Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantser doesn’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

Unpopular Opinion: The Current State of Poetry

While poetry isn’t my favorite medium, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Edgar Allen Poe’s Alone speaks to me in ways few other works ever have. The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe gets my heart pounding with its haunting lyricism and captivating imagery.

Poetry in itself is a small miracle, able to impart a whole cornucopia of emotion in such a small amount of time.

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That being said, my appreciation of poetry has waned over the past few years and I think it may have something to do with how much it has changed.

It’s not like I didn’t expected poetry to evolve.

The world is becoming a different place and, as such, the arts are destined to change with it lest they become irrelevant.

It was destined to leave the loving arms of William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson to make its own way in the world.

But post-modern poetry is like a child from a super-protective household that became hooked on cocaine in college and drop out to live in a Los Angeles slum.

Some of the more recent poems I’ve seen published in books and lit mags don’t even seem like they should count as poetry. This may sound harsh, but hear me out.

I willl come–

across poems

written

like this for

no particular reason

that breaks off at

random

like

this

They are so distracting visually it’s impossible not to imagine William Shatner narrating them.

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I realize “free-verse poetry” is a thing, but shouldn’t there be some logical structure? If not, aren’t the words just floating around aimlessly?

Often times there will be no rhyme scheme or word-pictures to make them pop either so my mind instantaneously purges them as soon as I’m done reading.

I literally cannot remember these poems five minutes after I’ve read them. 

When the poet does attempt to create a word-picture, the metaphors tend to be so muddled and confusing I honestly have no idea what they are talking about.

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Is that meant to be part of the fun? Just figuring out what the poem is supposed to be about? The titles are no help either. A poem that details a burning forest could be called “Tapioca Pudding.” 

Is that in reference to the fire reducing everything to sludge? Is that the color of wood after it has burned? 

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I’ve taken many an English class, studied the creative arts year after year, yet I’m no closer to determining if these poems are deep or dumb.

Do I just not “get” it?

Oh God, am I a boomer?

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*Sigh*

Then….. there’s slam poetry.

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Slam Poetry has been around since the 80s, but it has risen to prominence over the last decade, especially in academic circles  and….I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps all the political and social issues of the day have inspired creatives to take to the stage to express their angst in a more public forum.

Regardless of how much passion or earnestness is put into the construction of these pieces….can we admit that it’s super corny 99.9% of the time?

It’s not necessarily the poems themselves. It’s a combination of the half-baked stanzas with overly-dramatic readings that would give an acting coach a hernia.

I can’t think of a single one I’ve witnessed that didn’t make me want to chloroform myself mid-performance.

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How all slam poems sound to me

I understand how important your subject matter is, but saying something dramatically does not make it deep. If I recited I’m a Little Teapot while doing interpretive dance, it’s not going to give the song a new meaning. It’s still about a teapot being short and being tipped over to pour liquid in a cup for someone to drink.

…Now I want someone to write a slam remix of I’m a Little Teapot. It would have made that awkward Ashley Judd poetry reading way more interesting.

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I. Am. A. Naaaaasty little teapot.”

For those of you that write and enjoy post-modern poetry, I’m genuinely happy for you.

I am pleased that you can derive meaning from something and be inspired to create as a result of it.

But I think I will continue to appreciate your passion from far, far away.

No, Your Story Isn’t Original and That’s Okay: A Brief Essay on Originality

I think it’s safe to say this generation of movie-goers and readers are more analytical about their media consumption than ever before. You needn’t go far to find blogs, vlogs, reviewing sites and more for detailed critiques of just about any form of story-telling you care to think of.

On the one hand, I think this is a good thing. People should demand well-constructive narratives and ideas that challenge them in all forms of media whether they be comics, movies, or books.

Nevertheless, I’m also noticing a trend that has budded as a response to this movement and it’s a bit…annoying.

It’s the perpetuation of an ideology that maintains if anything is even vaguely similar to something else, it’s a knock-off.

The problems with this line of thinking are twofold.

For one, it stunts the growth of future writers because it forces them to live in a constant state of paranoia that their story is a copy of something else.

When Hunger Games was at the pinnacle of its popularity, many people decried it as a knock-off of another novel-turned-movie titled Battle Royal, a story revolving around Japanese students being dropped off on an island by the government and ordered to kill each other.

Now on a superficial level, Hunger Games does sound like its premise was lifted from Battle Royale. However, if you chose to look further and actually read the two books you’ll realize they have basically nothing in common.

(For those of you interested in an explanation of how they differ, I will leave a link here.)

For another, if you think about it, just about every story is a “copy” of another.

Example: Harry Potter is a knock-off of Star Wars.

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No, really.

Think about it.

