Tag Archives: Fiction

Pants vs. Plans


Woman and Typewriter with crumpled paperHow do you write? Do you plan every little detail in a well-organized outline, or do you sit at your keyboard and channel the spirit of a fourteenth-century minstrel? Okay, maybe that’s a little “out there,” but you know what I mean. Everybody has their own method, and there are pros and cons to both.

If you’re a planner, you know exactly where all your characters are from, what they are thinking, and where they are going. Your protagonist probably follows the perfect path of the hero’s journey. Your story arc peaks at precisely the right time. Your word count is impeccably perfect. There are no surprises. But that’s the down side, too. Everybody enjoys a surprise sometimes.

If you’re a pantser (a term designated for authors who write by the seat of their pants) your stories are filled with surprises. Your characters speak to you, and when they do, they say the craziest things. They make U-turns right in the middle of a scene, and you have no idea what they’ll do next. You sometimes wonder who is writing your story. The problem with pants-ing is that you may get to the end of your story and discover you have 50,000 more words than your editor wants or needs, and half a dozen too many characters to track.Flying by the seat of the pants drawing

So which method is best? Both, and neither. I think most really successful authors blend methods like a French chef creating the perfect sauce. He sets the precise temperature and uses all the best instruments at his disposal, but in the end, his taste-buds tell him when it’s done.

I like to make a rough outline on a story-board with sticky-notes. This gives me a goal and a sense of pace for the overall tale. I do, however, listen to what my characters say. Sometimes they rebel. I would never say that! How about this?

In the process, I’ve written some of my favorite scenes.

The secret is being open. Plan the bones, but let the characters have character. Give them voices and allow them to speak. Just remind them that you, and your editor, choose what makes the final cut.

Kimberly Black

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Filed under basics, character arcs, characters, plot, rewriting, scenes, techniques

Worth A Second Look


RevisingI wrote a story a couple of years ago, and I just fell in love with my main character. He’s a sharp-tongued charmer, fluent in sarcasm and dry wit. He’s a flawed liar with a crooked grin. I loved him.

After a quick first draft and a couple more revisions for polish, I sent him off to a publisher for consideration. He sent me a very polite rejection letter. I tweaked a little more and asked an editor friend for an opinion. More rejection.

I took my work home and placed it on a shelf where it could stew or cure or whatever manuscripts might do when ignored by their creator. I got busy on a couple of other projects that consumed my time.

Then last week something curious happened. I started to get a few projects ready to enter in a writing contest, and my lonely little manuscript began to wave at me, begging to enter the contest, too. It was a fine idea.

I pulled the notebook out and decided to re-read the first ten pages—the only ones that really mattered for the contest. Even if other parts of the story were weak, the first chapter was terrific. I was sure of it.

Until I read it.

What was I thinking? This work in progress was still in its awkward teen years. No wonder it flailed so helplessly in the big world—it wasn’t ready to leave the nest. I decided that ten pages wasn’t too much to iron out for contest. I got to work.

I opened my document. I opened the hard copy with all my margin notes. I read the first chapter—it wasn’t good.

The mood was wrong. My main character was mean, not quirky. His flaws weren’t cute—they were just flaws. I realized that all of my main character’s sardonic wit and charm was in my head, and not on the page.

I resisted the urge to hit the delete key on my laptop. Instead, I reached for my favorite blue ink pen and a thick stack of notebook paper and curled up on my bed with my lap desk. I returned to the place where I first fell in love with the idea of writing down my stories. I let my fingers form the words with imperfect spacing and full, indigo loops. I poured my soul onto the page and connected with my character in a very physical act.

I wrote about a man who had pain that developed from a broken past. He was still scruffy and misfit, but now he had a family and a sense of humor. His methods weren’t efficient and his motives weren’t pure, but he had a mission, and so did I.

In just a few hours, chapter one was revised. My hero was reborn. I can proudly say that he is well on his way to battling his demons and winning the fair maiden. Oh, she’ll teach him a lesson first, the same lesson that a second look taught me. I had to see him with honest eyes—both his good and bad traits—before I could find the man worth loving.

Kimberly Black

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Filed under characters, Contests, description, editors, publishing, rewriting, Writing

Research for Fiction? Of Course!


ResearchI’m in the process of writing a piece of historical fiction, based in first century Macedonia. Though the work is fiction, there is a huge amount of research that goes into the development of the story. Clothing, food, religious practices, vocations and geographical studies all play a part in the setting and set-up.

Finding reliable sources can be a challenge. Religious works are usually vague or absent of concrete details, and historical data can be politically skewed and conflicting, and usually relies on the objectivity of the researcher.

In school we were taught to find multiple resources. With the internet, it is easy to find information—often too much is available. The challenge becomes sifting through piles of speculation and opinion to glean accurate information and truth. And even then, how do you know for sure?Computer Research

My rules have become basic. First, as I study through articles and essays, I look for archeological evidence and historical documentation. I compare commonly accepted fact with what the evidence shows. Next, I find corroborating sources. I look for two to three unrelated resources that say the same thing. Thirdly, I look for details within those articles that propel the story I want to tell. Interesting tidbits that don’t help my story are useless to me.

