Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pantsing vs. Plotting

“Are you a Plotter or a Pantzer?”

The most political yet honest answer I have to that question is, “I have learned the value of Plotting.” It is indeed the most efficient way to write a story, and it gives the story its best chance of being written – for even if you are sick to death of the thing, you can still doggedly follow a written plot to the end. And it will be complete. If you are Pantsing, on the other hand, you must engaged and enthusiastic about the story, and if it takes a wrong turn or bogs down, it is so much easier to drop the book into a nearby drawer and take up officially with the next one – which, to tell the truth, you have been cheating on the first book with. Plotting is essential if you want to write professionally, for time wasted is money lost and plotting keeps you from wasting time with dead ends, plot collapses, and dull days when writing is hard. 

But Pantsing is fun. 

Pantsing is putting your characters into an interesting situation and asking, “What if?” And as you write that, you think another “What if?” and “What next?” In this way you keep the main characters moving from situation to situation, from complication to complication, until finally you allow them to reach the resolution. As you write you draw on your character’s personalities, experiences, and situation to create complications. You send them off to new places that you heard about yesterday, and you have no idea where they will end up tomorrow. In Pantsing, a great amount of time is spent mulling over the story and character to figure out where it will go next.

Pantsing is also a very social way to write. Most Pantsers like to talk about their books as media fans talk about an ongoing series, using their friends both as soundboards and as inspiration. Plotters, I’ve found, don’t have as much time for that idle chit-chat. They already know where the book is going and what will happen, and they don’t need to bounce their ideas off of each other. Instead, they will talk about all the other interesting things in their lives – for one advantage of Plotting is that it is much easier to put down the book at the end of a writing session and think about other things.

The result from Plotters and Pantsers is often different. Plotted books move smoothly from start to finish, with all the parts working together from the start and few digressions. I can often see how a book will end when it is Plotted, just from the general shape of the plot, the emphasis that the author gives each character, and the progression of the events. I still read such books for the drama and action, but the plot is like a road that goes to its destination. Pantsed novels, on the other hand, have unforseen twists and turns, non-obvious connections, and endings that are not neat but not unsatisfactory.  They are more akin to a trek through the backroads – and for the adventurous, a lot more fun. 

As you may have guessed, I am basically a Panster. My current WIP, Maroon Sunia, Barbarian Princess of the North, is being written Pantsed. I took my hardworking tavern girl, gave her some magic armor, and set her on an Adventure with only the vaguest idea of what she would achieve and what she would find along the way. I throw adventures at her and her companions, I lean on tropes and turn them on their heads. At this point, halfway through, I know the final scene and the major points I will reach on the way there. Every week there are new adventures to write about, new ideas, and questions to answer. Writing is slow – about a chapter a week, but it has been steady.

On the other hand, I have also written Plotted novels. There is no way to write a first draft in thirty days unless I have a plot to draw on, to tell me each day what I will do and where I will go with the story. Furhter, Plotting is a good way to rescue a story that started off Pantsed, stalled out, and now sits in the dust with its wheels spinning. So, I have learned the value of Plotting.

Plotting is for productivity and Pantzing is for fun. My best work, however, comes from a combination of the two approaches. If I minimally plot out a story by deciding what the ending and the major plot points will be, and I write toward those points, I can Pants the stuff in between and not get lost. I can both have fun and be productive. That’s what works best for me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Marcon Con Report -- Saturday Only

We drove through pouring rain to reach Marcon, but the worst was the fog. Halfway between the cities was a thick fog bank. On one side of it, I saw a car that had apparently slid into the retaining wall on the side, hard enough to severely damage the car but not hard enough to damage the driver. On the other side of the fog a saw a car turned sideways, and another in the field below.

Once we arrived in Columbus, we found the garage to be full. I drove around a bit, and finally found my way to the Chestnut Street garage. We hiked to the convention center through the walkways, a fair distance but out of the rain. At the con we found that registration we found the room right before everyone else.
Thus we were only mildly late to our first event, a fan-based Dr. Who panel. Both panelists and audience members contributed with their favorite memories of the show.

Our next event was watching the The Confused Greenies perform a new, unrehearsed, mostly improve play: Dottore Who and the Convenient Plot Device. Dottore Who lands on a planet where everyone lives his life as a streetplay, and everyone’s life ends happily due to the Convenient Plot Device. But horrors! The device has been stolen! By who? Why? And what part with Skarino the Dalek play?

My Little Demon

After that we ate lunch, palled around, and visited the art show and the Dealer’s room. The art show was only half full, and while the dealer's room was full, I think that there were fewer dealers and more display space per dealer. Further, the con did not restrict entrance into the dealer's room to attendees only, so that they could get business from the attendees of other events.

Next we went to the Plot Doctor’s panel. Eric Flint was on the panel, as well as Charles Gannon, Emilie Bush, and G. Wedlund.  We were asked what plot problems we had for them to fix, and no one volunteered one. So the panelists were left to talk about plotting, and various tools that they used to help them plot. Excell, Note cards, and Dragon Speech recognition were all discussed, including the trick of using a voice recorder on a Smartphone and Dragon to turn the comments into written notes. All attempts to derail the panel were rebuffed...

After that we got dinner, and found far more friends to talk to in the food court than we had in the con suite. And then we went home.

