Friday, May 27, 2005

I've Found the Anti-Pantser Nirvana

I owe PBW a hearty smack for this blog entry. In supplying the link to WriteWay software, she pretty much did the equivalent of handing over a bag of heroine to Charlie on Lost. I'm such an obsessive plotter/planner/character analyser that this software is my Utopia.

So it was a given that I would download the 30-day trial version and spend all of yesterday playing with it. Now I'm completely sold, of course. Chaching. I know PBW doesn't get a cent for her recommendation, but she should. This is some good shit, man.

I admit that my excitement over this new toy is a mixture of a) it being a way to procrastinate while still telling myself that I am, indeed, working on the novel and b) hoping that in approaching my work this way I will, indeed, discover the magic bullet that makes my book write itself perfectly, spell-checked and without adverbs. Yeah, I know about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, too.

But really, this software is fabulous for those anal-retentive writers out there like myself who love to plot and plan and create character backgrounds that rival FBI files. I never knew that software existed where you could do all of this in one spot and have it cross referenced and sitting at your fingertips. I'd been doing the alt/tab dance between Excel and Word all this time.

I envy all of those writers out there who are pantsers and don't need any software more than a trusty word processor. Those gals (and guys) who can sit down in front of their blank screen with nothing more than a "What if a guy finds himself trapped in a closet with a 400 lb. sumo wrestler and only one snack-sized bag of potato chips?" or a "What if we have a girl who is trying to decide between marrying the wrong guy or running off to Vegas and telling the whole world she was abducted by aliens?" and whip out a 150,000 word novel. These are those people who say that the characters just kind of took over and led the story along, that from moment to moment they as writers had no idea what was going to happen next.

How do they do that? How can they not know what happens next?

This is so beyond my mental capacity I just can't wrap my brain around it.

I mean, sure, I've come up with incomplete ideas before. What would happen if the heroine killed someone in self-defense but no one believed her so she had to go on the run? But in a million years I could never start writing until I figured out exactly where she ran to and who helped her and what happened along the way and how the whole thing turned out. I need markers to guide my journey.

Seems like writers can be divided into camps and equated with explorers.

The first group of explorers can be handed nothing more than a compass and then let loose in unexplored territory with a directive to find "the end" which lies in the general direction of "northward". From moment to moment these brave souls have no idea where they are or where they are going, only that the compass tells them they are heading north, south, east or west. They travel a bit, take a read, make adjustments, then continue on.

The second group - myself included - needs a map to explore. We need to see the big picture and always have a way to figure out exactly where we are standing in relation to our "the end" goal. We might get lost along the way - think we are in Spot A when really we are standing in Spot B - but we always have at least a fairly good read on where we need to go.

This shouldn't come as any big surprise to me that I fall into this second camp. I've always loved maps. As a kid, when the family would embark on Odyssey-length car journeys, I'd sit in the back seat with a Rand McNally road map unfolded across my lap. I'd following along with my finger tracking the road, marking off exits and towns as they flew past the car window. I loved watching the progress we made, the covering of mile after mile as we drew closer and closer to our destination.

To this day I can get myself out of any predicament as long as I'm armed with a good map. Nothing can entice me to spontaneously fork over some hard earned bucks than a rack of current Rand McNally atlases positioned stragically by the check-out stand. I'm always the navigator when we drive anyplace. I can't tell you how many times my hubby has called me from his car, slightly misplaced (he'd get mad if I said lost) and needing some help, and I'd pull up Mapquest and talk him in.

What baffles me beyond expressing is people who claim they can't read a map. How can you not read a map? It doesn't take much beyond understanding the four directions and figuring out where you are at the moment. Then again, I took two semesters of college calculus and I'm still trying to figure out what the heck the professors were talking about.

Back to writing, I haven't changed much from those days riding in the back of the car with my map. I need to see the big picture that is my story. I need to know where I am and what towns...or, scenes...I need to pass as I travel closer to the destination known as Happily Ever After. When my story wanders off the map or, even worse, when a map doesn't exist for my story, I'm completely lost. I have to come to full stop and ponder the empty void, fill in some landmarks and choose some roads to take.

I guess if I'd lived back in 1492, I'd probably have been one of the folks who stood on the dock watching Christopher Columbus sail off toward the setting sun. Yeah, I might have believed that the world was really round, but without seeing a map that proved it to me, I never would have stepped aboard the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Marie.

Too much of a chance that I'd fall of the edge of the Earth.

1 comment:

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I downloaded the software too! I used to be a total pantster and couldn't comprehend *plotting* a novel. How on earth do you know everything before you write it? Thanks to a very good friend, I've learned a ton about plotting, but I'm still trying to figure out some middle road that works for me. Too much pre-thought makes my writing about as interesting as a grocery list.

I like your Christopher Columbus analogy. Just the promise of a new uncharted world would have been enough to make me jump aboard, dragons be damned.