Tag Archives: writer

Has Writing ruined reading for other authors?

Think back to when you were a child.  An innocence, where magic investagationand fantasy filled your world.  The tooth fairy somehow always knew when you lost a tooth, and you stared in amazement (though not disbelief) how such a tiny car could fit twenty clowns in it at the circus.

Then you grow up, and you discover why.  You were taken backstage and saw how the magic was done.  And like that *snaps fingers* the magic is gone.  You can’t ignore it.  The next time you went to the circus you looked for the trap door.  Even if the magician guesses your card correctly, you wonder how he did it.  ‘What’s the trick’, you ask yourself.  Not, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’.  You want to know the trick…  Because there is no such thing as magic.

You discovered the Great and Powerful OZ was just a charlatan behind a curtain using smoke and mirrors to play God.

Okay, I’m getting a little melodramatic, I realize that.  But it makes my point.  Critiquing is habit forming.

Since I’ve joined this underground society of writers I have done a lot of critiquing.  There are days I prefer it to writing.  But it is not without its drawbacks.

Even though my daughter is in high school, I recently started to read to her again before going to bed.  Sure the titles and topics of what we now read have drastically changed.  Little fuzzy woodland critters dancing gleefully in meadows have been traded for teenagers stranded in a town entranced by some dystopian virus outbreak, but still quality time is quality time…right?

I like to think my daughter enjoyed the times I’ve read to her when she was a little girl, but I’m not so sure this is the case now.

“I looked down the street.  All the houses had the same exterior brickwork, same mailbox, same landscaping…”  I pause after reading that last sentence.

“What?  Why did you stop?” my daughter asks.

“Exterior brickwork?  The author would have been better off saying ‘façade’.  It flows better.  ‘Exterior brickwork’ drew me out of the story a bit.  Don’t you agree?”

A sigh and eye roll later she replies, “Not as much as you analyzing every sentence.”

Critiquing is a wonderful tool.  I believe it helps me improve my writing as I become aware of other people’s issues in theirs.  But I recently noticed that I can no longer just read a book for the sake of reading.  I critique as I go.

I’m not saying I’m a master wordsmith, merely that critiquing helps sharpen your skills since you train yourself to look for pitfalls even experienced writers can fall victims to.  Like ending sentences with prepositions.

But like the grown up now looking for the trap door the tiny car parks on top of, there is a part of me that misses the freedom of reading without looking at word choices and inconsistencies.  Wires, pullies, smoke machines, and mirrors have replaced magic.

I still can enjoy reading, but it has become easier to get pulled out of it now that I read it from a more technical viewpoint.  I would never have noticed that a word appeared three times within a four paragraph stretch.  Head jumping never bothered me, and I would gloss over any semi-colons barely aware they were there.

Maybe it isn’t such as bad thing.  After all, those semi-colons have no place in modern society…

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Writing styles – plotter versus panster

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Anyone who writes and talks to other writers eventually gets asked the question:  ‘Are you a plotter or panster?’

While to an outsider it sounds like the perfect beginnings of a harassment case and the filing of a restraining order, it’s a common question.   Writers are interested in knowing if their counterparts outline and plan their stories before sitting down to write or if they just ‘wing it’.

A plotter plots out their manuscript, often creating an outline of the entire story before they launch their word processor and type their first word.  A panster may have a rough idea of what’s going on with their characters, but doesn’t have a clear and defined concept, yet they dive into their manuscript and see where it takes them.  They are flying by the seat of their pants.  While I’m not sure where the term ‘panster’ came from, I’m just going with my belief that’s why we are called pansters.  If you know differently, please leave a comment.

To be honest I have yet to meet anyone who is completely one or another.  Most if not all writers are going to be a hybrid of the two.  One writer I know does create outlines before beginning the writing process, but as far as I know, has yet to not alter it numerous times throughout her characters’ journey.

I consider myself predominantly a panster.  I will often have the beginning and the end of my story scoped out in my head, and at that point will beginning writing.  I sit down with my characters, which tend to be flushed out more than the plot I’m about to the put them through and tell them the following:  ‘Okay guys, here’s the deal.  You’re here, at point ‘A’.  I need you all to get over here, at point ‘Z’.  How you do it is up to you, just make sure you get there…except for you Smeadly, you need to die at point ‘R’.  Sorry, need to make sure the main character has motivation to continue forward.’

Aside from poor Smeadly, the process works for all of us, mainly because I believe my stories are more character driven then plot driven, so as long as I stay true to their personalities, the plot will be pushed forward.  As I write I will find myself adding the points ‘B’, and ‘C’, and (poor Smeadly), ‘R’.  So in some sense I’m never really flying blind.  But since I don’t have the outline to begin with, I would be considered a panster.

Most will agree they while neither is better than the other, one usually works better for an individual.  Most plotters will shake their heads in wide-eyed wonderment as the panster sits down and just begins written without consulting a stack of papers with the outlines and character profiles, and bite their tongue when we get writer’s block.  Pansters will roll their eyes and tap their foot as the plotter goes over their notes before preparing to tackle the puzzle that will soon be their next masterpiece. 

There’s no right or wrong way to write a story.  If it’s in you, it will get out and find its way to the keyboard.