Friday, January 25, 2013

The Plotting Puzzle (continued) and Another Contest!

Hybrid - a novelist who combines the best (based on their opinion) of being a plotter and a pantser.

As previously blogged, I'm a pantser who has attempted plotting only to find it didn't work for me.
Recently, a friend advised that I might be a hybrid. I had heard that term applied to everything from plants to cars, but never writers. Turns out, a hybrid is an author who combines the foresight of a plotter with the fresh discoveries of a pantser.

"How?" I had to ask.

It's different for everyone, my friend said. In her case, she had tried plotting but found the process to be exhausting. Now, she writes several one-sentence descriptions of what might happen in her novel. These plot-bites evolve into scenes. However, she leaves room to be introduced to her characters as she writes about them, gives herself the freedom to change course, and has re-discovered the joy of writing.

At times, I feel like this fella.
Maybe one day, all the puzzle
pieces will fall into place - LOL


I have decided it's worth a try. My goal is to apply this hybrid approach to a mystery novel I plan to write this year. More to come.

What about you -- plotter? pantser? hybrid?  

ANOTHER CONTEST! Anyone comments between January 25, 2013 and 11:59 p.m. on February 1, 2013 will be entered into a drawing for their choice of the one of the following books:

·         How to Write a Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey

·         The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa & Jeffery Osier

·         Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Monday, January 21, 2013

Confessions of a Recovering Pantser (or, My First Contest to Give Away Free Stuff)

pantser - A novelist who writes by the 'seat of the pants', not taking time to plan the novel before beginning to write.

plotter - A novelist who outlines the story before beginning to write.


Hi, my name's Kyle and I'm a recovering pantser.

For as long as I've desired a career as a writer (say about age 11 when I discovered Stephen King) I have always sat down and wrote. No planning involved. Just scribbled until I fashioned a shell of a story that I then rewrote until all of the pieces came together into a cohesive form. (Yes, the process was exactly as exhausting as it sounds.)

Last year, I decided change. After a study of how to plot (Save the Cat and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery being the two best books I found) I devised my own system.

Step 1: Build the world

Step 2: Develop your characters (the world influences who lives the world)

-       Determine character motivations

-       Determine character arcs

Step 3: Plot using the 15-beat method (see Save the Cat)

Step 4: Once you have everything worked out, write the actual story

I discovered two things about myself:

1.    I love world building and delving into the characters' psyche.

2.   Once I had finished steps 1-4, I was TOO BORED WITH THE STORY to actually write the darned thing.

I've tried letting the outline ferment for a month or so before returning to it. That helped to freshen it a bit, but not enough to rekindle my interest in the story. When it's all said and done, I like outlining and pantsing for the same reason: the thrill of discovery as my brain reveals plot twists in the same manner they are exposed when I read a book - one page at a time. Once an outline is complete, I dislike it for the same reason I never read the same book twice: I already know what's going to happen, so I am no longer emotionally involved.

I see the logic of being a plotter. It does save time and effort, but a third revelation about myself I noticed is the few short stories I've plotted first, and then wrote were … well, er … kind of lifeless. They lacked a spark of originality.

Does this mean I'll return to my pantsing ways?



I dunno.

For now, I plan to vaguely sketch my ideas, but do the world building and discover the characters as I go along. Will that mean rewriting? Yes, but rewriting has never bothered me. I suppose that's because I discover something new each time I rewrite - hence, the story is still 'fresh'.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? The first person who leaves a detailed comment below before 11:59 p.m. on January 31, 2013 wins a free copy of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. (Contest limited to residents of the United States of America due to mailing costs - sorry.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Writing fiction isn’t some magical gift from above."

A. Lee Martinez (a successful and excellent writer I happen to know personally) has a blog post that says it all when it comes to being a writer. If only I took his sound advice more often.

As for his fans calling themselves A.Leegonaires ... well ...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thank You for Submitting but ... REJECTED!

I have never met a writer who hasn't been rejected. It's the one trait all authors have in common. I keep a printed copy of all of my rejections for tax purposes (physical proof that I'm making an honest attempt to sell the stories I write). As I recently sorted through my 2012 rejections, I began to notice a few things, some of which irk me and others that baffle me.

