Writer – do you plan or fly by the seat of your pants?

For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.

Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.

I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?

-pink-pad-paper-To-Do-list
Do you plan before you write?

If you are a planner:

You like to have an outline.

You might like to have an idea of where the story might end

You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter

You might have a special notebook where you plan things out

You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps

You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it

 

Pros of being a planner:

Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan

You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there

You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track

It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way

 

girl-leaping-off-jetty-into-lake
Do you dive in or hang back?

Pantser

Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants

 

It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going

Some people like to just see where the muse takes them

If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out

You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go

 

Cons of being a Pantser

It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write

It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily

Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it

You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel

 

Which are you?

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.

I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.

The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.

The best of both worlds

Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.

There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.

 

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My transformation through 30 days’ blogging

30 days ago, I was not quite at the beginning of my 30 day blogging challenge. You see, it has taken my longer than 30 days to reach 30 posts. I was at Day 7, thirty days ago, but it has still been a transformation.

notepad-lavender-candle-table

I love writing, but producing content for my own blog is a struggle. Sometimes I have lots of topics and can write easily, but at other times, ideas come more slowly. Signing up for 30 days of consistent blogging is a test of faith, but I managed it with my trusty editorial calendar by my side!

I have really enjoyed creating the round-up posts and the weird titles they create. Both round-ups consisted of a wide variety of subjects which probably best reflect my brain and the way it flits around! I found that people still commented on the round-ups, even though they had had the opportunity to see the post first time round.

The blog post that got the most attention was Blogs Interrupted, which was the week the world changed. The schools closed, most people were told to stay at home and stuff got real! None of us have ever known a time when the world as we know it changed so dramatically, and I got behind on my blogs for a few days as we learned to deal with our new reality.

Blog with a group

I wanted to join the blogging challenge in March, because I could see that lots of people were signing up for it and I wanted to be part of a group. It’s no fun blogging in isolation, you need people to take part. So many of the people I was blogging alongside, inspired me. People like Vaishakhi, who created Beads of Hope and Regina Byrne Coaching as well as Melina Abbott and Dale Darley. The people you meet while taking the challenge are wonderful and you get to read so many different types of blogs.

You learn so much on this challenge. Some of it I knew and had forgotten, other pieces of knowledge were brand new. Each email arrives jam-packed with information, things to do and actions to take. I learned how to use Canva (and pick the free images), I installed Yoast (and I still have arguments with it on SEO vs my style) and relearned the art of the round-up post (bit difficult to do when you post so infrequently but easy when you have 30 days’ worth of blogs).

Do Yoast & I have a future?

So, what of my future plans? Obviously I plan to blog more and want to work on a content series. I hope to continue with a mix of topics, completely confusing Google and I look forward to reading even more diverse blog posts on the 30 day blogging challenge group. I also intend to take the challenge again some time in the future, but possibly not yet! Yoast and I will also try not to break up, but just be like that annoying warring couple that everyone knows and tries to ignore.

Should you take the 30 day blogging challenge? Absolutely! It will hurt as you stretch your writing muscles, but it will feel so good after! Go on! You know you want to!

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Blogs Interrupted

UK March 2020

Day 14 30 Day Blogging Challenge

Things have gone quiet round here. I’m still hoping to publish 30 blogs, but not in 30 days. The world seems to have gone mad: university students are being sent home, IT people are being told to work from home, schools are shutting and everyone is being told to stay home. I can’t think of anything to compare it to in my lifetime and I don’t think I will again.

The good news is that we have the internet to keep us sane. One of the consequences of the direction of non-essential gatherings is that churches are unable to meet. I was about to do an all-age service on Sunday. You know when I chickened out of doing a vlog post? Looks like I will be doing one after all – for my church!

So how do you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs?

Find the positive.

Thankfully, my children are old enough not to need supervision, although my son might if he is to do the work that the school sets. My daughter, the university student is coming home at the weekend and may not pay the third instalment of her accommodation. But what if your child is of the age where they are meant to be doing GCSEs? Or your children are too young to be able to be left?  Hopefully solutions can be found. Everyone’s situation is different and we will all have to find our own solutions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people – everyone has got a similar problem.

Allow yourself to be overwhelmed

I know, it’s hard, but sometimes you just have to feel the emotions in order to get past them. Then you can pick yourself up and find a way through.

Social distancing, not social isolation

These two things are very different. We need social distancing – to stay 1-2m apart to prevent the coronavirus spreading. In China, there were lots of clusters where family members from the same household all caught it. Finding ways to be apart while being together is going to be a crucial part of this time. No one wants to be socially isolated. Those online communities are going to matter more than ever.

