Thursday, October 31, 2013

Writing as a Pantser by Ginger Simpson

Many readers don't know the difference between a plotter and a pantser, so let me explain.  The term "pantser" evolved from "seat of the pants" which is how people describe those of us who don't plan out our storyline in advance. 

When I  sat down in 2000 to write my first novel, I listened to the character's voice in my head, eager to hear what she had to say.  Cecile Palmer came to me, already named, with a book title in mind, and a story to tell.  I simply provided the fingers to do the typing.  I loved the process  and still do to this day.  Transcribing her every movement and thought made me feel as though I'd become a child again, having my mother read me a bedtime story. But...when Cecile stopped talking, I stopped writing and hungered for more.  Each day brought me to the keyboard, filled with excitement to discover new territory, meet her new husband, and learn how she would fare once she married and moved to the prairie.  Boy was I surprised.

I love being a pantser, and it's a good thing because plotting never works for me.  Over the years, I've had a myriad of voices in my head, and the one who screams loudest is the one to get my attention.  There have been many times I have more than work-in-progress because my stars are so insistent.  The only problem I've come across:  when the character is done, so is the book, and if they decide to turn mute in the process, that's when I get what's called "writer's block."

The silence is often welcome or a hint that I need to find a more sedate place to reconnect with my character(s).  If one doesn't want to talk to me, I usually have others who will.  Being a pantser is a unique style that I share with many other authors, but plotters and pantsers usually aren't interchangeable.  You're either one or the other, and we don't see eye-to-eye on how to write.

 While plotters outline their stories, name their characters and struggle with titles, I've been fortunate to have leading stars who come to me with all that information already in mind.  I've gone with their choices, and I've been lucky to have a collection of full-length novels, novellas and short stories available.  Right now, I have three WIPS.  One started with a quiet character who only speaks when she's in the mood.  A second starring a young woman who hasn't yet decided what's going to happen in her time-travel to modern day, and a sequel to a relationship book I've already written.  Thanks to my blogging buddy's praise and yearning to read more, Cassie Fremont has returned with a new story to relate.  I'm excited and I was up at five because Cassie wanted to introduce me to her cast and let me know her title.  She showed up at the best possible time.

Oh...just so you's how the then Cecile Palmer began her story in Silver City on my first day of writing in the year 2000:

Dakota Plains, 1867

Cecile’s gaze froze on the striking man leaning against the hitching post. Her heart seized with a gasp as she nearly stepped off the edge of the wooden walkway. She turned her attention back to delivering her father’s mid-day meal, but fixed a smile on her face and slowed her pace, hoping to catch the stranger’s eye.

He’d never been in Silver City before; she would have remembered his rugged good looks. Tight, dark denims clung to his masculine thighs, and beneath a black leather vest, open shirt buttons revealed a well-muscled chest. Her gaze slid boldly down his body, thoroughly enjoying the sight until the reflection of the sun off his silver belt buckle blinded her. She swallowed and averted her eyes. What had come over her? Such brazen leering. Goodness, she wasn’t a harlot.

At almost the exact moment that she walked past, he stepped onto the sidewalk and made eye contact. He touched the wide brim of his hat and smiled. For a second, his blue eyes held her captive.
Suddenly, the weight of the tray tripled, and her breathing quickened. Her cheeks warmed at the crooked smile that told her he knew she’d been staring at him. In her haste to escape embarrassment behind the bank’s doors, just a few steps away, she caught her heel in a large knothole in the wooden sidewalk. She tried to recover gracefully but fell flat on her bottom with a resounding plop, hitting the wood so hard it jarred her teeth. Her dignity suffered as she realized how pitiful she looked, with her father’s lunch spilled all over her. Luckily, most of the mashed potatoes and gravy landed on the ground, but the vegetables and ham slices filled her lap.

 Before she could stand, he knelt at her side, plucking green beans from her dress. “Are you all right, ma’am?” His quivering lips failed at masking his desire to laugh.

She’d just made a fool of herself in front of the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Of course she wasn’t all right. What must he think?

Managing a weak smile and struggling for some semblance of composure, she accepted his proffered hand. While avoiding his gaze, she nervously smoothed wet wrinkles from her dress.“Yes, I’m fine,” she croaked. “Thank you for your help.” Her voice trembled in unison with her insides.
“Name’s Walt Williams,” he said, when she finally made eye contact. “I’m visiting my Aunt May. She owns the boarding house here.”

Lost in his azure eyes, Cecile heard very little of what he said. Aware of her bold stare she glanced down, trying not to be so obvious. The evidence of her accident jolted her memory.

“Oh, my gosh…Father’s expecting me!” Although reluctant to leave, she dared not dawdle. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Williams, and I’m sorry to be rude, but I have to hurry home to replace my father’s lunch. He must be wondering where I am.”

Again the stranger touched the brim of his hat. “Mighty nice meeting you, too, Miss...”

“Cecile, Cecile Palmer.” She offered a brief introduction while stooping to retrieve the tray, utensils and her mother’s good china plate that somehow remained intact.

Before taking her leave, she flashed a warm smile, hoping the memory of this incident would fade from Mr. Witman’s mind. She gave a little wave and started for home, tutting in disgust and pulling at the dampened material that insisted on clinging to her legs. The cloying gingham and the glob of potatoes on her shoe served as grim reminder of a ruined opportunity.

 Why couldn’t she have met Walt after delivering Father’s lunch? Her thoughts refused to focus on anything else other than Walt Williams. What a grand name. Repeating it over and over again in her mind, she wondered if she’d ever see him again.

She kicked a splintered piece of wood and sent it flying. Why hadn’t she asked him more about himself? Where was he from or had he ever visited before? Had he come to town and she just didn’t recall? No way! She’d certainly remember someone with his good looks. With any luck, maybe he’d stay in town long enough to come to the upcoming Spring Fling. Her heart quickened again.

She had never actually met his Aunt May, but knew her by sight. She was a short, rather plump woman with silver gray hair usually pulled back into a bun. They had exchanged smiles and pleasantries across the aisles of the mercantile on several occasions, but Cecile’s father referred to the woman’s boarding house as being on the “wrong side of the tracks.” He forbade Cecile to step foot into that area; warned over and over again it was no place for a respectable young woman to venture. Cowpokes and drifters traveling through Silver City frequented the saloons nearby. Sometimes her father was far too judgmental.


If you'd like to read more....Destiny's Bride (Previously Prairie Peace) is offered on my Amazon page with all my other work.

1 comment:

Rachelle Ayala said...

I also fail at plotting because my characters stop inspiring me if I tell them they must do this, then do that. The freedom of writing what comes is exhilarating. Thanks for sharing your excerpt.

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