Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The pants have it

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The kind people who stop my blog for my Weekend Writing Warriors posts often say that my excerpts feel real, authentic. I think I've figured out why, and it has to do with pantsing vs plotting.

My draft 1 was "pantsed" 100%. A tiny bit of scene occurred to me, sounded great, wanted to see what would happen, so I wrote it out. That's basically how the whole draft got written. Some scenes are based on the one written immediately prior, and some (most of the early ones, speaking of when they fall in the storyline) are only loosely connected to other scenes. I didn't even know what "plotting" meant back then.

So when I sat down to make a coherent STORY out of all that in draft 2 (by figuring out connections between all the scenes and plotting the story), I had serious work waiting for me. Recently, I struggled with a passage in which I kept deleting and rewriting dialog because I kept missing the point of the scene. I deleted and rewrote and deleted so much that I finally asked myself what the heck the real problem was.

The characters told me I needed to stop trying to put words in their mouths, and just let them do the talking! ;-)

I'd usually copy scenes from draft 1 into draft 2 and rewrite, delete, add, tweak until it all fit the emerging storyline. I realized I'd been saying "I like that dialog, it's succinct, it's emotional, it really fits the character, I'm keeping it" pretty often. By trying to change it to fit a more plotted draft 2, I was effectively trying to force a round peg into an oval hole. It almost fit, but if I was honest with myself, it was forcing.

What keeps attracting me in draft 1 is the raw emotion in the dialog. It needs some shining up before letting other people read it, but it's exactly that spontaneity that makes it feel so real. That came from pantsing.

Now I'm not implying that plotting out a story will ruin the feel and flavor. Not at all. I've sworn on everything holy I can think of that the next thing I write will have at least a rough outline before I sit down to do any actual scenes. For me, a 100% pansted thing is not a coherent story. Readers like coherent books, you see :-D

However, for dialog that immediately grips readers, I have to let my characters just talk. When it springs right out of their souls, readers will connect with it.

If you're having a hard time with dialog that isn't getting the reaction you want from readers, take the gags off your peeps. Let 'em say anything they want, no holds barred. You can clean it up later. I learned some great Spanish swearing that way!


  1. I so agree, Marcia. When I sat down to write ATNS, I just wrote. Four months, Oct 2005 to January 2006. I was the queen of naive. I had a story ignite in me and I wrote it. Friends (and my mom) read it. They loved it, they laughed, they cried. Then the real journey began. Three years ago, my daughter read it. She holds a degree in English. Aside from the massive amount of grammar and punctuation editing she said it needed, she loved it. Stayed up till 5:00 AM to finish because she had to know what happened. (There really is a point to all of this). Last year, after trying to read another story I'd written (80,000+ words) she asked me, "Who are you writing for, mom?" The discussion that follwed wound round to much of what you've said in this post. I'd lost my raw edge. I'd lost my ability to have the reader emote along with the characters. The -punctuation was better (not perfect) :-) and the syntax was good.Word choices, all good. The problem was, while trying to follow every writing rule I'd learned since 2006, id suppressed the spontaneous, the raw emotion, and replaced it with a workable story. But it wasn't one that made a few Beta readers cry. They didn't laugh. The story was "good". No one had stayed up all night to finish. No one had wanted to throw the book across the room when they were done, and no ones husband had awakened in the middle of the night to ask "What the hell are you crying about!" I call that story a failure.

    When characters talk, seemingly of their own volition, it is natural. It's real. And dialogue is allowed to break all kinds of rules. They aren't speaking from an English book.

    SO, I agree. Let it pour out naturally. :-)

    1. Awesome, Rees. That is a very inspiring story! Those emotional reactions are a result of the writing "magic" that some people put down. You can't really learn that sort of stuff.

      As I see it, the art of writing comes in when you try to fix the technical parts of a story while preserving the emotion.

      Not easy, but so worth it :D