Approaching the blank page – part 4
By now you may well be itching to actually write something. I’ve made you wander off from the blank page, then get all your equipment sorted out, and consider the form and genre of your story.
Now, at long last, you are ready to tackle that blank page grasshopper!
Except now you have the new issue of actually telling a story, and that’s not as simple as you may think. Sure, you now know if you’re writing a short story, or a novel, you know the genre you want to write in, you understand the major themes of your story, but now we’re down to the nuts and bolts of storytelling.
Setting, character, names, locations, description, narrative, plot. This is the coal face of writing; welcome it, embrace it, because this is what it’s all about ladies and gentlemen.
At this point, you’ll find out what type of writer you are – a pantser, or a plotter.
Pantsers are those who write “by the seat of their pants”. They sit in front of the page and let the story flow out of them, they let the characters say what seems natural. For a pantser, the story grows organically, you seem to be pulling it from your subconscious – it’s like recording events as they happen, rather than deciding them in advance. In the main, I’m a pantser, I let the story happen, and I try to witness it. It can be a frightening experience. Characters often become more real than you might wish them, developing distinct personalities. Pantsers very often find themselves in conflict with their own character who have ceased to cooperate with the wrtier, and refuse to be told what to do.
It’s fun and scary, and can be frustrating – the story you thought you would write very often becomes something different. And for the main part you are largely unsure what’s going to happen next, leaving that, perversely, in the hands of protagonists that you have created yourself
If you are a pantser, then the best advice I can give you to help now is just get on with it. Check your ego at the door, move out of the way of the story, and let the characters do what seems natural to them. If you get stuck, or things don’t seem to be working, many times this is because characters are doing things that go against their character. Listen to the character as you have invented them, and don’t push them too hard or they push back. And if you do wind up in an insurmountable plot hole, then it is no sin to go back to an earlier point in your draft when things were going well, and move in a new direction.
For some of you, the idea of being a pantser might seem crazy, frightening, even abhorrent. Welcome my friend, to the world of the plotter. A plotter will world build, develop characters, their personal histories, create the storyline (often with a structure of what will happen on a chapter by chapter basis) in advance of actually writing the story. I confess, I’m not one of these people, and I’m not terribly good at doing it, but I can see the advantages. Plotters rarely have to deal with the plot holes that a pantser can write themselves into, as plotters have worked out such problems in advance.
There are varying degrees of being a plotter. Tolkien can be seen as the archetype, constructing languages, histories, location in exquisite detail for his Middle Earth. Indeed, the Lord of the Rings is merely an excuse for showing off Tokien’s true love of myth and language. I’m not suggesting that every plotter need go to the extremes of Tokien. Most are content with a page of character detail for their protagonists and antagonists, a three act structure detailing the major plot points and some notes on locations and necessary background.
I don’t plot much, but one tool that I did find useful, which gave me some structure to work with whilst still allowing me to be a pantser, was the Snowflake method. It takes a few weeks or so to complete, but it’s great for focusing your ideas. For those taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I recommend using the Snowflake in October.
Whilst I’ve heard some grumbling between groups of plotters and pantsers accusing each other of not being “real” writers, I find that largely nonsense. If you write, you are a real writer. Whatever method of writing works best for you is nobody’s business but your own. I liken the difference between pantsing and plotting as similar to the differences between different schools of art. Each with their own adherents, but each equally valid.
I have taken up enough of your time. You have the ideas, you have the tools. Approach that blank page with no fear. It’s time to write.