Back to Basics for Writers – Plotter or Pantser?

by Tammy Trail

You might be a PLOTTER if you have ever wondered if you should be more organized with your writing. Plotting is a systematic way of putting your story thoughts together. You might decide to do it by scene or chapter. You will need to know what each character’s goal, motivation and conflict are for each scene. This system may require you to write an outline of your story idea.

A writer friend showed me one method when I first started working on my story. You simply take 3 X 5 index cards and write each chapter idea on a card until you have each chapter worked out for the whole book. If you’re writing romance, a suggestion with this method is using different colored index cards for your hero and heroine. For instance, pink index cards for the heroine and blue for the hero. Using index cards gives you an opportunity to change the cards around to rearrange your chapters, or change the time frame of your inciting incident.

There are many different plotting systems you can find with the help of the internet. I have read the “Plot Skeleton”, by Angela Hunt. Randy Ingermason has a Snowflake system that you can purchase from his website. Scrivener is a downloadable system that helps organize your story and allows you to keep your notes, pictures, outline, and your manuscript all in one place. This is also a great tool if you decide to self-publish your novel.

Some writers may consider themselves ‘free spirits”, and refuse to use any kind of plotting system because it stifles the creative flow. This is the PANTSER method – you fly by the seat of your pants. I started out with an idea for a story with no formal plotting method I imagined my heroine’s appearance, her personality and motivation. Then I created a life for her in the 18th century that I incorporated into a story.

My initial first chapter is now my third chapter, and I finished the book just shy of 70,000 words. When I began to edit my story, I found plot holes; places where my story lost connection and became a dead end. Now that I’ve had time to think about my story, I’ve written a whole different first chapter. Sounds a little crazy, huh?

Well, admittedly I am flustered with the complete process. Do I feel that I’ve wasted my time? Not a bit. I have learned a lot from this first draft. I went back to my index cards and began to look at them in a whole different light. I began to fix plot holes, and really think about deep point of view for my main characters. It’s still a work in progress.

Whichever method you choose, neither is wrong as long as you write the story. I haven’t given myself a label. I guess I’m just a bit of a rogue. I love my characters and the journey I envision for them. One day soon I hope to call myself a published author. I’m still learning through my own journey. How about you?

Writing Prompt:  Tracy pushed the off button on the remote just as the first clap of thunder shook her little house. She went to the kitchen to retrieve her flashlight; storms and electricity didn’t get along in her small town. The flashlight was forgotten when she heard a  rattle at her back door. She watched in awe as the doorknob shook violently from left to right. Then the lights went out.

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Developing Plot in Your Novel

May is Developing Plot in Your Novel month. All you have to do is google ‘developing plot’ and you’ll see a multitude of articles written on the subject. You’ll find anything from two steps to twenty steps. You’ll also find things such as the Snowflake Method, The Hero’s Journey, etc, etc But before you jump into steps you probably ought to know what plot is.

Plot is a plan or a storyline.

Okay, now that you know that little tidbit let’s look at why you have to have a plot. Okay, well not just a plot but a well developed plot. If there isn’t a plan, if there isn’t a storyline, your story goes nowhere. Your characters would be nothing more than gerbils running on the wheel. And so would your readers.There has to be direction with a beginning, middle, and an end. There has to be direction. Can I say that again? Direction.

Just imagine what the popular TV show Castle would be like if all Castle and Beckett did was sit at their desks, drink coffee, eat donuts and tap their pencils against their teeth instead of chasing bad guys. One thing is for certain, ratings would fall because watchers would get bored.

If there isn’t a plan, if there isn’t a well developed storyline, your story goes nowhere.

Like I said before, there are all kinds of resources on the Internet for developing plot, but I’m going to share with you the 1st video out of 27 from one of my favorite plot gurus, Martha Alderson. She’s also known as The Plot Whisper. I didn’t quite understand the extensiveness of plot until I started watching her videos and reading her book, The Plot Whisperer.  It’s a little long, but well worth the viewing. For the rest of the videos click here.

Enjoy!