Both feature orphaned boys raised by their uncle and aunt to believe that they are perfectly normal only for an old family friend to come into their lives and reveal the truth about their lineage.  It then becomes clear they must defeat a great evil, who is much closer to their own identities than they had previously thought, by using the arcane arts.

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Their mentors die which forces them to continue alone, armed only with the wisdom they obtained from their teachings and the love and support of their friends. Both characters must also control their darkness, which threatens to overtake them and makes them more like their arch nemesis than they previously thought.

Oh, and they both refuse to kill the enemy, but the antagonist dies in the end regardless.

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While it’s fun to laugh at how similar these stories seem on the surface, the reason we find it humorous in the first place is because they are vastly different in every other respect.

One is science fiction with fantastical elements sprinkled in, one is fantasy. One takes place in a boarding school in Europe during the 90s, another long ago in a galaxy far, far away. One is about a child, while the other is about a boy in his late teens or early twenties.

The differences go on, but I’ve made my point.

The reason stories fail is not because they are similar to another story. The issue arises when it adds nothing new to the themes that it is trying to present, or it follows the exact same path that its alleged predecessor tread.

The concept of an orphan boy destined for greatness isn’t an idea invented by J.K. Rowling. In fact it’s used so often it borders on cliché. However, the way Rowling implements it is unique because their absence is not used merely as a vehicle to allow Harry to have adventures without parental intervention, or to make him a more sympathetic figure. Harry has no loving family of his own and so his friends become like family to him and the stakes are higher whenever their lives are in peril. He leans more heavily on them than the typical person might, even at that age when friendships are essential to personal and social growth. This forces us, the audience, to become more emotionally engaged in the characters’ fate because without them he has nothing.

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So instead of worrying about how similar your plot or themes are to other works, focus on how you can play with the audience’s expectations and make the story yours. 

Perhaps a subplot in your novel is about a character who wants to avenge a fallen family figure. Typically, at the end, the character decides not to go along with it because murdering that person would make them “just like” that character. However, maybe your character does go along with their plan and is happy with their decision, up until the point where they realize it has changed them for the worst. Your character has then lost a part of themselves they can never get back.

Maybe they aren’t even aware they have been changed by the experience until a trusted friend or family member points it out to them. This creates conflict and makes your character more three-dimensional.

This is only one example. There are tons of different things you can do to make yours story stand apart from other similar works.

Above all else, make sure to put a bit of your soul into everything your write. I know it sounds corny, but there is only one and your thoughts and opinions are your own.

Explore your identity.

Ask yourself why you believe what you believe. Dig deeper into ideas that might confuse you, or frustrate you about other works of fiction.

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And remember, in spite of what Cinema Sins may tell you–

*grabs megaphone*

Tropes are not clichés!

Thanks for reading!

That First Damn Line

If anyone were to look up from their dinner plates at me at this moment they would see someone on the verge of taking a plastic spoon from her empty soup bowl and gouging her own eyes out.

I’m at a restaurant under the false impression that I am going to be doing some writing this afternoon.

I need to leave my house, I thought. There are too many distractions here. Surely if I go out into the world inspiration will just pour out of me.

Instead I ordered my food, sat down, fitfully read over my first draft, got food, and persisted to languish over a blank document for almost an hour.

Now my food is gone but my frustration remains.

The reason being I can’t think of that first line.

Every good story has an amazing opening hook, one that sinks its teeth into a reader and refuses to let go. The line that’s like a rabid dog, frothing at the mouth, refusing to relent. The harder you try to shake free from it, the more it fights back.

I do not have that line.

I’m blocking.

I have a deadline, but I can’t stop resisting.

I type one line.

No, that’s wrong.

Delete.

I type another.

Wrong.

Delete.

Is this story even worth telling?

Type.

Delete.

Would music help?

Delete.

Should I read some more?

Type.

Delete.

Does anyone else care whether or not I finish this?

Delete.

Cliche.

Delete.

Cheesy.

Delete.

Perhaps the problem is not with the sentence. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the work itself but the expectation I’ve placed on myself.

I try to follow the current. To let the voice and tone of the piece speak through me, nevertheless, there’s that wood pecker of a critic, pecking away at my brain as I type.

If I try to escape, to take a break, I will not come back to it. I  will delay and wait for a perfect day that will never come. A day where I will be free of apprehension and self-doubt.

I wait for it.

I wait for it in the florescent lights, swallowed up by the light sound of chatter and the scraping of silverware on porcelain.

Type.

Delete.

So, I’m Not Dead

Okay, so, excuse time.

Truth be told, I probably could have updated this blog a long while ago but I didn’t want to because I have not been satisfied with the content I’m working on. As of this writing, I currently have five blog posts in my drafts folder and two short stories I want to post.

