A plotter plans out a novel before he or she begins to write, while pantser writes by the seat of one’s pants and makes it up as he/she goes along.
Author Natasha Knight has called me a “plantser” –a cross between a plotter and a pantser and requested that I share how I do it.
Story ideas come to me as concepts or scenarios (as opposed to a character, or a plot, or a setting which also can inspire stories). For Unexpected Consequences the concept was to take a secret practice (spanking) and make it not so secret. For Breeder, it was the enslavement of women.
Once I get an idea, I daydream about it. More accurately, the story begins to insinuate itself into my thoughts.
Character, tone, and setting start to take shape. In the back of my mind I know there has to be conflict and goals that are opposed. My process goes something like this:
- A story scenario arrives out of the ether.
- I daydream.
- When I know how the story starts (can “see” the scenes of the first few chapters) and how it ends I start writing.
- Out of character, the plot begins to form.
As possible plot points come to me, I jot them down in a notebook. Depending on the length of the piece, I will “hard plot”* a sketchy outline from beginning to end. If it’s a short novella, I may not bother with this step. How sketchy are my outlines? Here are the word-for-word first two chapter outlines/plot points of Rod and Cane 5. In the brackets are my thoughts to you of why the info is important, the motivation, how the details move the story, but that information is not written on my outline. As you can see, I don’t write down everything that is in my head.
- They meet at a coffee shop. Attraction. [The H/h meet. Starting to develop character]
- Girls get together. [Bring in characters from previous Rod and Canes to show…] Heroine’s feelings for the guy. Time to move on [Letting the past go.]
- He tells her where he works. She tells him she used to work there. [This is not idle chit-chat. There are hard feelings between the heroine and her former employer. This is part of the story conflict]
- First date. [Where? Hell, I don’t know. But they need to spend time alone together]
- Sex? [Maybe, maybe not]
- He had cancer. Almost died. Received medical discharge from Navy. Felt need to reprioritize, meet his father. Mother had never told him who his father was. [Hero’s past & motivation. Begin to introduce the question, who is his father? Also plays to the conflict.]
[By the way, attorney Liz Davenport is the heroine of Rod and Cane 5. However, Otis is not the hero. And that’s all I’ll say about that….]
Sometimes I outline and never look at it again! Sometimes I follow it halfway through, then veer off. When I get an “inspired” idea—I run with it.
With the first few chapters my goal is to create the characters and define the setting. In the process of doing that, I create stuff, which through inspiration or conscious choice, I later use to further the story.
If I put the right two characters together the conflict occurs organically, and the story naturally evolves as the characters interact:
- A feminist and a Dom who spanks are set up on a blind date – Body Politics
- A spunky Terran with an alien who hates Terrans – Terran, Breeder 2
- A reporter planning to expose the Rod and Cane Society and a man bound by confidentiality not to disclose he’s a member of the Society – False Pretenses
- A woman bitter over being dumped by her husband for a younger woman is pursued by a younger man – Reckless in Moonlight.
In the first few chapters, I create secondary characters, settings, scenarios to illustrate tone and mood which I use later as plot points. I show society through the effects on the characters.
In Breeder, I wanted to show the bleakness, the degradation, the violence of Parseon society so I opened with Omra hiding in a dank cell. She is beaten and nearly raped by the man in charge (Sival). How do you think that translates to how women are treated on the planet? Not so good, huh?
I rely heavily on my daydreams. When I am in first draft mode, I brainstorm with myself about my story a lot–often during my 45-60 minute daily walk, in the shower, while driving, when I wake up to pee at 3 a.m. (TMI?) I get far more creative, interesting ideas that way rather than through hard plotting.
I try to circle back and use things I’ve created so that everything appears to be tied together. For instance, In Warrior, I wanted to show the devastation that war has had on the people, so I have Urazi stumble into a refugee camp and meet a hideous man named Icor. At the time I wrote that scene, I had no other plans for Icor other than what I just described. But I decided to use him alter as a threat.
I create things and don’t use them. In Warrior, I had envisioned that Qalin would place a double agent in Marlix’s inner circle. I wanted to keep readers guessing, so I created two possible suspects: Zoulin, a guard (new, “highly recommended” by a subcommander) and Nibor, a cook and household aide. I ended up not using the spy angle, but the two characters play small roles.
