Plotting vs Pantsing: Why stick to only one?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

There are countless blog posts arguing the pros and cons, hundreds of authors who’ve staunchly declared for a side.

Why must it be one or the other?

I freely admit: I pantsed the first draft of Above Ground. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but each week when I sat to write the next chapter, a part of me didn’t know what would happen.

Yes, that’s how I ended up with a (pointless) scene where a werepenguin eats a cheese puff.

That first draft was a badly structured nightmare of inconsistencies and pointless scenes. I had to write an outline from scratch and perform drastic surgery that took as long as writing the draft in the first place. While doing so I vowed: never again.

I vowed that I would be Team Plotter, all the way.

But now that I’m busy hammering out the outline of a second novel, I’ve come to miss the liberty of pantsing. The looseness of spirit. The “I’ll worry about this not making sense later”.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying outlining. It has saved me from writing (and deleting) pointless scenes. It has made me think about world building, character motivation, and theme – all of which I often neglect.

But writing the outline first is a subtle kind of torture. The closer the outline gets to where I want it to be, the harder it is to resist the temptation to just go for it and write. The only thing holding me back is the knowledge that I haven’t quite figured out the story yet.

But what’s the point in picking sides?

We are writers; we challenge ourselves. We take utterly scary things like zombies and turn them into short stories!

Plotting? Pantsing? I refuse to fit one box, to pick one side.

While I’m plotting Novel #2, I’m going to start pantsing Novel #3, and who knows — maybe I’ll write Novel #4 backwards whilst asleep, hanging upside down from a eucalyptus tree.

What about you?

GONE

It hit her, then.

When she was drunk she was happy in a way she never was when sober.

Even the smell of his embraces didn’t bother her anymore, and she would think: yes, I can make this marriage work.

But come morning the sound of his snores would drill into her skull like a woodpecker. Even his face would bother her; his slack jaw and the collection of shining spittle in the corner of his mouth instantly repulsive.

The pockmarks on his skin which had seemed so inconsequential at first were now gaping reminders of everything missing in their relationship. His receding hairline a reminder of her own age, of how little time she had to find another man and make things right.

She was lucky her husband was still handsome, her friends said, bemoaning the beer bellies and baldness and wrinkles. But they couldn’t see what she could.

The love was gone and it would never come back.

LONE WOLF

I make sure I don’t love them.

It’s hard to love prostitutes as it is; when you’re one in a long line of men paying for sex it hardly inspires devotion. But for the lonely soul, the temptation to fall in love is there. When you’ve lived as long as I have, it’s easy to see the beauty in people.

Take Antonia.

Petite, blonde. Skin so smooth you could roll a coin on it. She’s lounging on my hotel bed, legs crossed at the ankles, unlit cigarette dangling between her fingers.

I picked her not because she’s vain, stupid, or an intrinsic liar. (I’ve learnt that with enough exposure even these qualities can become loveable). I picked her because she chews loudly. After sex she always has chewing gum, and each loud, wet open-mouth chew is an offence to the senses.

It’s the small things that grate the most. Any multitude of sins can be forgiven, but the little bad habits stick.

Another loud chew. She blows a bubble and its pop shatters the silence of the hotel room. For a moment I hate her, and that’s safe.

“Another round?” she says, lazily. “Got an hour to kill.”

My body is tired but the wolf inside is eager. Three days to go until the next full moon.

She takes my silence as consent, spits out her chewing gum, and sits up next to me. Her hands run down my body but there are other things on her mind: her young daughter, the overdue bills, and her fear that she is getting too old and soon no one will book her anymore.

That last thought inspires a dangerous flash of sympathy. I push it – and her – away. For a moment instead of Antonia I see my wife, her skin rippling and transforming as the disease infects her.

“Not interested,” I say. It’s clear to both of us that my body disagrees.

I can sense Antonia’s dismay, her delicious vulnerabilities. We lock eyes and I realise a part of me has begun to care for her, open-mouthed chewing and all.

I get dressed. “You stay here. Have what you want from the bar.”

She lies back on the bed, shrugs. “See you next week.”

