“Writing is like driving at night in the fog.
You can only see as far as your headlights,
but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
Y’all know I have process envy, right? I think most of us do. I always thought I’d be a plotter. I loved outlines so much that I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences in seventh grade! (not that I remember much about it now). But alas, when it came to writing, my creative mind gave my logical mind the finger.
As an inveterate pantser, one of the most frustrating things is the lack of craft books. The first one I discovered when I began writing was, The Writer’s Journey (which puts forth the concept of the Hero’s Journey) by Chris Vogler. It made logical sense to me when I heard it, but it turns out, that’s not how I conceptualize my characters.
The next I tried was Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder (I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the last talk he ever gave). That made even more sense to me – but I don’t plot. So where I could see the ‘beats’ after I wrote the book (and luckily, they fell about where they should), it didn’t help me write the book.
I jumped from craft book to craft book, based on the rave recommendations by writing friends. It took me filling almost two full bookshelves to realize something wasn’t right (hey, I’m a slow learner, okay?)
Inspirational books –
I DID find a few along the way that helped me – books that I term ‘writing inspiration’. They are amazing, and I highly recommend them for pantsers and plotters both. My top faves are:
Among many others…
Those were great for getting me fired up for writing, but then I found myself sitting in front of a blank Word doc. Where to start? I had an idea of my character, and I knew he had to go on a journey, but how? To where?
I needed a book to help me, the pantser!
Well, since then I’ve found a couple of excellent ones, and I wanted to pass them along to other pantsers, so you don’t have to go on a long, fruitless search.
1. Anything by Donald Maass
He’s an agent, but more importantly, he’s a brilliant teacher in regard to what makes a story unputdownable (yes, I just made up that word). He had me at:
“Constructing an inner journey for any character starts with discovering where that character would least like to go.”
“Visible actions are stronger than internal moments. Acting is stronger than reacting.”
“The rich woven texture of breakout scale novels comes more often from a tight weaving of plot layers than from the broad canvas sprawl of subplots.”
‘Every protagonist needs a torturous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret,a visible dream, a passionate longing, an inescapable ambition, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an unavoidable obligation, an iron instinct, an irresistible plan, a noble idea, an undying hope…” (not necessarily all in the same character).
Doesn’t just reading that get you fired up to start a project? He doesn’t show you how to plot, but he shows you how to build a compelling book from the premise up. I can’t recommend his books highly enough.
If you’re a faithful WITS reader, you already know Janice from her posts here. To get an idea of what she teaches in her book, check out her past blogs with us:
- 5 Ways to Bring Your Descriptions To Life
- Using Internal Conflict to Create Plot
- How Emotional Peril Keeps Readers Reading
- Do You Know Your Novel’s Theme?
That’s not even all of them, but it’s enough to give you an idea. Again, she doesn’t try to change you to a plotter (although there’s lots of great stuff there for plotters, too), but she helps you conceptualize a better novel.
She made me see Story in a whole new way. A way that opened up my creativity. I’ll never write another book without reviewing this first. Don’t believe me? Watch her TED Talk:
I was so excited about this that I pulled it up on my phone and made Fae Rowen listen to it while she drove us home from the RWA Conference! Lisa is just starting an intensive 10 week online course I signed up to get info on. I think it’s going to be expensive.
I also think it will be worth it.
Okay pantsers (and plotters), what craft book is your favorite? Did any ever change the way you saw writing?