Money matters

If this time is going to leave you financially worse off, then reach out to the people who can help sooner rather than later. Contact your bank, talk to the people you owe money too and make sure you take full advantage of any help the Government is offering, even if it is a loan. Businesses that were profitable before this virus will be profitable again after it. Take all the help you can get and make sure that you have money coming in.

Mental health matters

Do look after yourself and your mental health. Stay healthy, get some exercise, eat your 5-a-day fresh fruit and vegetables. Find some hobbies to do that can help you – knitting and crochet, painting or even journalling. There are lots of companies about to offer deliveries online – take advantage.

How do you plan to sit out the current situation in the UK or where you are? Keep in touch via the comments below.

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Secrets of Stronger Fiction 1: Characters who run against normal society – Anne with an E

I am not only a writer, I am a reader. I love a good piece of historical fiction, where the details take you back in history, the sights and the smells and the experiences of people long ago fill the story with the results of a writer’s long hours of research.

Some of my favourite characters are historical characters from the novels that I first encountered as a teenager. Many of these do not need such research, as they were written in their time. I love reading about characters that stand out from the crowd for their time – I always feel as though I would have loved to know them.

Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

The series of stories about Anne see her grow up from an orphan of about 11 into a young woman, then a mother and beyond. Anne is not a normal little girl, at least to the good mothers of Avonlea, who fear what she is teaching her daughters. Anne’s unconventional upbringing has meant that she knows a lot more about life than some of her sheltered friends, but her heart is kind and her creativity brings her the admiration of her friends. The book was first published in 1908 and is set on Prince Edward Island. Many of the descriptions in the book are based on real places on Prince Edward Island and local people there have set up tours and a museum based on the book.

Anne is a typical 11 year old who gets into trouble, but she is always supported and loved by Matthew Cuthbert, the farmer who adopted her. His sister Marilla is quicker to judge, but she always supports Anne in the end. Some of Anne’s difficulties involve dying her hair green instead of raven black and accidentally getting her best friend drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial but turned out to be currant wine.

The contrast between Anne, who has no idea who her parents were: they are just names on a birth certificate, and her classmates on Prince Edward Island is large. Anne’s best friend Diana, is expected to attend finishing school and marry well. This is an old-fashioned ideal for the time, but Diana’s parents are very conscious of their social position. She is not allowed to continue school, even though she has the brains to do so.

Anne has no thought of her looks apart from the things she despises about them. She hates having red hair and breaks her slate over her classmate, Gilbert’s head when he calls them, ‘carrots’! She also dislikes her thin frame and pale skin and freckles. She only cares about her brains and works hard to stay at the top of the class with Gilbert. The two of them have quite a rivalry when it comes to school work.

Anne of Green Gables and the sequels that have followed, have endured as a classic for a very long time. The story of the orphan boy who turned out to be a girl is full of heart, emotion and character you care about. Anne is easily identifiable with, and so are many of her classmates. The stories stand as a testament to the strength of the cast of characters as well as its leading lady.

Writers’ Notes

What can writers learn from Anne of Green Gables?

LM Montgomery wrote the story from a newspaper headline that caught her attention

Writing an unconventional character can bring your story to life

Writing contrasting characters can help bring the story along.

Bringing characters into the story that oppose your main character is a great way to introduce conflict to the plot

You never know where your idea might come from next!

Keep an eye out for interesting headlines in your local papers – could you turn one of them into a short story or even a novel?

Who is one of your favourite characters in literature and why? Comment below and let me know.

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7 retro blog posts you might like to check out

7 retro blog posts

When you’ve put a lot of effort into writing your blog posts, it can be difficult to lose them off the top page and awkward for visitors to your page to find and read them, unless of course, they found them through searching a specific topic in Google. So it is good to occasionally write a blog post review to search through your blog and find some of the highlights that may enjoy seeing the light of day again.

I have enjoyed searching through my blog and finding some of my highlights from recent years. Many of these were from a 30 day blogging challenge I undertook in 2016. Definitely think it’s time for another one!

  1. Great Hero Character Names

In this blog post, I wrote about some of my favourite character names in novels and why I liked them.

2. My Top 10 Fictional Villains

What is a hero without a villain to try to foil them? These are some of my favourite villains, but I know there are many more.

3. Writing Prompts, Story, part 1 and Story part 2, and Editing a Story

I’m cheating here – there are actually 4 blog posts in one go: writing prompts and parts 1 and 2 of a story. I had fun creating this. Then I wrote a further blog post, explaining how I might edit the story, having read it back and analysed what I had written.

4. Procrastination and the Writer

This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog at one point. I think it chimes with most people who want to be writers.

5. 30 Ways to find Blog Post Ideas

For those days when procrastination is at its highest…

6. Six Girl BFFs in Fiction

I love a story with a really good girl BFF in it and here are some of my favourites.

