Are you a pantser or a plotter/planner?
If you’re a novelist and you’ve done even a little bit of reading about the craft of fiction, then you’ve likely come across the terms “pantser” and “plotter,” which is also called “planner.”
Simply put, if someone asks which kind of fiction writer you are, she or he wants to know if you:
- fly by the seat of your pants when penning a novel and just let the story come to you day by day, or …
- plot/plan out your entire tale ahead of time and then follow that road map step by step from the first word of the novel all the way until you type THE END.
Depending on the crowd you find yourself in at the time, you may soon be caught in the verbally violent crossfire between those entrenched in these two camps of thought.
A question I often get from potential new clients is, “Can’t you just do one review of my manuscript so it can get done faster?” So, with this post, I thought I’d touch on why it’s rarely ever a good idea to rush the editing process for time’s sake.
With the digital age, the pace of our culture has definitely increased—seemingly light years in only the past decade or so. Take a look around you on any given day and you’ll see that most of us feel an almost constant need for speed and activity. In just the past week or so while sitting at a stop light, I’ve twice seen cars just sit there when the light turned green because the drivers were so focused on their phones.
This post, though, is not about debating the right or wrong of how much we’ve allowed the pace of our own lives to increase. Rather, it’s specifically about resisting this pull when it comes to something you hold dear to your heart: the book manuscript you’ve completed.
How to Solve the Appositive Problem
In the first part of this post, we looked at some basics of grammar, including the use of the appositive and how lengthy appositives can interrupt the reader’s flow. Near the end of Part 1, we looked at three examples of this:
Jason, the team leader ever since he’d landed the multimillion-dollar contract and higher-ups subsequently took note, demanded that the next meeting would be at 9:30 two days from now.
The broad, a vivacious brunette with pale blue eyes that seemed to look through anyone who dared stare too long in her direction, sauntered her way into the hotel lobby as though she owned the joint.
Rex, a German shepherd who had seen his share of combat operations in the Middle East during the battalion’s last deployment, didn’t come home the dog he’d been when they’d left all those months ago.
Once more, there’s not really anything wrong with any of these sentences in the most technical sense of grammatically sound writing. But it almost feels as though we’re reading a book in between each sentence’s subject and predicate, doesn’t it?
Avoid Long Phrases Separating Subject from Predicate
Subject … Predicate … Appositive …
For those of you who are already cringing at the thought of an entire article focused on Grammar 101, take a deep breath and relax. This isn’t about grammar so much as good writing that allows readers to more easily engage, and thus enjoy, what you’ve crafted as an author of fiction or nonfiction.
With that out of the way, let’s glance at the basics we need to keep in mind. The subject of a sentence tells us who or what the sentence is about. The predicate tells us something about the subject—what the subject is or does.
Easy enough so far, right? You put a subject (noun) and predicate (verb) together, and you have yourself a sentence.
Make Sure Your Characters Don’t Sound Too Formal
A common area of concern I hear from novelists relates to the dialogue in their stories. Mostly, these authors want to make sure that when their characters talk, it sounds smooth and natural. Thus, they often spend a great deal of time crafting carefully written dialogue—and many times actually weaken the novel in the process.
What do I mean by this? Take a look at the following passage:
“Where are you going today, Jimmy?” Polly asked.
“Oh, I am going to go see the new elephants at the zoo with my daughter,” Jimmy said.
“That sounds like it will be a lot of fun, so I hope that you will have a nice time with her.”
“Yes, I think it will be a really great outing with her, thanks.”
Learn the Land of Fiction by Reading Every Day
I’ll start this post with one of my favorite quotes on the craft of fiction:
“If you don’t have the time to read,
you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”
–Stephen King, On Writing
This quote came in King’s section on his two great commandments for every writer: read a lot and write a lot. The writing part makes sense, of course: regular writing will improve your skills as a storyteller. However, too many novelists seem to think that the second of King’s commandments is more of a suggestion, and they rarely spend any serious amount of time reading novel-length fiction.
The big problem with this? These novelists’ stories usually fall prey to some of the most common issues we editors find in manuscripts. For example: Continue reading
Congratulations! So What Are Your Next Steps?
If you’ve finished writing a novel, then you know the great feeling that comes with typing THE END, making sure the file is saved (and hopefully backed up at least a couple other places), and pushing back from your desk with a smile.
You did the work and you finished it, so I hope you took a moment to celebrate with those closest to you. But then what? What should you do next with your story?
Whether you hope to publish traditionally or to self-publish (or somewhere in between), here are some ideas to keep in mind once you’ve completed a novel:
Don’t Let Your Readers Lose Their Way in Your Story
In the past few months of reviewing and editing novel manuscripts, I wrote “You’ve got to set the setting” so many times that I actually started to feel like Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
“No, no, no! Listen, all of you! You’ve got to take direction, you’ve got to have discipline, you’ve got to have respect for your director!”
So, after flagging this issue in several authors’ manuscripts in recent times, I figured I should take a look at yet another common pitfall I come across in my daily work as a fiction editor: neglecting to set the setting.
In its most basic sense, the setting of a story scene is the environment the characters inhabit. The setting for a particular scene can include the more obvious markers: time of day, date, season, geographical location, etc. But it can also include items often forgotten but equally or even more important: which characters are on stage right now, the emotional atmosphere of the scene, key pieces of clothing the characters are wearing, the direction the wind is blowing, the constellations visible in the night sky, and the list could go on and on depending on the specific story.
Stay Organized to Stay Focused as an Author
Most likely, you’ve heard the famous line “Mind the gap!” in relation to the warning given to railway passengers. It’s a warning for people to watch that short distance between the railcar and the platform. It’s such a small thing, but potentially disastrous if someone isn’t minding the gap. In the same way, many novelists fail to “mind the gap” when it comes to the seemingly small thing of staying organized.
I understand we all have different personalities, and one author may not lean toward being organized as much as the next. Yet, doing even a few simple things can help you stay more focused and avoid wasting time and creative energy.
So here are a few organization basics that can help you be a more productive author:
Making the Most of Your Time between Writing Novels
You’ve just typed “The End” on the last page of your novel—maybe your very first finished manuscript. Way to go! Treat yourself to a piece (or two) of your favorite cake or pie (or both) and maybe some ice cream on the side … or perhaps a night out for dinner and a movie with your special someone. It’s worth celebrating, because it takes some grit, tenacity, and perseverance to finish a writing a story—and writing isn’t quite the glamorous job some people think it is. It can surely be enjoyable, exciting, and invigorating, but it’s still work. Thus, kudos to you for unleashing the muse in your heart!
So, after finishing your novel and celebrating that evening, the next morning arrives—and you can’t even imagine sitting down at your computer to write the first sentence of a new novel-length story (if you’re a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants author) or to start a chapter outline and/or character charts for your next heavyweight (if you like having all your ducks in a row before writing a word). What to do, what to do?