Thoughts on the con: It was very quiet for a con, especially a Marcon. A lot of my con friends were not there, and the energy was way, way down. There were a lot of people in the building, but most were attending other events: a volleyball tournament and a dance competition. It got a bit hard to tell the cosplayers from the dance competition girls, but the dance girls came in multiples and had sexier outfits. Other people have reported having a good time, however. I think much more was going on in the gaming rooms and at night. But I missed the science track programming, and I would have like to see more programming on popular TV shows and movies. Especially with the success of the Marvel movies, a few panels on comic book topics would have been very welcome.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Elizabeth's Graduation

Last Sunday Elizabeth graduated from the University of Dayton. There was no commencement speakers, no valedictorian speeches, no grandstanding. But plenty of students, who were all called up name by name and honored before the crowd. And it was quite a crowd.

In fact , we spent most of the time trying to figure out if we could see her. I realized too late that I should have brought my binoculars. However, when she received her diploma holder and had her hand shook in congratulations by the Provost, her image was splayed across the large screens in the corner.

The poor thing was a bit nervous when we left, so I grabbed a plush creature for her to hug. It turned out to be a fortuitous grab -- in the mass of people trying to leave the stadium afterwards, but not trying so hard as to not stop in large clusters and have long conversations, it was east to lose each other. But the tallest member of our party was the only person carrying a long, green, plush tentacle...

Afterwards there was dinner and cake:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring is Sprung

It's an environmental menace, the cause of berries being shat over my car all fall, and I'm allergic to it, but I have to admit that the Bradford Pear is one gorgeous tree in spring. But it does put out a lot of pollen. My car is not normally tinged yellow.

That all pollen, and from just one night. Aaaa-choo!

I also found that the clump of what I thought were spring onions are really miniature daffodils. I was hoping to use this photo for a book cover, but it isn't working out so well. The mother of pearl on the shell is reflecting too much sunlight.

This photo is better, but still, not quite. I need to replace the shell with something else.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Showers

April Showers....

Bring out flowers!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Incredibly Short Flash Fiction Story

by Helen E Davis

They accepted my story. Oh dear...

What should I send?

Living backwards can be a bitch.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Foothills of Disordered Thinking

Warmer temperatures and, more importantly, rain have worked together to reduce the Mountains of Madness to a pittance of their former glory. Their retreat has left behind things that were trapped in the snow, trash and silt and -- a pvc pipe? I do not know where it came from, but the upper end looks torn, as if ripped off by a careless snowplow. It's also speckled with the grime of the snowheap, so I imagine, yes, it was transported here with the snow.

Will we still have something on April 1st? That does depend on how much rain we get over the next week -- but it's very, very likely. That's still a significant amount of frozen H2O.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Give a Child a Book

Over the weekend I learned about a local charity with a specific aim: to give books to children. Many children grow up without having a single book of their own.

I grew up in a house that was filled with books, and I was free to read any that I could. I read a lot of classic SF from the family collection, and a lot of non-fiction. I did not, however, have a collection of children's books. There were a few, yes, but most of the easy reader books that I read came from school and went back to school.

And yet, I did have a book of my own, given to me by a college student. I couldn't have been more than five or six at the time. They gave me the book, and I like it very much. It had interesting pictures. As I grew older and could understand the words, I found it very interesting to read.

I did not know at the time that they had picked up the book especially for me. I thought, like so many things in my life, that it was another hand-me-down, and may not have seemed as excited by this gift as I really was. Or perhaps because I opened it and fell into it, they knew I did indeed like it.

So I would like to say thank you for this book, which turned out to have a life-long impression on me. And I would like to encourage other people to give books to children, books with interesting pictures and fun facts, such as the life cycle of a parasitic worm. Thank you very much.

And see? I still have that book!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Shrinking Mountains of Madness

February 21st, 2014

February 28th, 2014

March 10th, 2014

As you can see, the endless winter has ended, and the Mountains of Madness are shrinking.  How much longer before Regional Warming destroys then forever?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Today it was warm. Warm! Up to fifty degrees warm, leave the car in the coat warm! Grass could be seen by the road, and we drove through water puddles instead of snow slush!

And here I found the snow on a tin roof sliding off like so much warm icing on a cake.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I'm Having Trouble With My Mailbox

I can't get to my mailbox. We've had continuous snow cover for over a month now, two major snowfalls, and several minor ones. Where the snow is flat on the ground it does melt down into the ground, slowly, but on the sides of the driveway the piles turn to ice. And we must have piles on the side of the driveway, because every time the snow plow comes past it scrapes a wall of slush over the mouth of the driveway. Sure, we could just shovel it back into the street, but the next time the plow comes past we are blocked in again.

Meanwhile, our street is growing narrower with every snow. The mailboxes stand on the edge of the curb, which is now about two feet from the clean edge of the snow. It's worse on the other side of the street. More than a yard. Two cars must pass very carefully now, and there is now passing the school buses.

In the parking lots, the snow is piling up even higher. We will have snowmounds for a long time. I think I should start a contest as to how long before this one, which I have nicknamed the Mountain of Madness, will remain.  Place your guesses in my newsgroup and the winner will get a free ebook/pdf of any of my novels that he or she chooses.
The Mountain of Madness

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Crystals

I went out to clear off the car the other day. There had been enough moisture in the air that snow was threatened, but it had been too cold -- below zero -- to snow. Instead of frost or snow I found my car was covered with these giant snow crystals. They looked like delicate butterflies waiting to take off, growing as they were away from the car like wings. I could not take the time to photograph them, but when I got back from my errand I found that a few were still sticking to the leeward side of the other car.

Here's a close-up of the crystals: