That’s the question posed by Sisters in Crime member Sherry Harris in a recent post on Wicked Cozy Authors, the joint blog of six authors who write wicked awesome cozy mysteries set in New England. As a pantser (someone who writes without an outline, outside of a rough idea of where the story might be going), I’ve always envied plotters (someone who actually knows where the story is going before they begin to write it).
To put it in real-world terms, the pantser is the equivalent of someone who gets in the car and drives, looking for signs along the way to get to their ultimate destination. It can be a lot of fun, because you’re open to discovering all sorts of unexpected people and places along the way. But you can also get stuck in a town you don’t want to visit (sometimes called Writer’s Block) or get completely off track with nothing much to show for the experience.
The plotter, on the other hand, is armed with a GPS (and probably a paper road map as a backup). Maybe a little less adventurous than the pantser, but far more likely to reach their destination without incident—though I expect that even the most diligent plotters make the occasional U-turn as their story unfolds.
But the question was: Can a pantser become a plotter? Sherry Harris, who wrote three books without plotting first—two in the drawer and one, Tagged for Death, with the publisher—needed to do just that. Why? The best reason of all. Her new publishing contract required a synopsis to be turned in thirty days after she submitted Tagged.
Sherry knew how Book Two would start, but after that she had a blank page. She worked in fits and starts, but soon came to the realization that she was writing the book and not the synopsis. Her solution: write her fellow Wicked Cozy Authors and ask them: “How do you turn a panster into a plotter? I tried but I’m afraid it will be easier to write the whole damn book in the next few weeks instead of doing a synopsis.”
Here’s the advice Barbara Ross gave Sherry:
- Pretend you are in a bar with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile.
- Start like this, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to my friend Sarah. Yes, she’s the one who was involved in the yard sale murder. But this time, something even more crazy happened. She…” then start the story. Go as far as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to say, as you would in the bar, “Oh, and I forgot to tell you this part…”
- When it gets boring, say, “That wasn’t even the craziest part. After that she…” and go as far over the top as you can. That’s the climax.
- Write that down.
- Go back, straighten it out.
- Go back and put her arc in, and some personal stuff.
- It’ll be a mess, but it’ll be a rough draft.
Barbara’s advice worked for Sherry Harris, and to be honest, I think it could work for me. Because my friends will tell you that I love to tell a story, complete with twists, turns (and the occasional embellishment, when required).
All I have to do is write the story down, Barbara Ross-style. And I’ll do that, just as soon as I finish the book I’m currently working on…after all, I can’t stop mid-pants.
Or can I?
To read Sherry Harris’ excellent blog, click here.