I’m already at the door, hand on the handle. I bow my head and want to tell her that she’ll never see me again, that I don’t hate her enough anymore, and that my love could turn her into a monster.

Instead I nod, and lie: “I’ll call you.”

I shut the door behind me before she can reply.

Writing In First Person

Inevitably, when I get a novel idea, it comes to me in first person.

The climatic moment of self-realisation (which for me generally comes first with a story) simply sounds better in first.

I lie in a daze, following the words, discovering the story… Yet when I sit to write, I write in third.

And if I start writing in first – or try changing a story into first – nine times out of ten, I change it to third.

Why?

Is it because of what I’ve read?
I haven’t come across many good books written in first. Most of the ones I’ve read have been fairly average, so perhaps I’ve subconsciously linked average writing with first person.

Is it because of genre?
A pitfall for writing in first is that it’s easy to get caught up in the protagonist and forget to pan out to the world at large. With a science fantasy like Above Ground, the world is bigger than any one character… and third person allows me to step back and describe the world without the very personal first person point of view distorting it.

Is it aesthetic?
The beauty of third person is the aching distance between reader and protagonist. You feel her pain yet can simultaneously see the bigger picture, which makes the moment all the more exquisite. For me the distance of third person allows for greater immersion and suspension of disbelief; I sink into the character because I want to, not because I’m forced to by the pronoun ‘I’.

Or is it something else?
Perhaps I am making excuses. The more I reread the above list the more doubts I have. The reasons which seemed so solid in my head appear now as flimsy as the screen from which they glow.

Thinking about it, I’ve read many averagely written third person novels – and don’t know why they stick out less in my mind. And a good writer could successfully use first person regardless of genre.

Perhaps it is simply experience. The majority of the books I love are written in third, and that is the sole reason for my unconscious bias.

What about you? Are you biased one way or another?

We Had Stars Once

What an excellent title for an anthology, don’t you agree?

I’m sure you’ve already heard of We Had Stars Once. Organised by some of the folks from io9.com, this anthology celebrates three years of Thursday Tales (a weekly writing meme).

Why am I telling you this?

Firstly, because the cover is so damn cool. Check it out:

* * *

perf5.000x8.000.indd Join a girl discovering her true, supernatural origins. Follow a famous babysitter into space. Journey through dystopia with a man who has lost everything, and experience the exhilaration of finally making it home.

Aliens, cocky knights, and superheroes do battle with inner darkness and things that go bump in the night. From the writers of Thursday Tales comes an imaginative anthology of darkness, adventure, betrayal and mystery. From sixteen minds come sixteen tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

A world of worlds awaits.

* * *

Secondly, because it includes my (silly) story “Rescue Missions”.

I have read every story in there and can guarantee you’ll like some (if not all) of them. My story acts as comic relief amidst excellent speculative fiction tales of action and adventure and danger.

What are you waiting for?

You can grab the hardback or the paperback or the ebook! Woo!

(Or if you run a book blog and are interested in review copies, give me a shout and I’ll see what we can do!

A Senseless Ending

Senseless ChallengeI admit it: I suck.

The past few weeks have flown by and it completely slipped my mind to do a final wrap up post for the Senseless Challenge. So first and foremost: I’m sorry.

Truth is I was overwhelmed by how many people took part. I’d assumed only three or four other people would join me – making the weekly round ups and the final voting for best story completely manageable.

Instead I was blown away by the number of people who took part and who took the challenge to places I had never imagined.

In total over 14 people took part, producing more than 57 stories.

Participants: thank you. You rock.

It would be impossible to pick one deserving story out of the 57. ALL of you deserve a prize for taking part. I would like to give you an e-copy of Above Ground or Hungry For You – drop me a note with your email and format preference and I’ll send it along.

The fact is that lately I’ve been remiss with my online presence, and the Senseless Challenge not only rekindled my love for the online community, but also reminded me what I’m missing out on.

For anyone who missed the challenge, here’s a long list of excellent short stories to check out.

SOUND

Amber’s Unseeable Eyes by Laura Besley
Eye Contact by Peggy McFarland
Vision by Christopher Munroe
Gold by N.M. Martinez
Fun Is Not Blind by Kelly Stapleton
Rita by Laura Amos
Eye Spy by Tim VanSant
Aura of Gold by Brinda Banerjee
Sight by JP West
Sights Unseen by Shelli Proffitt Howells
City of Ghosts by A.M. Harte

SOUND

Beyond The Thin Blue Line by Laura Besley
Deaf Ears by Peggy McFarland
Fireworks by The Lord by Deanna Schrayer
Noise by Chuck Allen
Noise by N.M. Martinez
Thub-thub, Thub-thub by Tim VanSant
Stephanie by Laura Amos
Antichrist, Interrupted by Kelly Stapleton
Silence, Sound by JP West
Silenced by Shelly Proffitt Howells
Bunty hears a snake by Brinda Banerjee
Sound By Christopher Munrow
War On Noise by A.M. Harte

SMELL

Private Nose by Peggy McFarland
Smell by Christopher Munroe
Sweet by N.M. Martinez
Mouse by Shelly Proffitt Howells
StorySkippers Anonymous by Laura Amos
Making Sense by Chuck Allen
Bottled Shame by Kelly Stapleton
Oh, Nose! by Tim VanSant
A Great Story by Laura Besley
Fumes of Love by Brinda Banerjee
The Hunter by A.M. Harte

TASTE

Hunger by Deanna Schrayer
Lollipops In The Snow by Laura Besley
Taste by Christopher Munroe
Life, on the Tip of my Tongue by Tim VanSant
Of bubble gums and other cravings by Brinda Banerjee
Best Served Cold by A.M. Harte
The Taste of Water by Lee-Ann Khoh
Leila by Laura Amos
With Syrup by Shelli Proffitt Howells
Taste Test by Peggy McFarland
Homecooked by N.M. Martinez

TOUCH

To Scorch in the Sun by Brinda Banerjee
King-sized Bed by Deanna Schrayer
Touch by Christopher Munroe
Red Lipstick by Laura Besley
Raine by Laura Amos
An Unexpected Storm by Shelli Proffitt Howells
Fragments by N.M. Martinez
To Touch, Perchance to Feel by Tim VanSant
New Sensation by Peggy McFarland
The Ghost of Uncle Bud by Lee-Ann Khoh
Heartbeats by A.M. Harte

HEARTBEATS

The hard bed beneath me. The warmth of my clothes. The soft heaviness of the blanket. The sharp pain stretching from my hairline to my jaw.

This is all I am aware of.

I sleep. The next time I wake, my fingers flutter over the bandages covering my eyes. I feel the material whisper against my skin but cannot hear it.

I tap out the seconds against the blanket. After one hundred and eighty I lose interest. Time doesn’t matter when you’re not living.

Hours – days? – later, he comes.

It’s the first time I recognise the hands touching me. His hands are gentle, warm, but most of all, loving. He helps me sit up with none of that impersonal, brisk professionalism the other hands have had.

I reach out.

He captures my hand with his fingers, rests it against his soft, freshly shaven cheek. His smile curves against my palm.

For me? I want to ask, then I want to laugh because it’s a waste, I can’t see, and I’ll never again be able to.

Water fills my eyes. Wetness trickles down my cheeks, into my nose. A drop curves into the corner of my mouth. It tastes of nothing.

His knuckles smear away the tears. His warm breaths tickle my skin. His lips are dry against mine.

Our lips lock together like puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit. The feel is right but without his taste I could be kissing a stranger.

He kisses my cheek, murmurs words against my skin that make my follicles vibrate.

The sound isn’t there but the meaning remains. I love you.

I take his hand and place it against my chest.

I’m still here, I want to say.

I can only let my heart do the speaking.

* * *

To celebrate National Short Story Month, I’m running the Senseless Challenge throughout May. Each Friday is dedicated to a different sense – the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that sense. The final week is dedicated to touch.

The Senseless Challenge: Taste Round Up

Senseless ChallengeThe celebrations for National Short Story Month continue with even more #flashsense stories this week.

Missed previous weeks? Check out Sight (May 3rd), Sound (May 10th), and Smell (May 17th).

