It’s Camp Nanowrimo time and writers are scribbling away like mad or letting fingers fly over the keyboard.
Or maybe staring at the blank screen?
Oh yes. If you’re a Nano participant, no doubt you’re cringing at the above image but truth is, it does happen to the best of us.
What could make that not happen? What could keep our writing time full and flowing like a forgotten turned-on tap? Maybe we should plot more. Maybe just learn to let go?
Which is where we come to the intent of this discussion. Who makes a more fluent writer? Who has a better shot at winning Nanowrimo? What kind of writers?
Plotters or pantsers?
If you’re novice to these terms, just to familiarize you:
Plotters: are those writers who painstakingly chart out every turning point in their book. They have worked out the start, middle and end of the book.
Pantsers: a term that arose from ‘writing by the seat of their pants’ i.e. writing without planning. These are the writers who while writing are figuratively flying in the mist, just seeing a little way ahead. They take an idea and run with it. They have usually no plan where the story will end up.
There is a new term going round these days. Plansters, who are a combination of both. Hmm are they immune to the blank screen?
What advantages plotters have
Obviously if you’ve planned your book, you have a huge advantage. You know what to write, what subject comprises your story. You’ve done the research.
Plotters usually have covered:
– Storyline. That is, the plot points.
– Characters. Histories and profiles of characters. Some people write the characters’ whole history. I recommend charting out the details of three important events in various stages of their life at a minimum. I’ve covered that in my post on what to keep in mind while writing a short story.
– Lowest point. Crisis.
Some writers write a rough outline for each chapter while few even do a detailed outline down to every event.
So is all that detailing useful?
Disadvantages of too much plotting
With all the story milestones marked out and the journey charted out, it may seem plotters wouldn’t have to face a blank screen. No, not true. I’ve written by plotting and I know I lost interest. Some things didn’t sound right. The characters wouldn’t go where I wanted. Or if they did the actions seemed illogical and just ‘not them’. The plot seems contrived.
The disadvantage the plotters face is that when the characters face a point, a pinch point, they react. It affects them. When the author was plotting, she didn’t detail how it would affect them. If she took this into consideration, fine. But mostly characters develop in the book and (in my own experience) refuse to go where you lead them. That’s when your story and your plotting starts shaking like a house of cards. Trembling. Threatening to collapse in the gust of wind of confused writing.
And then the Nano goal recedes further and further away.
The other disadvantage the plotters face is boredom. You know what is going to happen. There is no newness, no unexpected twists surprising you. Your scene length will shorten. You may end it quickly just to finish it off.
Plotting too much can make you get bored with the project. There is no sense of wonder and you start feeling like it’s work. And work can be tiring. Fun goes out.
What advantages pantsers have
A fresh voice. Your writing sings with excitement because you do too while doing it. A scene just started out may extend to cover a whole chapter. Your word count climbs. Every day is a new one. A mystery. A quest to find more about your story.
Disadvantages of pantser-ing
Suddenly the excitement fizzles out. What now? You’ve poured out the idea but now your characters refuse to talk. You made them run away from the pursuing criminals. Drop onto a glacier. Got them rescued and dumped in Las Vegas. Well…what now? They don’t seem to be in the mood to move. The king pin is still missing but your protagonist has lost the will to hunt the villain down. She would rather stay where she is and enjoy herself than go face the bullets. (well, wouldn’t you?)
So, what’s the verdict? Blank screen is common to both kinds of writers. Or in fact any kind of writer. Seems it’s a nemesis we have to find a way to deal with.
How to get rid of the kryptonite of blank screen.
Well, to tell you the truth, there’s no surefire way. It’s what’s called the writers’ block and comes and goes on its own. That’s because several factors account for it. Check out my post about how to beat writers’ block to read more on this.
But I’ll discuss here a few things which can help you retain your particular way of writing whether you are plotter or pantser. They are conclusions based on my own struggle with both ways of writing. I’ve tried plotting, though not detailed, but I used to write my story scenes ahead of their chronological order. That cost me huge chunks of time, as I would later struggle to put these ‘brilliant’ scenes in the story but fail to gel them in. Then I’ve tried to write without working over an idea, sped up by sheer enthusiasm but that has ended in tears too quite a few times. I’ve tried both ways, sometimes in the same book. So I began to analyze what worked when I finally finished a manuscript. Here are my tips to clobber the blank screen.
Never plan too rigidly. Keep some space to allow characters to grow. Have a plan but let it be flexible, even vague at places. Allow the deviation when the character demands it. The turns and twists in your story will give it a newness you’ll find irresistibly alluring. So the charm of writing is reborn. It’s no longer a drag of a job (well it is, but you know what I mean. Within the drag, there is fun. Breaking free like a tiny sapling from soil. Ok, no more tired old metaphors.)
Planning is not in your blood but do plan what your characters stand for. What they have set out for and whether they will or won’t get it. Even that much of guidance could keep your story on track.
Hit or miss? What is common warning signal for the blank screen of plotters and pantsers?
It’s this focus – or lack of it – on the characters. They are going to chart out the book for you. Twists and turning points can be to drive the plot but even they will have to be put in according to the characters’ journey. So, be sure you know your protagonist. If you’re stuck, you don’t know her too well. One suggestion for a time like this. Sit down and write a conversation with her. Interview her. You will find new insights to shape your story.
Hope you’ve found this useful. What kind of a writer are you, love to plan or make it up as you write? Or a mixture of both? How do you handle the blank screen?
All the best for Nano and also for any forthcoming competition you undertake.
Keep well. Write with love.