7. Ten of the Best Bromances in Fiction

You can’t leave the boys out! Here my top ten bromances in fiction too.

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Day 21: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Infographics

This blog has been challenged to make some infographics so I decided to have a go. The infographics package that was recommended was not suitable for me as I don’t have Java, so I have taken a look round to see what other possibilities there are.

I found Daniel Soper who offers a small infographics generator. You just copy and paste some text into the box and click the button to generate the infographic – couldn’t be simpler! I have had fun playing with it and this has been the results.

Here is the infographic for my ‘About’ page:

Free Infographic from http://www.danielsoper.com/wordcloud/
Free Infographic from http://www.danielsoper.com/wordcloud/

I had so much fun that I decided to try another one! Buy one, get one free!

A few years ago, I wrote a post on Crazy Business Ideas so I put that through the word cloud generator too:

http://www.danielsoper.com/wordcloud/
http://www.danielsoper.com/wordcloud/

I think I’m hooked!

If you have enjoyed this post, then please share to social media.

If you have made some great infographics, then let me know about them in the comments below.

 

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Day 20: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Story Plot, Conflict & Resolution

On Day 11 and Day 12, I posted a short story for the purpose of showing you how I edit a story.  Here I finish my discussion of the story and will be talking about the plot, the conflict in the story and the resolution.

Paper and Pen by Orin Zebest on Flickr CC
Paper and Pen by Orin Zebest on Flickr CC

Plot

The plot is probably one of the most important parts of the story. The plot is all about what action actually takes place in the story. In the case of The House on the Hill, the answer is, “Not much!”

You could actually explain the story in a couple of sentences and everyone would understand what it was about, but it is the inner story – Joseph’s memories and the story of his friend that brings it to life. Short stories are often better if they contain some sort of ‘twist’ or surprise at the end that creeps up on the reader. This can be quite hard to do, as it can seem that pretty much every twist has been done to death.

As an example, I remember when the film, The Empire Strikes Back came out and that plot twist shocked audiences up and down the country – that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. It was pretty momentous and everyone was shocked. In those days, we didn’t have spoiler trailers like we do now. That was an absolutely amazing plot twist at the time which the makers of the film managed to keep secret until the film was actually released. However if a film was pitched today that had the villain turning out the be the hero’s father, it would be laughed at – what a cliche!

I’m not convinced that this plot holds up to scrutiny. I think it needs work to turn this into a good short story. I have to admit that I just sat down and wrote with the intention of pulling it apart so it’s not a problem. I know it needs more work. If it is going to have a twist, then it needs to be a better one that will surprise the reader.

Conflict

The story could not be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be exciting, but there is a certain tension created when Joseph starts feeling unwell. There is a sense that not all is well, but the estate agent is oblivious to anything but herself and the sale. The conflict could do with being built up more to bring a bit more action to the story. Joseph sees his memories of his lost childhood friend everywhere, in the faded photo, in his own memories of the incident that led to her death and even in the cry of the seagulls as he steps away from the house.

Resolution

Joseph has come with the intention of buying the house, but he finds too many memories and decides that the visit around his former friend’s house is enough. He will not be buying the house, but he does have a sense of closure as he leaves it.

Looking back through the story, I feel that it would need some rewriting to include more events happening to make the story more readable and interesting. The initial characters are good, but there needs to be more tension created between them and there needs to be a more definite conflict and resolution. At some point, I will rewrite the story and repost it, so you can see if it has improved at all.

If you have enjoyed this post, please comment below and share to your social media of choice. Thank you.

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Day 19: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Short Story Setting

My blog posts on Day 11 and Day 12 were two halves of a short story, written quickly to use as an example for editing. Here, I would like to discuss setting.

Sea Cliff 2 by Mary Penny on Flickr cc
Sea Cliff 2 by Mary Penny on Flickr cc

The setting of a story discusses where the story takes place. In The House on the Hill, the action all takes place around an old empty house.

The House on the Hill is a house for sale on a cliff side. The house has clearly been loved, but now it is empty of people, although furniture remains. There is a photo that clearly brings back memories for Joseph as he goes back to look for it.

The house is described as:

  • mail swept from the floor – unlived in
  • coloured window panels and tiled floor in the hall
  • double fronted – so a large house (double fronted is when the house has a room either side of the front door)
  • 3 bedrooms
  • sea-facing lounge with high ceiling and carved plaster
  • faded wallpaper
  • furniture covered with dust sheets
  • threadbare rugs
  • furniture not wanted – if buyer does not want then will be put in a skip
  • old-fashioned Quaker kitchen with quarry tiled floor
  • water still connected
  • patio doors from kitchen leading to an ‘unruly’ i.e. overgrown garden
  • smallest bedroom – a girl’s room with girl’s books

There is quite a lot of information about the house, and one thing as author I need to check – that it does not conflict. The house seems to evoke a number of different eras and perhaps it might be better if it were all tied to one era, the one where Peggy died.