Lastly, I rely on my gut instinct. If the story idea took hold of my brain in the first place, why? What was it that was important enough to latch on and develop? I look for information that develops that hook. If I’m hooked, the reader will be, too.

What works for you in researching for a story?

Kimberly Black

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Filed under basics, books, description, methods, novels, research, story, Writing

A New Tool for Internet Research


As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas that help keep me organized, especially if they don’t involve an excess of paper. I like my research readily available, but I hate to have to carry a huge notebook around with me, with reams of paper wasted because I wanted to print out one paragraph, and ended up with everything on the website.

My new answer is Pinterest.com. Yes, I got hooked a few months ago on the site, and have since “pinned” all sorts of crafts and recipes that I will never try. But then I had this great realization. It’s basically a site that holds hundreds of bookmarks organized in categories with visual cues. Hmm… I can use something like that.

I tried it. First, I created a board with my novel’s title. Then I searched for pictures of people who I “cast” as characters for my novel, and I pinned them. Now if I can’t remember what color eyes my antagonist has, I just pull up his photo, and voila!

My novel takes place in Paris, in several well-known parts of the city, as well as the less-recognizable areas. A few websites pinned, and I have detailed descriptions of bridges, hotels, shops and museums.

I can pin websites for my characters’ weapons, props, vehicles, clothes, gadgets, and languages. If I need to recall something, I just click on the picture and jump to the site with that information. I love it.

If you don’t want your research pins to become public, just create a “secret board” which is a new feature offered by Pinterest.

The only really important thing to remember with the site is that you must exercise self-control. If you want to look up something, you cannot allow yourself to browse through your friends’ newest finds. If you need to see a map of Barcelona, Spain, you can’t let yourself get caught in the newest crock-pot chicken recipe. This is to help keep you organized, thus saving time—not wasting it.

Currently, I have research boards for two novels on Pinterest, and at the end of this month will start another. This new tool has saved me hundreds of pages of paper, several cartridges of ink, and hours of searching for information. It might help you, too!

Do you use Pinterest?  How has it helped you with your writing?

By Kim Black

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Filed under characters, description, organizing, research, Writing, writing advise

Remembering September 11, 2001


In Panhandle Professional Writers we strive to keep our blog free of religious and political slants.  We are people of vastly varied backgrounds and represent the same diversity of viewpoints as are represented in any average American city.  But today is one of those days it can’t be avoided.  So I will keep the comments brief and relevant to writing.

When I think of this tragic day I have trouble referring to it as 911.  The meaning of what took place on this day somehow loses its importance to me.  September 11, 2001 however, is a date I hope the world remembers forever.

For me it’s like November 22, 1963 the date of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Older Americans can add to these memories dates such as December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor day, or the October, 1929 crash of Wall Street.  All these are important dates in American history.  Days we personally remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time.

As writers, we have an unspoken obligation to our readers.  Whether you write nonfiction or fiction; if you are writing a story taking place during that time and want to include this date as part of the back drop or in the viewpoint of your characters, or simply to write an account of that day from your own perspective, please remember this:  You can put your character’s personal slant to the subject in fiction, but the account of historical events should be accurate.

Do your research, don’t count on personal memory.  Even the best of us can confuse the details, especially when recalling an event that held such extreme emotion for all Americans.  So do the research to get the facts right.  Your words will last forever.  There are many young readers throughout the world who will not have an understanding of that day.  Their knowledge will be gleaned from what history books and even fiction set in that time period tells them.

This is how I intend to honor the memory of all who lost their lives on that day, by accurately depicting the events and giving voice to all those who lost theirs on that tragic date.

How will you, as a writer, memorialize September 11, 2001?

*Photo courtesy USAfederalholiday.com

Suzanne Bogue

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Filed under characters, description, reading, Writing

Six Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block


Are there times when you feel like your muse has deserted you?  Days when the writing just won’t flow?  Don’t despair; there are plenty of methods you can use to pull yourself out of the slump.  Here are a few  I’ve used:

1.  Change your writing routine.  If you usually write in the mornings, try moving the time to evening .  If you usually write at home in your office or den, move to a favorite coffee shop.  This forces your mind to work in a new way and sparks new ideas.

2.   Do some people watching.  Go to your favorite place like the mall or a park, any place where people gather.  Take your laptop or a pen and paper and write character sketches.  Listen to the conversations of those around you.  Observe their body language and facial expressions.  Keep these notes in a file for future reference to help develop new characters.

3.  Have an imaginary conversation with your main character.  Would they like your favorite place?  What would they want to talk about?  What did you learn about them?

4.  Describe a scene in nature.  Take that scene and drop your main character into it.  How would they feel while observing this scene?  Would they find it comforting?  Would they hate it?  What new things did you learn about that character?

5.  Write a piece of flash fiction Write down a short list of random words–a proper name, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs–all completely unrelated to each other and use them in the story.  Do this in less than 500 words.

6.  Write a short story.  Take your main character or your villain and start a storyline unrelated to your work in progress.  What have learned about your character by doing this?  Or did you get an entirely new idea for a book?

What is your method for getting back on track with your writing?

Suzanne Bogue

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Filed under characters, description, flash fiction, methods, short stories, story, techniques, writer's block, Writing, writing advise