Windswept Fire

Tammy

My mother has lived in New Mexico for over 20 years. Every summer I get an update on the drought conditions in her state. I know that may seem like a strange topic of conversation over the phone, but she worries about fires. Most of the fires that eat up the wilderness in New Mexico are caused by lightning. A cook fire not properly doused by a camper can also be blamed. I always worry about those folks that smoke throwing their lit cigarettes out of their windows near grassy areas. Then there is the culprit that no one quite understands; the arsonist.
While reading a bit about wildfires I came across a story I had never read before. Perhaps you have heard of the Peshtigo Fire. On the 8th of October, 1871 a forest fire broke out near Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Farmers clearing land to plant by burning the ground is one theory on how it started. On this particular day a cold front blew in from the west causing strong winds to fan the flames into a maelstrom of destruction. It created a firestorm, hotter than any crematorium. When it was over an estimated 1,875 square miles of forest has been consumed, roughly the size of Rhode Island. Twelve communities had been destroyed and an accurate death count could never be determined because the records were also lost. Submerging themselves under the Peshtigo River or in wells, survivors recounted that a tornado of fire threw rail cars and houses into the air. There were also fires in several other places as well that fateful day. You might recall that the “Great Chicago” fire happened on this date as well.

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More recently, a devastating fire took place in August of 2011. It is believed that two cousins left a campfire unattended and burned 538,000 acres of national forest in Arizona and Western New Mexico. The Wallow fire cost over $79 million dollars to extinguish and the loss of forest will effect that area for generations. Thousands of crews were sent to battle the blaze. With winds gusting to 50 mph, embers sparked spot fires five to seven miles away from the main fire. Thousands of firefighting crews were dispatched, working in shifts to fight 24/7 until its containment.
In 2013 there were wildfires in Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, and Washington. Yellowstone National Park suffered a quarter of million acres loss. That’s a lot of scorched earth destroyed by nature, carelessness, or a determined individual. Let’s not leave out the many hardworking people who fight to save our land either on the ground digging fire breaks, or in the air retrieving water to douse the flames and spreading fire retardant chemicals using planes and helicopters.

Wallow Fire
Here in my own state of Kansas, we have suffered drought conditions for many years. Every spring farmers will burn off old growth from their fields to make it ready for the year’s new planting. Driving through the Flint Hills at night can be an amazing sight as a controlled line of fire slowly makes its way across empty acres of farmland. It can also be just as dangerous as any forest fire when the wind blows just enough to cause concern. We should all pray for gentle life giving rain to help these drought stricken areas, and remind people to be aware of simple fire safely while enjoying the great out of doors.

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Earthquake

The only natural disasters I experienced first hand happened when I was too little to know what was going on, and both of those have already been written about. So, I’m going to write about one of my obsessions. I’m not going to go into how plates shift and which types of earthquakes tend to be the strongest, and I’m not going to talk about my belief in the ‘earthquake storm theory’. Instead, I’m going to give you some facts that you may not know, ones that may or may not surprise you.

First let me remind you that earthquakes are a little different than most natural disasters. Avalanches and volcanoes can give off warning signs. With weather phenomenon such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards we typically have some form of advance notice. With hurricanes and blizzards it can be days. And I can tell you from experience tornado warning times have increased over the years. When I was a kid, sometimes warnings weren’t issued until a funnel cloud reached the ground. Now days, weather-casters try to give some sort of an advance warning. With the Alabama tornadoes Jennifer talked about the other day, meteorologists predicted that horrible event days in advance. They just didn’t know exact locations. Radar technology is so far advanced these days that most of the time warnings are given anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Of course, there is always that one tornado like the one that hit Joplin a few years back that comes completely unexpected.

Earthquakes don’t really come with warnings. Scientists are trying, but it’s hard to predict where and when and how big and without those predictions people can’t take shelter or evacuate like they can with weather related natural disasters.

Did you know that at the time of writing this there were over 37 earthquakes in the previous 24 hours over 2.5 on the Richter Scale? I’m sure many of remember the devastation of the earthquake that rocked Indonesia on December 26, 2004. It was 9.1-9.3 on the Richter Scale. Over 230,000 people perished that day, and yet it’s only  #5 on the deadliest earthquake list. The 2010 Haiti earthquake ranks #7. That death toll is somewhere between 110,000-300,000. The deadliest quake occurred in 1556 in China. 820,000 people died, which I find jaw-dropping given the year.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded happened May 22, 1960 in Chile. The shaker measured 9.5. A tsunami, another natural disaster caused by an earthquake, hit parts of Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and cause major destruction in Hilo, Hawaii. Tsunami waves hitting the coast of Chile were reported as high as 82 feet! The waves from the December 26, 2004 tsunami were over 100 feet. The death toll during this particular Chile earthquake is uncertain but some estimate it to be around 6,000.

