Recently, I've had the opportunity to chat with author Janni Lee Simner via email and while discussing the 2013 release of the third book in her Fearie series, Faerie After, I asked if she would be interested in doing another guest post on my blog. Janni is always so wonderful to chat with and accepted right away.
So Ms. Simner wrote up a guest post for everyone about Writing Styles: Plotter vs. Panster.
When people ask me if I'm a plotter (a writer who outlines ahead of time) or pantser (a writer who just plunges into the story), I've been known to burst out in hollow laughter. Because I'm a pretty extreme pantser. The sort of pantser who often knows, well, pretty much nothing about my story when I dive in.
Well, not quite nothing. I always do have a thing that I start my stories with. Sometimes the thing is an opening scene (as it was with my YA novels Bones of Faerie and Thief Eyes). Sometimes it's only an opening line (as it was for a short story I wrote, "Drawing the Moon.") Sometimes it's a character and a hint of a setting (as it was for Bones of Faerie sequel Faerie Winter). But it's never much--little more than a feeling, a faint hint of direction, a whisper of an idea. But I don't know where I'm going. I don't know where I'll wind up.
Because I don't know these things, starting a new project for me is a leap of faith for me every time: that if I set out on the journey, I'll wind up somewhere worth going--with a story worth telling, with a book worth reading.
It usually takes me at least five drafts to get from that leap to a finished book. My first draft is what I think of as the exploratory draft. I'm heading in, feeling out the terrain, learning what my book might be about. I'm getting words--any words--on the page. They're not the right words, of course. I give myself permission to write badly and tell the wrong story, because I have four more drafts to tell the right story. My first draft isn't about worrying about getting it right; it's just about getting something.
The first draft of Faerie Winter was set in the wrong town, took place in the wrong season, and aside from the protagonist, involved all the wrong characters. Yet looking at that draft once it was written--and seeing why it was wrong--gave me my first hints of what the right story might be. It gave me other things too, less tangible things: tensions, emotions, undercurrents. I don't take many actual words away from my first draft, but even so, I do take away things the story needs.
My second draft is the draft where I take all the things I begin trying to tell the right story. Yet it's right only in the broadest sense. The second draft is in the general vicinity of the story I want to tell, but the story arcs and character arcs and pacing are all a muddle. There's no sensory vividness. The actual words are still mostly the wrong words, but they're no longer part of the wrong story.
During my third draft I work on getting the story into the right shape, on making more sense of plot and character and arcs. I move a little closer to having the right words. There are still lots of the wrong words mixed in, though.
By the fourth draft I'm finally really thinking about those words, and about my descriptions. By the fourth draft the story is on the page and has the right shape, the characters feel real enough that I can hear their voices, and now I'm able to focus on all the smaller details.
By the fifth draft, most of the time, I'm polishing that right story and those right words as hard as I can, polishing until my teeth hurt.
The fourth and fifth drafts are the drafts that are readable. Yet I don’t think of my earlier drafts with all their discarded text as inefficient or as wasted time. They're part of the road to the final book, and so, they're needed.
For me, anyway. That's one of the fascinating things about writing processes. They're different for every writer, and there's no one right way. There's only what works for each of us.
After plenty of trial and error, I've found this is what works for me and lets me tell the sorts of stories I want to tell. This is also the process that's the most fun for me. I think that matters too, because writing a book takes long enough that we need to be enjoying doing so, at least some of the time.
My advice to new (and not-so-new) writers is not to worry so much about what sort of processes work for other writers. It's to try out as many different processes as you need to, until you find the one that works for you.
It's to do whatever you need to, to tell the stories you want to tell.
Thank you for stopping by again Janni. I always love reading about authors writing styles, since I've attempted NaNoWriMo a few times and never figured out a good style for myself, I think I'll take your process into mind while trying again this year... perhaps just getting words on paper is the best way instead of trying to write it perfectly the first time. :)
If you haven't read the Faerie Series yet, you can check out my reviews for Bones of Faerie and Faerie Winter and Janni's first guest post as well. I hope you'll check it out as it's one of the first YA books that helped to get my into writing reviews for my own blog.
About the author:
Janni Lee Simner was born aboard a pirate ship, but as soon as she came of age booked passage with a caravan bound for the Sahara, and spent the next decade as a seeker of lost cities, hidden tombs, and ancient artifacts. While hiding from assassins in the lost Library of Alexandria, however, she discovered she really preferred telling stories, and so she settled down in the Sonoran desert to write, interrupted only by the occasional map-bearing stranger or man-eating Gila monster. (FOR THE REAL BIO click here).