Setting also includes atmosphere. The story tries to be mysterious. Does it succeed? I’m not sure it does. It needs to decide if it wants to be a ghost story, a memoir or something else. The setting of the house needs some minor tweaks, but I need to decide exactly what kind of story it is going to be and perhaps add some more clues to enable the reader to follow along.

If you have enjoyed this blog post, then please share it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you.

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Day 15: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Editing a Story – Characters

On days 11 and 12 I published two halves of a story. This story was written for the purpose of showing you what I do when I edit. I have deliberately published a first draft, with very little editing apart from immediately spotting spelling mistakes etc so that you can see how it will change from first draft to the finished story.

Grungy girl in photo booth by simpleinsomniaWhen we are children, we write a story and it is done, but as adults, there is always polishing that can be done. Sarah (Arrow) has said that your blog posts don’t have to be perfect – no, they don’t, it is good if they are as close as you can make it in the time that you have.

Today, I’m going to focus on characters. In this story, there are two main characters: Janice Jones and Joseph. I don’t usually make all my characters in a story begin with the same name, but today, I have!

The characters are rather sketchily drawn – only small details about their appearance are mentioned in the story.

Janice:

  • smart and professional
  • has bright blue eyes

Her personality has a few more hints:

  • an estate agent – immediately conjures up a picture of suit and briefcase/laptop bag
  • has noted that the client is a cash buyer
  • purses her lips when annoyed but does not show anger
  • thinks of the money
  • finds Joseph a glass of water
  • Feet hurt – does this indicate high heels?
  • Needs a cup of coffee – addicted to caffeine?
  • mutters under her breath

Joseph

  • elderly gentleman

I am amazed that this is the only description of the appearance of Joseph, so I think I would add a few more details, but would try to make sure that they add to the story rather than just inform the reader.

His personality is:

  • a little impatient with Janice
  • Attuned to the house – he feels warm
  • has a funny turn where he seems to hear voices – twice
  • used to have family in the area
  • looking to buy in the area
  • cash buyer – so has some money
  • has memories of the house in happier times but also in sad
  • has lost his wife

So, there is more about Joseph’s personality than his appearance. This perhaps makes him a little mysterious which was probably my intention in the first place.

The final character in the story is Peggy. Her story is told in flashback and through a photograph that Joseph finds. She is a young girl who knew Joseph as a young boy. We know that she died young and that her death affected Joseph. The story ends with Joseph saying goodbye. Was he saying goodbye to the house, Peggy or both? The story leaves it to the reader to decide.

So to sum up, I need to edit:

– the characters need small details about their appearance adding

  • the details given need to add to the story
  • the details should be ‘shown’ rather than ‘told’
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Day 14: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Love and Relationships on St Valentine’s Day

Love-Valentine's breeze-rose flower by Kumar's Edit on Flickr CCAs it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I would take little look at the use of love and relationships within the context of this story. Writing a believable love story takes careful thought and the relationship should definitely not be roses all the way.

Your romantic couple should have a quirky way to meet. Ask yourself, when do they first notice each other? What is their first reaction? What do they first say to one another?

Avoid too many longing stares – it gets a bit too much like a stalker. Instant attraction is fine, but not instant love. What kinds of things are your couple willing to do after a first meeting and what would be out of bounds? Build-up is just as sexy as full on passion.

What happens when your couple meet again? Do sparks fly or do they have an argument? Try finding interesting situations to put your characters in and see how they react. Use friends/relatives to help or hinder the relationship. Do keep some secondary characters in there – it’s not healthy for a couple to shut themselves off from their friends and they will need someone to support them when things go wrong.

Have the relationship grow. What is the end result going to be. The relationship will need to be tested and have some ups and downs. The problems in the relationship need to match the stage of the relationship, for example you are far more likely to be jealous of an unknown friend in the early stages than in a settled relationship. Try and always think imaginatively as you tell your couple’s story.

Actually, rather than tell everything, show it. Have your hero’s face have a muscle working in his cheek as he sees the girl he likes with another – bit of a cliche, but I know that you can do much better than that – and it’s only an example.

Finally, make the dialogue as realistic as you can make it. There’s nothing worse than a stilted conversation. The real thing can be awkward, full of ums and ers, and halting starts and stops. When a declaration of love is made, ensure that it is not all one-sided, let the other side speak too, unless narcissism is one of your hero’s faults…

If you have any tips to add about the writing of love and relationships, then please leave them in the comments below.

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