Category Archives: Kylie Quillinan

Pantsers vs Plotters

We often hear that writers fall into one of two camps: pantsers or plotters. In truth, most of us straddle those two camps with a toe and maybe an arm in one and most of our body in the other. I am one of those ridiculously methodical people who have a spreadsheet or a list for everything. My writing desk needs to be spotless and organised. I have multiple spreadsheets tracking everything from submissions to budgets to daily word counts. Wouldn’t you expect me to be a plotter?

Actually, I’m a pantser – I write by the seat of my pants, without an outline, figuring it out as I go. I usually start with a particular setting I want to explore and as I get to know the characters who inhabit that setting, the story unfolds. But I’d love to be a plotter. The methodical part of my brain adores the idea of a neatly-constructed outline, a manuscript mapped out scene by scene, writing with a definite end in mind.

I’ve tried to be a plotter. I really have. Before I started writing my previous manuscript, I wrote a detailed outline. I knew exactly where the manuscript was heading and what would happen in every chapter. I lasted two scenes and then deviated irretrievably from the outline. Perhaps I could have forced the story to follow the path I had originally chosen, but the way it went instead felt more natural and the outline was abandoned.

Yet I still longed to be a plotter. So this time I’m trying something different. I have a very brief outline written on index cards – lovely big, pink ones. I adore index cards and the methodical part of my brain is thrilled at having a stash of those pink cards spread out around me as I write. It makes me feel like a “proper” writer.

The index card method is working well. Because I can change the order of the cards, I’m finding it easier to insert additional scenes or move them to a more appropriate place as the story changes. The story is coming out more easily because I do have some sort of plan in mind, however brief. As I get to know my characters and understand what drives them, the story I had intended naturally changes. With my new index card system, I can shuffle around a few cards, add others in, remove the ones I no longer need, and hey presto, I still have an outline of sorts and the yet the story can follow its own course.

I’m not saying I’m a reformed pantser, not by a long shot. By I have discovered that pantsers and plotters are perhaps not as mutually exclusive as I once thought.

How about you? Are you a pantser or a plotter? And which would you prefer to be?

Editing Schmediting

While roaming the internet one morning (procrastinating, in truth), I stumbled across a great quote from Jenna Morris at Literally YA: Remember, not many people have died from editing.

How awesome is that? Say it again: not many people have died from editing.

This quote really rang true for me because as much as I enjoy editing and re-writing, I have no idea what I’m actually supposed to do. Editing, for me, usually consists of reading the manuscript over and over, changing a paragraph here, a word there, maybe adding in a scene or two. Yes, the manuscript improves, but it doesn’t sparkle and that’s what I need to learn: how to polish the beast-that-was-once-a-first-draft until it shines and glimmers and sparkles.

I’m taking some editing classes with the fabulous Kim Wilkins and I’m learning structure. I’ve learnt to start by searching for those words I know I over-use – “that” and “just” – and eliminate them. If I hesitate on whether I really need the word, it goes and I can usually admit the sentence is stronger for it.

Another editing tool I’ve learnt is the scene map. My hyper-methodical brain loves the concept of a scene map. It allows me to indulge my love of spreadsheets and organising information and yet also provides a lens through which to view the manuscript more methodically.

A scene map lists each scene, one after another. It’s not an outline to be completed before the writing starts, but a review of how the storyline actually unfolded. I have a column of scene numbers (which will eventually be grouped into chapters); next to that is a brief description of what happens within each scene and who the viewpoint character is. A third column is for my notes: heighten the tension here, or develop a relationship better in this scene, or there’s crucial information missing here.

The scene map helps me to view the manuscript more objectively and note where there are problems. Then I can work back through, scene by scene, and fix those problems. If I only have ten minutes in which to work, I can pluck a small task from my scene map and get stuck straight into it. I can’t wait to get to the end of this first draft and start applying my new editing tools.

So tell me, what editing tools do you use?