Forget Pantsers and Plotters: Be Like a Traveler Instead

It’s generally accepted that there are two schools of thought in how people approach writing: Pantsers and Plotters. Each has their benefits and challenges to the writing process.

What is a pantser?

People who “fly by the seat of their pants.” These writers don’t meticulously plan out the plot before they start writing. Pantsers aren’t wed to a story idea, which means they can be open to the creative muses that arise in the middle of writing – without it threatening the rest of their plot. These are the people who can walk into an airport and book the next departing flight to an exotic locale and not look back.

Downside: When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost. A story you thought was taking off could get stranded along the way if writers block sets in. For example, they’re the ones who didn’t book their tickets ahead of time to Dracula’s castle and had to wait 2 hours at the ticket window, losing valuable time because they didn’t plan ahead.

 

What is a plotter?

People who have exact road maps that they follow on the path to writing the words “The End.” Plotters know their scenes and what needs to be written. These are the people who have detailed itineraries to follow. They’ve been planning for months and have booked hotels and trains weeks in advance.

Downside: If they stay too tightly to their course, they may miss out on the things off the beaten path. For example, they bought the tickets to Dracula’s castle ahead of time but rushed through the rooms in order to make it to their next scheduled activity.

 

While these two different camps work well for many writers, perhaps there’s another approach somewhere between the hopping on the next flight and scheduling down to the minute. It’s what I call a Traveler because not only do you travel between the two extremes, but you do it like someone traveling the world would do by being open to new ideas while exploring your intended path.

While there will always be travelers who stick to their carefully detailed itineraries or the ones who have no itineraries at all, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ones who know what country they want to go to. They’ve done enough research to know some of what they want to see. But, they’re not afraid to veer off course when they learn there’s a hidden waterfall that only the locals know about or to drop everything to go hear Desmond Tutu speak. Because it’s these special moments, the ones you didn’t expect, that create the best memories and will be the most memorable for your readers.

desmond-tutu-photo
Annie and her family meeting Desmond Tutu after hearing the day before about the opportunity.

So if you’re a pantser, try and at least look at the path so you’re not wandering around lost or trying fourteen different directions until you find the one that leads to the right path. And if you’re a plotter, don’t forget to stray from the path every once and a while. You might just discover something that will give your story the edge it was missing.

Are you a pantser or plotter? Or do you think you’re more of a hybrid Traveler? Let me know in the comments!

 

#AnnieHasBeenThere: Free Setting Advice for Writers

Ever run into the problem in writing where you want to set the story in a location that’s perfect for the plot, but you’ve never been there? While technology has come a long way and you can use tools like Google Earth to see some things, nothing truly beats being there. You can’t tell what the air smells like or what sounds stick out louder than others. You can’t judge how the local people will react to you or what the nightlife feels like.

That’s where I come in. I’m launching a new FREE service for my fellow writers. I’ve been blessed to travel to over 50 countries in my life, and I love to take pictures everywhere I go. So I figured why not help out writers who want to set a story in a place they’ve never been?

annie-in-africa
Annie in South Africa

So if you’re struggling to describe the setting in your latest scene, contact me through my contact page (https://anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com/contact/) asking for photos, descriptions, whatever it is you need. I’ll do my best to give you the info you need to make your setting feel authentic and alive! Or, tweet at me (@annsulliva) using the hashtag #AnnieHasBeenThere and the country or city you’re looking for help on.

Here are the countries and islands* that I’ve been to:

  • Antarctica
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Aruba (Under Dutch Jurisdiction)
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Botswana
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Chile
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Curacao (Under Danish Jurisdiction)
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Ecuador (Including the Galapagos Islands)
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Falkland Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • Norway
  • Northern Ireland
  • Panama (Including Panama Canal)
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico (Under US Jurisdiction)
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten/St. Martin
  • Scotland
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • South Georgia Island (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • United States
  • Vatican City
  • Vietnam
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Major US cities and locations I’ve been to:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Indianapolis
  • Miami
  • Nashville
  • New Orleans
  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Washington, D.C.

*Please note that I’ve spent more time in some countries over others and have not been to all parts of every country. But I’ll do my best to give you what info I can.

Keep an eye out for my #TravelTuesday posts on Twitter with pictures of the places I’ve been so you can get some more inspiration.

Happy writing!

What Dracula’s Castle Taught Me About Writing Fear

It was a dark and stormy night…..okay, it was actually a dark and stormy day at Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle in Romania. As we explored the castle, the thunder pitching across the spiked peaks of the pine trees covering the mountains certainly helped set the mood, which was good because the castle isn’t nearly as scary as you might expect it to be.

white-room-bran
One of the rooms in Bran Castle

All the rooms are covered in fresh white wash that disguises any sins the castle seeks to hide. The furniture that’s displayed is carefully arranged to be easily viewed by the long lines. And people walking around listening to their guides speak kills the ambiance. No slinking through darkened, deserted hallways on this trip. You’d be lucky if you didn’t have thirty people fighting to go up the same small staircase as you.

Minus some swords plastered to the wall and the odd torture device, the castle was actually pretty bland in its serene white shell. So how does that teach you about writing fear?

bran-torture
Torture device in Bran Castle

What I remember is the storm as we left. Rain pelting us. Twisted paths. Unfamiliar roads. No one else around. Streams of water coursing down the uneven stone pathways. Family members getting separated as others ran ahead. Shoes slipping. Dark trees looming high overhead. Water dripping down your face, obscuring your vision. Unending thunder chasing us down.

It’s enough to make any heart beat fast. And it did!

I was already keyed to be scared at the castle because of its history, and the thunderstorm brought that fear to life. So apply that same idea to your story. If you’re writing about a villain, give us a rumor about them, something to set the scene. But then, it’s okay to back away. To make your reader feel safe in those white washed walls before hitting them hard the moment they’re not expecting it, the moment they think they’re free.

Even if the villain’s not there, you can let the setting do the job for you. With the right set up, all you need are key elements- rain and darkness, paranoia and desperation, shadows and sounds, leaving someone behind and being lost. Fear. It comes in many forms. You just have to find the right ones that will set your character off, to make them freeze up in the middle of the rainstorm as others run ahead. Let the storm chase them. Let it chase us, your reader. That’s when your fear will come to life.

I’m reminded of what I once heard about the movie Jaws. Supposedly, the shark kept malfunctioning, and with the film quickly running out of budget and time, the director had to find ways to shoot scenes without the shark. Of course, the scenes still had to be scary. So the director made the water murky and dark, playing on our fear of the unseen. He made music that still haunts us today. All this, in turn, made the shark scary by association. Sometimes it’s not what we see, but the other things we experience that make something scary. Think about that next time you write a scene.

What other books/movies play up fear using just setting alone? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!