The second to last Friday of the month, May 24th, was dedicated to taste.

Here’s a round up of week four’s stories.

* * *

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: TASTE

Hunger by Deanna Schrayer
I swiped above my lips with the back of my hand and tasted dirt.

Lollipops In The Snow by Laura Besley
Danny from down the road said they taste like lollipops.

Taste by Christopher Munroe
A letter to local Viet restaurants.

Life, on the Tip of my Tongue by Tim VanSant
Metallic. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Of bubble gums and other cravings by Brinda Banerjee
Within five seconds the flower was gone.

Best Served Cold by A.M. Harte
Beneath the decay, he tasted of guilt.

The Taste of Water by Lee-Ann Khoh
Water wasn’t supposed to taste like anything.

Leila by Laura Amos
You know you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

With Syrup by Shelli Proffitt Howells
The smell of bacon pulled Kaylie from a restless sleep.

Taste Test by Peggy McFarland
Not that she expected a free meal, but dating involved food.

Homecooked by N.M. Martinez
Salt mixed with her saliva.

* * *

Did I forget to include your story? Drop me a link in the comments.

This Friday 31st is dedicated to touch – it’s yoru LAST chance to join in and tweet your story with #flashsense!

It’s not too late to get involved – just tweet your story on Friday using #flashsense.

BEST SERVED COLD

Beneath the decay, he tasted of guilt.

He tasted of stolen cigarettes and late night wine, of chocolate and indulgence. I kissed his mouth again and tasted the love we used to have, gone bitter in death.

The hollow of his chest – where I’d once laid my head – was salty with sweat. I savoured the flavour, couldn’t quite bring myself to recognise that this time would be the last.

Then I kissed his neck and tasted her. The sharp floral tang of another woman’s perfume. The sticky cherry of her lip gloss. I licked his skin again and knew that this sickly, sugary flavour was the taste of infidelity.

I stepped away from the bed and let my eyes do the tasting. His eyes were closed, his naked limbs relaxed, the bed sheets artfully scrunched beneath him. A spatter of blood circled his body like the most delicate of sauces.

She was tied up on the other side of the bed, curled like a shrimp, her sweet young flesh begging to be tasted. I’d gagged her with lemons and left her to marinate for hours.

I picked up my knife, started towards her. When she flinched, my mouth flooded with saliva.

Time for dessert.

* * *

To celebrate National Short Story Month, I’m running the Senseless Challenge throughout May. Each Friday is dedicated to a different sense – the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that sense. May 24th is dedicated to taste.

The Senseless Challenge: Smell Round Up

Senseless ChallengeThe celebrations for National Short Story Month continue with even more #flashsense stories this week.

Missed previous weeks? Check out Sight (May 3rd) and Sound (May 10th).

The third Friday of the month, May 17th, was dedicated to smell.

Here’s a round up of week three’s stories.

* * *

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: SMELL

Private Nose by Peggy McFarland
It’s going to rain today, mark my words. I can smell it.

Smell by Christopher Munroe
A month after you quit smoking, you get your sense of smell back.

Sweet by N.M. Martinez
Blanca’s nose burned as if being licked by a little flame.

Mouse by Shelly Proffitt Howells
You are such a mouse, Harold.

StorySkippers Anonymous by Laura Amos
Bars didn’t smell like cigarettes anymore.

Making Sense by Chuck Allen
She loved the smell of being clean.

Bottled Shame by Kelly Stapleton
I smelled Missy before I saw her.

Oh, Nose! by Tim VanSant
There was something rotten in the state of Denmark.

A Great Story by Laura Besley
The only smell in the tiny dark room was her own.

Fumes of Love by Brinda Banerjee
It was dank, reminiscent of the garbage landfill nearby.

The Hunter by A.M. Harte
The air was sweet and cold, moonlight-sharp.

* * *

Did I forget to include your story? Drop me a link in the comments.

This Friday 24th is dedicated to taste – join in and tweet your story with #flashsense!

It’s not too late to get involved – just drop me a comment on the challenge post or tweet your story using #flashsense.