You remember when we were kids and everyone just knew that one day California was going to fall into the ocean? Well, in 2010, Chile was rocked with an 8.8 earthquake. It moved the city of Concepcion 10 miles to the west. Man, was that powerful or what? According to NASA, this earthquake may have caused earth’s axis to shift. And everyone seems to think our crazy weather has something to do with Global Warming, or Climate Change. Some say the Japan earthquake in 2011 shifted earth’s axis too. And if I remember correctly from my Geology course, earth’s axis has shifted many times over its existence, but that is another topic for another day.

Now let me tell you about a little known fault line right here in America. Of course, if you grew up in the area you’ve heard about it. And, I guess if you didn’t grow up in the area, like me, you might’ve heard about it. You might’ve heard some tall tales like, ‘Kansas used to be flat until that there earthquake shook the United States.’

I’m talking about New Madrid. In 1811 and 1812 a series of earthquakes occurred along the Mississippi River. They were so strong church bells rang in Boston, Massachusetts and in what is now known as Toronto. These particular earthquakes, although not the strongest recorded, were felt over 1 million sq miles.

Large chunks of the Mississippi River banks disappeared. One of the earthquakes caused the Mississippi to run backwards for a few hours. Travelers on the river were in for a shock when they found themselves moving the wrong way at a high rate of speed only to be swept back down the river and over falls that weren’t there previously.

These earthquakes were believed to range from 7.0 to 7.7. Due to the fact that the area was barely settled, loss of life was minimal and most deaths occurred from those on the river. Imagine if an earthquake of that magnitude were to happen today. To put it a little more in perspective check out the picture on this page .

Just look at all the major cities. Now you may be thinking that hey, the damage pattern doesn’t look that bad, but let me tell you something; one of the New Madrid earthquakes cracked sidewalks in Washington DC.

Here is a video that talks about some of the effects of the New Madrid.


Some say New Madrid isn’t active, but I can’t help wonder if it’s only a matter of time before it reminds people that it is active. And if it does, I can’t help but wonder at the tremendous natural disaster we as Americans will be facing.

You can find more information about New Madrid at the following links.

http://www.showme.net/~fkeller/quake/lib/eyewitness1.htm

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/missouri/history.php

 

Walking for Health

Let me first make this perfectly clear from the start: I hate exercise!
I did enough of it in the Army for a lifetime. I can still remember the way the crisp air smelled at O’Dark Thirty in the morning, and I can live a long time without smelling it again.

Soldiers doing pt

I do know from experience that just eating better is not going to get the job done. I may be able to drop a few pounds cutting bad carbs, sugar and drinking more water, but moving is going to get the results faster. My goal is not just to shed a few pounds, it’s to get back down to a healthy weight for me. Let’s be honest, I know everyone has some issue they struggle with, maybe more than one.

I conquered one struggle with the help of the Lord, and we are forever thankful. My husband and I had tried to quit smoking for years, only to have WW 3 commence under our roof after only a few days. Not a happy site. So, we would start smoking again. The turning point was a desire on both our parts to dedicate our lives back to the Lord. We decided to attend a new church, get baptized and really learn what the Bible says about living a righteous life. In a tiny non-denominational church with prayer warriors a plenty we went forth one Sunday to break the nicotine habit. I will never be able to explain how it happened, but I NEVER craved another Marlboro again. Jesus did that for me!
Now, after I quit smoking, two babies, and years of a more sedentary life, I have gained more weight then I care to admit. My family has a history of diabetes, I have high cholesterol, and I have had a gout attack; twice. It’s time to quit messing around and get busy. I am doing pretty well with my eating, some days better than others. I do tend to cheat once in a while. That reminds me I have half a brownie I need to either finish or dispose of. I don’t feel bad for cheating. I get right back on the wagon the next day.

good food
What has worked for me is walking. I used to have a walking partner, but she moved away. Now I struggle with staying dedicated to it alone. I can walk any time, in any weather. I do it in my basement to a tape or DVD. Now I know some people are going to wonder; really? Can you really lose weight that way? Yes, you can. I had lost 15 pounds, and then when I stopped concentrating on the goal I gained it all back and then some. Stress sabotaged me.Walking
This time I am determined to get to the goal. I have only lost six pounds with my new eating program and I am not struggling with finding the time to walk in doors with my tape. I always plan on going to bed early so I can get up before I need to worry about two teenage boys waking up in time for school. That’s about to change. They are old enough to get themselves up, and we just happen to have two small alarm clocks that are not in use. Soon I will have no more excuses.

Blessings,

Tammy Trail