Tag: Fiction Writing

No Outlining Involved! Organizing for Pantsers with Post-its

Being a writer who doesn’t outline — called a pantser or an organic writer — has its special challenges. Even the organization process doesn’t always work quite the same way. So it can be frustrating at time to look for ways to make things work and only get things that work for outliners.

But Post-its are a great tool for pantsers. They’re actually fun to play with because you can rearrange them as you need to.

What we’re not going to discuss:  This is not going to be about a scary looking thing like Post-it Plotting.  There’s going to be no mapping of scenes on Post-its, or anything even remotely related to outlining.

Tools You’ll Need

  1. Post-its: Have fun shopping for them. They come in a variety of colors, and there’s currently a color scheme for locations like Greece and New York. You can even do different shapes if you want like hearts or daisies, though these tend to be a little more expensive than the square versions.
    What size should you get? I’d recommend the 3×3, if nothing else because there’s a lot of color variety to pick from. But they’ll give you a lot of room to write on, whether you write big or want to add more notes.
  2. Pen: Try a Sharpie pen. It’s got a nice soft tip, but is bold enough to stand out on most Post It colors. Better still, it comes in lots of colors and you may be able to grab packs on sale when the school items start popping up.
  3. Sketch Pad: Try 11X14, which can be found at art stores, office supply stores, and Wal-Mart. You’ll want large and blank, to give lots of room for your Post Its. An alternative: White board.

Post-its to build a list of characters

One of the problems I have is that it’ll take me a little while to get to know the characters, and names can be very hard to remember. Especially when I’m writing and another one pops into the story unexpectedly, or, in the case of a character I had — his name changed three times within 6K.

Enter the Post-it. Keep a large sheet of paper near your desk. I use an 11X14 one from an art pad. A white board would work, too.

When you add a new character name, write the name on a Post-It and slap it on the page.

If your character name changes, write the new name on a Post-It and put it over the old name. That way, you still have a record of the name in case you find it while you’re revising and don’t remember that John changed to August.

The nice part about this list is that it’s very flexible. You can do different Post-It colors for certain types of characters, like you might want to know how many male characters you have versus female characters, or family factions, or just pick random colors that work for you at the moment. It’s really up to you.

The Post-its can also be rearranged in whatever way you want, so you can shuffle them alphabetically or just slap them on the page in any old order.

A character list by Post-it

A character list by Post-it

Post-Its to build a story bible

A story bible contains really pretty much anything you want about your story that’s hard to remember.  The term originated from television, where TV series had to keep track of (sometimes anyway) details:

“This is ideally a binder with everything about your book contained in its pages: plot outline, character sketches, notes, bits of dialog, small details, scene description, research, etc. You’ll find this extremely useful. The habit to develop: get a binder, write notes on characters, plot, scene, dialog, and keep it updated, as soon as you’re done writing. So: write, log it, then update your book bible.”

When describing a story bible, most writers start talking about three ring binders, tabs, and then it gets complicated very quickly.  They also include planning, which is tough for a pantser.  We’re not sure where the story is going, so what would we record?  Like other parts of pantsing a novel, some stuff may come in and then, ultimately, never get used.  Then it becomes a question about time investment, because pulling out that binder, finding a new sheet of paper, making the notes, punching the page, and then figuring out where it should becomes a lot of time.

But a Post-It note is a good, temporary solution. Write down anything you need to remember and attach it to the page. Rearrange as needed. Once the story is settled, sort through them for what you need and order them into categories. Then you can transfer them to a more permanent document if you need to reuse them later.

Post-Its for additional novel research

During the course of the writing, you’re likely to hit spots where you realize you need to do more research. Like you need the names of local birds or a name of a place.

But being a pantser, you may also find that if you race off and do the research now that you end up not needing it because the story can change sometimes very drastically as you write. Conventional wisdom says to put the research note on a to do list in a spreadsheet or in a binder.  That goes back to the same problem of dragging out a spreadsheet or a notebook while you’re writing and recording this.  Or writing it down on a slip of paper, hoping you remember to record it in the appropriate place later.

Enter the Post-its again. Write a comment in the manuscript like “fussy (DOG BREED)” (mainly so you can find it again!) Then write the research note on the Post-It, slap it on the paper, and you’re done. Once you’ve finished the novel, you can screen them for ones that survived and still need to be done. The Post Its can be transferred to another paper and taken to the library. Pull off one and throw it away when it’s researched.

One of the great things about Post-its is that they only require a few seconds to pull out and dash something off on them. That makes them a very flexible tool to cope with the messy nature of being a pantser.

Not Shooting Yourself in the Foot With Your Online Image

I have a confession: I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since 1976.  My goal for many of those cons were to see actors.  Some of them were nice people and others I wouldn’t want to know.  One I became friends with.  He was always a gentleman and very aware of his image he presented to the world.  At one con, he did an interview for a horror magazine.  So when it first came out at Borders, a friend and I snatched up copies right away.   I called my friend, a little worried because the interview was laced with f-bombs.  We’d both read all his interviews in the past, more than 20 years worth, and he’d always kept it very clean.  We debated about it and wondered if the writer had added the words for that magazine.

Nope.  The actor had gotten to drinking during the interview and said the words himself.  When he saw the interview, he was livid because he’d gotten the writer to promise not to use the profanity.  But the true problem was that he’d said them in the interview in the first place.

Concept image of a gun with the barrel tied in a knot against the backdrop of a grid.

There’s been a lot of that online lately from writers.  It’s like people have forgotten that they’re on public view.  Writer Unboxed just had a recent example of that.  It’s been taken down, but I saw before it was pulled (a discussion is on Absolute Write.  Scroll to the bottom post).  The writer in question took a fan letter from an eager fan that evidently offended her and explained how to “rewrite” it better.  The fan was guilty only of not being a skilled writer and probably being young.

Then there’s been the review meltdowns.  Writer gets a 1-star view or one that contains a reference to something not be good in the story (and sometimes it is very minor reference) or doesn’t give glowing praise.  The writer goes on the attack, ranging from telling the reviewer to take it down; getting the fans to attack the reviewer; or attacking the writer publicly.

I even got attacked in Twitter.  The writer asked me to do a review.  The book had been labeled as action-thriller/fantasy and looked like a detective novel in the sample chapters.  The pages didn’t give me action vibes, so I politely declined as being “not for me.”  The writer wanted to demanded to know why, saying things, “You say you’re an action-thriller writer.  Are you or aren’t you?”  Excuse me?!  I didn’t “owe” a review merely because I’m action writer.  I finally told him that it didn’t have enough action for me, and he had a meltdown in 140 words.

Maybe I would have read a future book from him, but now I’m never going to buy one because of his bad behavior.  No one remembers the good person before.  All they remember is the meltdown.

Our image is our words.  If we attack someone online for critique, a review, or because they don’t do what we want, that means we don’t have control of our words.

Getting angry and lashing out at someone online = bad writing

How have you been shaping your social media image?  Have you experienced a meltdown from another writer?

Writerly Adventuring

Cover from Darkness from Within showing an evil face glaring at youMy short story “A Soldier’s Magic” appears in the anthology The Darkness Within, available from Indigo Mosaic Publishing.  It features two women soldiers who have to make a tough decision to save a lot of people.


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