Beating a Dead Horse (The Synopsis, Again or Pantser vs. Plotter or I’ve Finally Seen the Light)

April 21, 2011

I write “by the seat of my pants,” without outline, without sticky tabs, without…direction, therefore I must be a pantser. My characters appear in my head. They wave. They smile. They chat. I become attached to them, and I start to think, “There’s a story here.” So I sit, and I write as much as they’re willing to tell me. But when they stop talking, I get stuck.

I’ve written four complete manuscripts this way. At times, the process is painful. Other times, the process is euphoric. There’s really no in between.

Maybe I’m a pantser, but I’m also a bi-polar writer. And this past week, the “mood swings” became unbearable.

Chapter 10 of my WIP didn’t meet my expectations. The story felt less and less about the H&H and more and more about some obscure corporate takeover. As I wrote Chapter 11 and moved on to Chapter 12, I had no idea where I was going. I simply begged my characters to show me the way. In that state of confusion, I sent Chapter 10 off to my CP (Hi, Nicole! Me: waving like a kindergartener), and she promptly sent it back with a big old tongue splatter.

CP: “You lost your way.”

Me: “Damn, you caught me.”

I decided to break from WIP and switch focus to my last finished manuscript, the one that needs a synopsis. I sat. I stared at the blank page. Because even with help from a synopsis class I’m taking, nothing takes shape.

Fed up, I went back over all the synopsis advice I’ve collected. Writing one seems easy enough. If I include the character arcs, conflicts, the story structure and plot then I should have a decent synopsis. I opened a new document. I wrote down everything I knew about my characters, the conflict, and then I realized…I can’t follow my own story arcs.

Bam! (The sound of my head falling to the table.)                          

Upon further research, I realized I can’t name the specific plot points in anything I’ve written.

Crash! (The sound of the table collapsing under my full body weight.)

Now, that doesn’t mean the specific plot points aren’t there…it may mean that I’m simply not recognizing them. So I do more research and finally turn to Karen Docter for instruction on the W plot.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling! (The sound of victory bells ringing in my head.)

After three days of working with Karen Docter’s plotting exercises, I wrote a synopsis I didn’t struggle through or hate. I also identified some areas of my ms in needs of tightening or tweaking, and I’m pretty sure my WIP will get a second chance at a promising future.

I need to plot. Who knew? I should have. Heck, I don’t like to drive across town without my GPS squawking in my ear. I keep three separate calendars: paper, Cozi and iPhone. I’m a recovered bulimic! (Can you say control issues?) I’ll never know why I struggled through writing four full mss “by the seat of my pants” when plotting feels so damn good.

I’m neither a pantser nor a plotter. I’m just a writer, willing to do whatever it takes to get the story told.


2 Responses to “Beating a Dead Horse (The Synopsis, Again or Pantser vs. Plotter or I’ve Finally Seen the Light)”

  1. taristhread Says:

    “I’m neither a pantser nor a plotter. I’m just a writer, willing to do whatever it takes to get the story told.”

    I think that’s the bottom line. After my synopsis workshop at RT, I felt like I should be able to do this, it’s more like the way I work when I write non-fiction…and as for control issues….well, I won’t go there….

  2. nicolehelm Says:

    *waves back* I came to this same realization a while ago. Even though I give myself leeway to veer off my plotting and outlining, it helps in the beginning to kind of have an idea where I’m going… and then it changes eighty-five times before the end. But that’s okay. Whatever works!

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