Plotting My Torment, I mean Novel

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve met a vast variety of authors from all different genres. Yet there’s always that one detail, aside from genre, that divides us. A question really. A defining characteristic of our craft.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

When I first started writing, I was a pantser. One hundred percent. I had a vibe, some characters, and a general idea for a plot. That’s what I used to guide me through the manuscript. Well, that and the driving force of NaNoWriMo pushing me through my daily word count. The mission was to get words down, not worry about the quality of the story itself.

I wrote this way for five years. Slowly, my process evolved to include a more cohesive story from the very beginning. Short stories and novellas were easy enough to write without an outline, but novels were tricky beasts and I found myself spending countless hours on edits, rearranging and rewriting scenes that didn’t fit into the story.

I can’t remember the moment I realized I was creating more work for myself in the long run by writing without an outline. But I adapted quickly after that.

There was no guideline, no worksheet, no mentor guiding me. I learned through trial and error what worked for me as an author. I’ve long since learned I should never compare my writing or my writing process to someone else’s. We’re all individuals with our own quirks and motivations. You can take what works, leave what doesn’t, and figure out the best process for you. But if you’re struggling with the same issues over and over, then maybe you should try something different and see if it helps.

My process:

  1. The inspiration.

A lot of times I’ll get inspiration for a book from a quote, a prompt, or a scene from a TV show/movie/book. That single spark often ignites a whole series of what if questions in my mind. This is the point where I write it down. Scribble a few notes and set it aside to marinate.

2. The rabbit hole.

While the idea marinates, I don’t overanalyze it. Most of the time, my subconscious will fill in the blanks and start answering the questions surrounding the scenario that sparked the idea. This is where I take random notes. Then, when I have a few spare minutes, I’ll get out a notebook and just write flow of consciousness.

“What if this happens? Then this? But what’s his motivation here? Why is she doing this? Ooh, what if this happens?”

These questions are the bones of my story. They paint a larger picture of the characters, the setting, and their GMC (goals, motivations, conflict.) It’s from this moment I outline scene by scene.

3. The outline.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, trust me. I typically write anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 words per scene in one POV. Again, this isn’t a rule, it’s just how my work flows. So if I write approximately 2,000 words per scene, I’ll need thirty to give me a 60,000 word novel. That number is my guide to outline.

If I’m writing a novella, I shoot for 20,000 to 30,000 words. This is about 10-15 scenes. Knowing my word count helps me balance the story arc for the outline.

Once I have these details, I’m ready to start my outline with the following general arc in mind.

  • Establish normalcy
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action on the defence
  • Reversal
  • Rising action on the offense
  • Climax
  • Resolution

For every scene, I make note of the key elements. Who is in the scene? Who’s POV is it? Where is the scene taking place? When does this take place? What happens in this scene? Why does it need to happen? Does it push the story forward? Then, I add any details I want included in this scene, including any random ideas or images that pop into my head. Dialog notes can also be made if the characters start talking. Anything goes here as long as you answer those basic questions. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Then, move onto the next scene asking what if when you get stuck. I also find that having a brainstorming session with a reader or author friend can help you get unstuck if you hit that block. My editor once told me that if I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, write ten things (no matter how crazy) that COULD happen and see if it helps uncover the direction of the story.

Now, outline.

If you don’t think you can do it, why not try? The worst thing that happens is you don’t end up following the outline as you write because your mind takes you in a different direction. And that’s okay. It happens. My characters deviate from my outline all the time. Granted, they’re minor deviations, but they can be frustrating.

A lot of times when they deviate, it’s actually better for the story as a whole. It’s almost like my subconscious knew before my brain registered. So I don’t get too upset with their shenanigans because it works out in the end.

Plotting your book doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate, with color coded cards or pages of detailed notes for every character and images galore. If that’s your process, then good for you. I’m glad you found something that works. Sometimes just having a basic framework to follow keeps you grounded in the project and motivated.

When I was a pantser, I struggled to write daily because I didn’t know where the story was going that day for that specific scene. But with a general outline, I at least have a direction when I sit down to write. It helps keep me organized and focused on the task at hand.

The beauty of my outlines is that they’re structured, but it’s not too rigid that I can’t change things if I need to as I write. I also get those surprise revelations during the writing process that keep me engaged in the story. It’s a win-win for me, giving me the best of both plotting and pantsing without the hassle of major rewrites.

So tell me. Are you a plotter? A pantser? What’s your process?

If you try my process, let me know. I’m excited to hear your thoughts and experiences.

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Wanted: Connection and Community

Hello, darlings.

I’m back in the saddle again. This time, I’m ready for world domination…I mean, I’m ready to tackle 2022 with new goals and a metric ton of motivation. That’s always how it starts, isn’t it? Ask me how it’s going on April 1st, and I’ll let you know if I’ve still got a grip on my sanity.

But let’s be positive and open-minded. Yes. Goals are a wonderful thing, if they’re reasonable, attainable, and set clear expectations. You don’t want them to be so overwhelming that even thinking about them makes your head spin and twists your stomach into knots. Small, attainable goals will help us reach our ultimate dreams, whatever they may be.

Last year my goal was simple and straightforward.

  1. Write one book every two months. Six books total for the year.
  2. Publish one book every three months. Four books total for the year.
  3. Take time for family and friends.
  4. Take time for myself when necessary to avoid burnout.
  5. Give myself grace.

Well, I thought those goals were pretty reasonable. By December 31st, 2021, I had written six novels, one Christmas novella, and two short stories. Now my typical novel is around 50,000 words, and my novellas are around 25,000 words. All in all, I’d say that’s a pretty good year for me.

I chose to publish four books a year because I’m writing, editing, and marketing all at once. That work is all on my shoulders, so spacing things out ensures I can give great quality stories, properly edited, to my readers multiple times a year. After ten years of writing, I have finally found my groove, and I kind of like it.

For the record, last year I also homeschooled my two kids, moved from Italy to Wyoming, and crashed with family for six weeks over the summer. Even though all that, I wrote when I could, stuck to my goals, and bam! Nailed it.

Now, this year, my goals are the same, but I’m adding an extra layer. Marketing. And no, I’m not talking just throwing ads up on Facebook and Amazon and calling it a day. No, I want more. I crave more.

What do I desire? I want a sincere connection with my readers. I envision a community of readers who love romance of all subgenres. I want you to join me on these epic journeys across time and around the world. I crave the companionship of adventurous readers like myself. Will you join me?

I may have an eclectic backlist, but it’s so much more than just an author who can’t stay in her lane. I write the stories I long to read. The ideas for my books come to me, and I cannot deny their demands. They chose me, and I follow willingly because I want to experience their story firsthand. Where will it lead? I want to travel to medieval Scotland one day and Prohibition Illinois the next. I have my own personal time machine that can whisk me to another century and continent where I can bask in all the enduring love stories. Could you deny their request if they chose you? I cannot.

This year, let’s come together in celebration of our love of romance, no matter the subgenre. Being part of a community gives us a warm and welcoming place to connect and share the love. Join me, and we can make it happen together.

Cheers! I wish you all the best in the coming year. Thanks for being amazing. Your support means the world to me.

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer