me about your heroine.”
“She likes to eavesdrop.”
“And the title of your masterpiece?”
I chose to ignore the sarcasm. “The Seduction of Lady Bells.”
“The Seduction of Lady Bells pits a man with a shameful past against a woman with an insatiable desire to know everything.”
That was better. I repeated the sentence in my head, liking the word ‘pits’, but I would never remember it so I dug in my purse for the tattered notebook I carried everywhere.
“So you’re going with my first attempt?”
I glanced up. “That was like your third, not counting the derogatory tagline about my life.”
I scribbled down the tagline and shoved the notebook back in my purse.
“Who has the most to lose?”
I hesitated. I had my tagline, but the question intrigued me. Perhaps there was a better one-sentence summary. “My heroine, Lady Bells.”
“Because she falls in love,”
“With the hero?”
“No, with the stable boy.”
“Funny. Why does she fall in love with him? Is this where the seduction comes into play?”
“Yes.” I jumped at the opportunity to talk about my manuscript; most of my friends and family refused to listen to me anymore. “As he decides to seduce her into the marriage bed, she’s a little timid, he discovers that his attention keeps her from pursuing the mystery of his past.”
“So he tricks her.”
“But his seduction backfires because he falls in love, too.”
“So how does she find out about his past?”
“A visitor arrives and she listens in on a private conversation. She learns –”
“Don’t tell me. You never want to reveal the ending in your tagline. You want to leave the reader wanting more so that they either request the material or they buy the book.”
“Oh.” Maybe the voice was a professional after all. “Do you need to know anything else?”
“Seduction overcomes curiosity until a secret is revealed and a heart is broken.”
I didn’t move. The sultry tone of the voice washed over me. I pictured Hugh and Mena in their bedchamber, arguing over the decisions each of them had made. Both of them holding fast to their beliefs – Hugh refusing to live his past over, Mena knowing that his past will always divide them. The point of no return! Goose bumps pebbled my skin. This was good.
The black wall at the back of the shop parted and a little motorized robot zipped toward me. He held a tray and when I bent down to inspect the contents I saw my tagline typed on a strip of paper. I took it. The robot beeped and I glanced back down. Also on the tray was my bill.
“You don’t come cheap, do you?”
“Bet you’re glad you didn’t go with that first attempt. The robot will swipe your credit card or issue you change. We don’t take cheques.”
After clearing up my account, I left. But the voice echoed behind me…
“Middle age writer pays for a tagline with no guarantee that it will help to sell her book leading her further into mental instability.”
The door slammed behind me. I looked at the slip of paper. Maybe this was not the best? Maybe I could do better? I glanced over my shoulder – maybe I was losing my mind.
Copyright: Janet S. Corcoran 2009-2010