One reason Marlix appears to be a bad guy in Breeder is because originally I had intended him to be. When I wrote the dinner scene with Dak, Marlix and Tarbek, my intent was to show the threat to Dak’s authority and force Dak to take a public stand in support of Omra. I planned for Marlix to betray him. But when I realized that Marlix was such a bad guy, I decided it would be too obvious. While walking I had an epiphany that Tarkek was Dak’s twin. Who better to betray him than his own brother? I went back and changed some scenes—and hinted at Tarbek’s identity by giving him ice blue eyes like Dak.
When the High Council tries to depose Dak, I had to save him, so I used a reluctant Marlix to do it. However, that gave me an excuse to later turn bad guy Marlix into a good guy and the hero of Terran.
Sometimes my lack of plotting/forethought creates challenges. When I developed Tara, I did not intend for her to be more than a colorful secondary character to astound Omra and show the contrast between the bleakness of Parseon and the freedom of Terra. So I had fun with her and gave her pink hair and a full sleeve tattoo.
I’d designed Parseon uniforms to cut across the chest leaving the right breast bare to show how women are dominated. (That the clothing is referred to as uniforms and only comes in gray, brown and beige speaks to the militarism and drabness of the society).
But when Marlix kidnaps Tara and hides her, there came the challenge: how the hell do you hide a woman with pink hair and full sleeve tattoo that is revealed by a sleeveless dress?
As I create challenges for myself as the author—I create more interesting stories. When I have to get out of jam—so do my characters. If hard plotted my stories, I don’t think they would be as creative. I would play it safer. I wouldn’t create pink-haired tattooed Terrans, nipple insignia, breeder rings.
Had I hard-plotted the Breeder series, I probably would have used Dak and Omra as the H/h throughout all three books. But then I would not have created the relationship between Tara and Marlix—and they turned out to be such colorful characters. I love Marlix’s humor and Tara’s spunkiness. I don’t see Omra as a “warrior” like Anika. I pretty much tormented Anika during the first two books just to show how violent Parseon is and what the threat to the other characters could be—but the experiences honed her strength and motivation and enabled her to emerge as the heroine of Warrior.
I don’t always use the things I envision/create. When I first conceived Breeder, it was going to be a kinky ménage rather than a sweet love story set in a dark and dystopian world. I had envisioned that Dak would share his female slave with his beta—and the visiting Alphas. But as their characters developed, Dak and Omra fell in love (in “regard”!), and Dak didn’t want to share her. But by falling in love with her, he cheats on Corren, his beta. Cheating does not go over well with readers. So I made Corren a bad guy with ulterior motives.
In plotting Warrior, I decided that Qalin would plant a spy in Marlix’s household who would later turn Anika over to Qalin. I wanted to keep readers guessing so I created two possible characters I could use. One, Zoulin, was a guard new to Marlix’s service. The other was Nibor, a beta cook Marlix hired after Urazi was injured in Terran. I didn’t know exactly what would happen or when, but I had those two characters on standby.
Pantsing through Warrior, I got about 2/3 done with the first draft, and I realized I’d done nothing with the spy angle! Since the story was trucking along quite nicely without it, I decided not to use it at all. Nibor and Zoulin do play small roles in the story, however.
I would define plot as the sequence of events that moves the story. Hard-plotting* is when I plant my butt in the chair at my desk with a blank notebook or sticky notes and define what those events are. Soft plotting is when I’m walking and daydreaming about all sorts of things and bits and pieces of story drift through my head. Hard-plotting feels forced, stilted. Soft-plotting feels more organic.
Have you noticed how often I’ve used the word “show”? I think that’s significant. In showing (rather than telling) setting and character, the plot develops.
I like to have some idea of what is going to happen when I start to write each day, but sometimes during the middle of the books, I don’t. That makes for sloooow writing.
I think of writing as a road trip. I start in Los Angeles and know I want to end up in New York. I have a few a few cities and attractions along the way that I want to visit, but I don’t have a route mapped out. However, I know NY is east of LA so I head east.
And that’s how I do it. Questions?