·     Why do most rejections begin "Thank you for submitting "STORY TITLE" but …"? I suppose editors feel that 'thank you' softens the blow of the rejection. Personally, I consider that whole string to be wasted words. Get to the point. You didn't buy the story. My favorite rejection (boy, that's an oxymoron if I'd ever heard one - a 'favorite' rejection) had this in the subject line of the response email:

Rejection: STORY TITLE 

That's clean and simple and saved me a lot of time weeding through needless words. I respect that publication, because they respected my time. 
View details
When I first started
submitting, I felt like
this guy for days
after every rejection.

·     Snarky rejections. Why do some editors/pre-readers/publications feel the need to be hateful? One advised me I was now "free to submit elsewhere". Was my story being held hostage? I'm sure it's that whole simultaneous submission thing that, personally, is antiquated. Given the statistical odds of acceptance versus rejection, it makes no sense to submit to one publication, and wait two or three months for them to send a response before submitting to a different publication. Like most of my writing buddies, I have the same story in the pipeline with several publications at once.

View details
Now, my armor is thick.
I shrug off the
rejection and move on.
·     Unclear if the story has been rejected or not. One publication's website said "we're open to submissions", but promptly sent an email response "Our winter issue is full, but we'll open for summer soon". What does that mean? Are they holding my story to consider for the summer issue, or do I need to resubmit? And goodness forbid that I respond to their email and ask for clarification. Doing so is so taboo, I just marked it as denied and moved on. 
I'm sure being an editor/pre-reader is a difficult job. That's one of the reasons I've resisted when friends have suggested starting our own publication (the other being how the heck do you make money?). However, it stands to reason these editors are writers too. I wish they would give more thought to their rejection letters. Make it quick and simple. If I were an editor, here's how I'd do it:

Sorry, this isn't for us. Good luck elsewhere.

It's simple, gets straight to the point, and the sting is minute. Maybe I'm alone in not wanting all the fluffy 'thank yous' and other psychobabble nonsense I've seen in some rejections, but I doubt it. Like editors, writers are busy people too.

How about you? Do you think I'm way off base, or do you agree?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is the Publishing Industry Biased against Male Writers?

Recently, I overheard a group of writers discussing publishing successes of 2012. There was a consistent theme to the topic: to sell in today's market you had to be female.
I analyzed that based on my own experiences.

·    Of the three people whom I personally knew who had snagged an agent in 2012, all of them were female.

·    Of the two people whom I personally knew who had sold a book in 2012, all of them were female.

Okay. I decided I must know more female writers than male. However, after I took a tally, I found the female-to-male ratio of my acquaintances to be about equal (and I'm blessed to know a large number of writers).

I expanded my search by Googling the topic. Surprisingly, there weren't any articles or blogs of any depth on the subject.

I conducted my own unscientific research of the best-sellers list and found the number of female writers listed did outnumber male writers about three-to-one (the sheer volume of romance best-sellers had an impact).

Finally, I read what editor blogs I could find. Of the ones that even remotely mentioned the topic, they agreed on the same consensus: approximately 80% of readers are female and writers - regardless of gender - should target that audience.*

Back to my original thesis, is publishing anti-male? I again analyzed my own personal experience.

·    Of the six writers conferences I've attended, the editors and agents present were 95% female.

·    Of the traditionally published writers I personally know, 10 are female and one is male. (If I toss in self-published writers, the numbers change to 16 are female and four are male).

All of the above would lead me to believe more females than males desire to have a career in publishing, but that has not been my experience. My writers group is about 50/50. At every writing-related event I have attended there's always been a healthy number of men. Therefore, I believe almost as many males as females yearn to be published.

So, what do I conclude? Yes, there does appear to be a slight bias in the publishing industry again male writers. I'm sure that has to do with the sales numbers. If females read more books, it makes sense there would be a larger female-to-male writer ratio, since all authors were originally readers first. I suppose the best summary I can offer is to return to the group I overheard.

 "If it's true more ladies than guys sell books, what can we do about it?"

 "I don't know about you, but I'm changing my name."

 "Sidney Longfellow?"**

 "Sheila Longfellow."

I guess that is one solution.

Until later, this is Kyle … uh, Kylie signing off.


*   A different, but related topic, is whether male and female reading tastes vary. I believe they do. Maybe that's why westerns - traditionally a male-dominated genre - are dying. Their readership has vanished, while romances - traditionally a female-dominted genre (not trying to be sexist, just truthful) - is flurishing.
** Yes, I changed the original speaker's name.