Between Plotting and Pantsing

I have written here in the past about writing as a pantser and my attempt at becoming a plotter, and what I have found is that what works best for me is something between the two. I know there is a lot of talk about plotting and pantsing and many writers try to fit into one mold or the other or struggle to find their fit, so I am going to share my writing process in hopes of helping other writers who might find it more comfortable somewhere in between.

When I began my current WIP, I wrote down my two main characters’ (protagonists) physical descriptions, personality traits and their back stories. I did the same thing for my antagonist. Then I found some great sheets, that are FREE from a great website for writers:  Writers Helping Writers in their “Tools for Writers” section, called “Reverse Backstory Tool” and the “Character Pyramid” which I found helpful and not overwhelming, and I filled one of each of those out for my two main protagonists and my antagonist. I also wrote down the main plot and conflicts that I knew I wanted to include in the story.

Since I have decided that clean historical romantic fiction is the genre I am passionate about writing, I also did a little bit of research in regard to  the setting: historical time period and the real life towns that would be mentioned in my story and that would be home to my main characters; and into the life of some real life people who did the job I wanted my main male character to do so that I could make him as realistic as possible, and so, of course I also had to research that particular job. This sounds like a lot of work and plotting, but I didn’t feel that way, and writing something historical requires historical accuracy. I enjoyed the research almost as much as I enjoy the writing.

After that, I began my writing. In the midst of  working on this novel, I participated in two writer retreats where we did a couple of cool exercises that gave me a bit more insight into my main male character. I have also attended one writers’ conference, where I spoke with two published authors and shared a portion of my writing and they gave me helpful feedback. I am also a part of two different critique groups where I frequently share a piece of this novel for feedback. All of this feed back helps me to improve the story, and think about what I might be missing, which led me to contact a museum for more information about the historical aspects of my story (you can read about this here.)

I have also had to pause to research a few more things I needed to know about horses and riding and caring for horses. So, as you can see, because I do most of my writing as a pantser, I end up having to occasionally pause to research something I didn’t think about or anticipate before I began writing. Also, just because knowing that I have mistakes or missing parts in what I’ve already written, I cannot continue writing without fixing, changing and/or adding as needed during my writing sessions, so that interrupts my writing as well, but I’d much rather take care of those things as soon as possible and not have to go back and do ALL of those edits after finishing the entire novel. Taking care of it in bits and pieces is much less overwhelming to me. That’s why I submit to critique groups.

Some say that I am creating extra work or that it takes a lot more time to write the way that I do with these interruptions, but I don’t see how it takes any more time than all of the plotting some people do, and then writing the entire novel, and then going back and having to edit the whole thing. I think if a plotter and someone like me actually wrote down our time for the entire process, it really wouldn’t be that much different, assuming we are writing the same genre.

I hope that this information will be helpful for at least one of you out there.  Let me know if you’ve found it helpful or would like more information on any of this by dropping a comment in the comment box below.

Happy writing!

A Great Research Resource

When you write historical fiction, there is a need to do some research:  research on the time period, the clothes people wore and the foods they ate during that time period, the cost of things during that time period, occupations of that time period, the way people spoke/words that were and weren’t used and more.  Also, if your story is set in what was a real place in that time period, you need to know what that place was like, what the weather was like, what the land and buildings looked like.

In addition to time and place, you may choose to have one of your characters working a job you are unfamiliar with or that is no longer an occupation in today’s world or that requires them to work with tools or animals you are unfamiliar with.  These things will then need to be researched also.

Research is time consuming, but it can be quite fun.  You will learn interesting things that you may find fascinating.  You may even find them leading you to research something else as another idea for something to include in your story may arise.

Being something between a plotter and a pantser, when I was in the beginning stages of my novel, I researched what I felt I needed to have accurate information about; mostly setting — place and time period.  I also researched names to be sure my character’s didn’t have names that couldn’t possibly have been used in the time period.  I had a good idea of what people wore but I still did some research to be sure, but I didn’t spend as much time on this as I did on the setting components.  I researched a couple of occupations, one a lot more than the others.

Okay, you might think, but where did you look for the information you needed?  Well, I did a lot of research online.  The internet is a wealth of information, as long as you are careful and check that the websites and/or blogs you get your information from are accurate and legitimate.  I never go to Wikipedia without checking other places to be sure the information lines up, and I rarely use Wikipedia.

One great source for historical research are the websites of museums.  In addition, you may want to call the museum and ask if they have any information they would be willing to send to you through snailmail.  I recently did this and was surprised at how easy it was.  I thought I may have to pay a fee, at least to cover postage and handling, but the lady I spoke with was willing to gather information and send two packets to me.  I was so excited!  I can’t wait for these packets to arrive.  I check my mailbox everyday, Monday through Saturday.  It is is currently about a week and a half and I’m still eagerly awaiting my packets.

Other great resources:  if your story’s time period isn’t too far in the past, older folk who lived during that time love to share memories, books (biographies, diaries and journals or logbooks written by someone who lived in your time period) are still a great resource, speaking with an historian who specializes in your story’s time period, and old newspapers or newspaper archives.  Of course, if your story’s setting — place, isn’t too far away and it’s feasible for you to go there, visiting the actual place and checking out the museums and historical tourist spots is a great resource that really gives you a visual and makes your story’s place come to life.

Do you write historical fiction?  What is your favorite research resource?