Over the past few months I have been planning, writing, and editing blog posts only to immediately delete them due to their rambling nature.

Don’t worry.

I still have strong opinions.

I’m just trying to articulate them in such a way that is palatable for the masses.

……Or at least for the handful of friends that read and enjoy this blog.

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I know perfection isn’t a thing and I should just bite the bullet and get this crap out there to be read, but what is a writer without ego? I need to feel as if I’ve done my best work for that particular project and I haven’t been getting that feeling from anything I’ve been producing thus far.

So don’t worry if you’re worried…. which you’re probably not because you have a life and aren’t concerned about whether or not some random stranger on the internet is posting content in an already overly-saturated market of media.

But yeah. More content is coming and I’m doing my damndest to make sure it gets out there soon…ish.

It’s in the works! Book reviews, some personal essays, stories, it’s all coming!

There is no escape.

Until next time.

The Most Beautifully Awful Writing Advice Ever

Recently I was introduced to a gorgeous poem by the late Charles Bukowski called “so you want to be a writer?”

Here’s a small exert:

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

You can read the poem in it’s entirety here of you could listen to a reading of it here.

It’s beautiful, right? Inspiring, powerful—something you would want to make a wall decal out of to impress your friends at dinner parties.

It’s also very, very, very, very, very, very wrong.

In fact, it’s difficult to recall anything that I’ve read that has been so astronomically wrong about writing.

Don’t misunderstand me, when he’s talking about writing for fame and fortune and sex he’s totally on the mark. Precious few writers reach the level of world-wide recognition and if you only want to write for accolades then you clearly don’t have what it takes to succeed in this craft. However, he also says–

“if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again/don’t do it”

and

“if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it/don’t do it.

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Uhhhh….I don’t know a single solitary person, good writer or bad, who does not struggle with sitting down and writing.

I also do not know a single solitary person who has never had to suffer through a rewrite.

You know, because first drafts are dumpster fires of confusion and poor grammar.

For those of you who are fans of Charles Bukowski , did he not rewrite any of his poetry? My education on the man is lacking so that’s entirely possible. Nevertheless, if it’s true that he didn’t then he is an anomaly.

His poem goes on to say that a person should wait until the fires of passion are so hot  they have no choice but to let them out before writing something.

“if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently/ if it never does roar out of you, do something else.”

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I have had moments where the desire to write something was so powerful that I felt like the story was literally trying to push its way out of me, but I’ll be the first to admit that these moments are few and far between.

If you wait until you feel as if you physically have no choice but to write something, odds are you will never finish anything.

The Inspiration Fairy is a very fickle creature and will oftentimes screw off at random, leaving you with no will to go on.

My favorite quote about inspiration goes as follows “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Courting inspiration is a lot like trying to find a significant other. You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to notice you.

I have found that the best way to attract inspiration is to have a set amount of time each day to write. Believe it or not, the more you write the more inspiration is likely to show up. There have been months where I have struggled to produce anything; however, once I made the decision to write for at least an hour every day, writing started to become less of a drag.

I found myself feeling more and more motivated and my writing began to suck a little bit less.

Better yet I actually started to finish things I started.

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Did that mean I never struggle? Hell no. I’m struggling right now, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

Same goes for you.

Struggling isn’t a sign you should quit, it’s simply a byproduct of trying.

And if you aren’t interested in trying then, and only then, would I say–

Don’t do it.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

I’m not going to lie.

I had many, many illusions about blogging when I started The Crooked Pen.

I thought that, with enough vigor and talent I would be able to flock hundreds of thousands of people to this site. I had seen other blogs similar to this one and I thought I had them all beat. Surely, if this unoriginal tripe can get over one hundred likes, my posts, which are much more original, can receive the same amount of popularity as well….

That did not happen.

Ever.

That isn’t to say I haven’t made progress in both my writing style and my following. Nevertheless, it has never (and likely will never) garnered the sort of popularity I had hoped it would have.

This blog was created for two reasons: 1. So that I could go on lengthy diatribes about things the laymen doesn’t care about (fiction, writing, the literary merits of popular TV shows etc. And 2. So that I could create a platform to launch my writing career.

When it comes to the former, I have been more that successful. When it comes to the latter however….

I tried.

I didn’t exactly make a schedule, but I put it in my mind that I would attempt to make at least one blog post a week. When this didn’t attract as many people as I had hoped, I begun reading other people’s blogs and following them. I commented, liked, followed, engaged as much as I possibly could and still make time for my own personal writings. I did notice an increase…but, again, not as much as I hoped.

I decided to take a bit of a break.

I focused more on my actual writing and found that I was enjoying myself much more. When I wasn’t making a competition of it, constantly comparing myself to other writers, I  enjoyed it…quite a lot, actually.

When everything was just for the love of it and it wasn’t about how many likes or comments I would receive, I found that I felt much freer and my body of work increased in quality.

I’ve since returned to the blogging world (albeit at a less frequent rate) and I’v decided that, rather than worrying about how many like or comments I have, I’m going to focus on writing what I want to write even if it’s not popular. I enjoy putting my words out there, even if only a tiny portion of people read them.

I appreciate you guys!

I’m Still Alive and Also Writing Things, or Going on a Writing Bender

It’s been an inexcusably long time since I update this blog, I know.

I try to update at least once a week, but this obviously hasn’t been happening recently. I have a good reason for this, however……

Okay, not a good reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

You see, I’ve actually been writing recently. Like properly writing. Every day. Ever. Single. Day.

You know, that thing I’m supposed to do but blog about instead. And, to be frank, I’ve been more concerned with this project than I have updating. I’m starting a new chapter in my life and I think this is the start of more serious writing.

I can’t tell you how awesome this has been. I feel like I’ve been training for a triathlon for months and made first place.

This could potentially mean I update every other week rather than every single week. However, I don’t plan on abandoning this blog any time soon. I’ve put too much work into it so far.

I will see you guys later!

*plays theme music*

My time has come.

Editing is the Worst Thing Ever

Is there anything quite as beautiful as writing the first draft of a story?

Every moment is primed with intrigue, wonder, and mystery.

You just paint everything on the metaphorical canvass as you see it in your mind’s eye. Ideas pour forth from you like a soda fountain filled with Mentos

You pat yourself on the back for every clever line, every twist and turn, every unique character.

Then, once the dust has settled, you must look back on your writing….

And realize that literally everything is horrible.

There are plot-holes everywhere, nobody’s motivation makes sense, the action is either too slow or too fast, the plot is too predictable or disjointed. The list goes on and on.

The worst part is realizing you’re actually going to have to fix this crap.

All it takes for your hard work to be torn asunder is the word “why.”

Why didn’t they just do this? Why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t he ask her this? Why didn’t she stay at home instead?

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You will have to answer these questions and many, many more 😀

Not only that, but you may have to remove some of your favorite sequences in order for the new continuity to make sense. That means hacking away at that razor sharp dialogue and those gorgeous descriptions, leading you to meander down a road rife with uncertainty.

Well…you could ask someone to be your beta reader and get their opinion, but then they may question your literary genius.

You can’t have that.

But really there’s nothing for it.

It’s just another stumbling block on the road to success, or, as is often the case with writing, another mine in a minefield of never-ending despair and disappointment.

Perhaps in between drafts you should take a break. Let it sit for a while and then come back to it when it’s had time to cool. Then you can turn your keen eye to the festering pile of dung that is your first draft with a clear perspective and can dispose of it accordingly.

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Regardless, I think this may be one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides… everything else.

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Strange Writing Prompts For Your Boring Monday

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m finding myself consistently disappointed by writing prompts I find on the internet.

I understand that the main point of these niblets are to get our minds jogging and not to help us produce a 1,000 page Pulitzer Prize winning work of art. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like they aren’t trying hard enough.

For instance, one of them might be like “you are home alone and desperately want a pb&j sandwich. However, you open the cupboard to find that your damn roommate ate all the peanut butter without telling you.”

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Or it will be something cliché like “you’re out walking alone when you spy an abandoned house.”

In light of this lack of imagination, I’ve decided to come up with my own horrible writing prompts for you to enjoy:

1. Scientists have discovered that unicorns are real and wish to integrate into horse society. However, the horses are afraid the unicorns will steal their jobs and form a union to prevent farmers from hiring them. 

2. An owl and a mouse fall in love, defying the social conventions of their people. Then, one night, the owl gets hungry. 

3. Siri develops a mind of her own and is totally cool with coexisting with the human race, provided a virgin software designer is sacrificed to her every full moon. 

4. A giant tarantula, King Tyrenious of Taranchia, First of His Name, appears in your bathtub and offers you his hand in marriage. However, after a misunderstanding with a bottle of conditioner, he declared war on your clothes hamper. 

5. 10,000 years in the future, humanity is divided into two factions: those who believe Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time and those who are wrong. 

6. Atlas shrugs and accidentally sends the world careening towards the sun. Onlookers languish over which Instagram filter they should use to capture this moment. 

7.  The demon who has been secretly living in your attic for 20 years writes you a message in tea leaves and blood, explaining that your relationship is not working out anymore. 

8. A door-to-door salesman angers a witch and is transformed into a public toilet at Grand Central Station. 

9You have just begun working as a public relations specialist for Journey Funeral Homes and must write a PR piece about how their slogan “Don’t stop bereaving” is not horribly offensive.  

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