Pantsers and Plotters (a neuroscience perspective)

 
Imagine you’re writing a story.

You could be a Pantser. Some people call Pantsing “writing by discovery” because the writer lets the story take them where it will without any preconceptions about where it’s going. Supposedly this is Stephen King’s writing method.

You could be a Plotter. Some people call Plotting “architecting” because the writer first writes some kind of outline describing their characters and what happens to them, and usually details chapter by chapter, act by act, or scene by scene the story from beginning to end. Supposedly this is Orson Scott Card’s writing method.

I like the terms “Pantzer” and “Plotter” because they’re easy for me to remember; Write by the seat of your pants or write out the plot.

My life before becoming a full-time author (you can read my bio or some of my career history on LinkedIn) causes me to think the real divide is between a writer’s conscious and nonconscious.

Conscious, Nonconscious, Subconscious, and Unconscious


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Throughlines

a recurring character/setting/element anchoring the reader in the story that keeps the reader interested

I use throughlines in my own writing and mentioned them previously in Using One-Line Summaries to Write Better Stories and Writing Mentoring.

Recent conversations demonstrated confusion; some people thought a throughline is the same as a plot line, some thought a throughline was an expanded TOC (Table-of-Contents), some thought…

I appreciate the confusion.

I also appreciate Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Therefore, I’m either about to explain throughlines to a six-year old or demonstrate I don’t understand it myself.

Let me know which I achieve.


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Why I don’t read in my genres any more

(updated from an original post on Goodreads long, long ago…)


I debated writing this post for a while.

Three things solidified it for me:

  1. A discussion about fast paced sci-fi reads. I made a comment and offhandedly shared that my library listed my picks – Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man – as Fiction, not Science-Fiction (FWIW, Wikipedia claims science fiction, medical fiction and thriller as his genres). The comments intrigued me. I didn’t see any definitions of genre (sci-fi, fantasy or horror in this case) v fiction/literature offered. Examples, yes, definitions, no. Why is something considered fiction or genre? I wondered if something about being fast-paced shifted my library’s cataloguing from sci-fi to fiction. Did a metricable difference between literature and any genre (let’s include mystery, gothic, spy, romance, military, medical, thriller, western, historical, et cetera) exist or if, as some claimed, was it anything from personal bias to outright snobbery? Basically, I want to know if literature v genre is quantifiable. (i think it is, although I’ll yield that how important the metrics are is based on personal bias.)
  2. I started questing for relevancy; I have reasons why I rarely read in my genres any more. Did anyone else have anything similar? That question led me to Chuck Wendig’s “25 REASONS WHY I STOPPED READING YOUR BOOK” post. It’s classic. I don’t share all of Mr. Wendig’s 25 reasons, simply most and as for the others, it’s not so much that I disagree as I’m not sure if I agree.
  3. I read Pushing Ice (Goodreads rating 4.02, my library casts it as SF) and The Golem and the Jenni (Goodreads rating 4.1, my library casts it as FIC) pretty much simultaneously. Both are first novels, the differences in several factors are so striking that I knocked off 50-60 pages of The Golem and the Jenni whenever I had the time andPushing Ice…well…
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Linda Seger’s “Making a Good Script Great”

Linda Seger’s Making a Good Script Great is one of two books I recently picked up on scriptwriting/screenwriting because…well, basically because I like to learn, and learn I did. There are more pages dogeared, highlighted, and marked up than there are pages untouched.

 
Begin with the concept that storytelling is storytelling is storytelling and it doesn’t matter the medium because regardless of medium you want a strong, visceral reaction from your audience/reader.

Now recognize that any medium will touch on all aspects of getting that strong, visceral reaction to some degree; a character is a character is a character, a scene is a scene is a scene, dialogue is dialogue is dialogue.

Go one more to specific mediums emphasize specific aspects more than others due to that medium’s limitations. Literature can handle 1st Person POV handily, script/screenwriting not so much.

Recognize that and the next item is to learn ways to fake 1st Person POV in a medium designed for 3rd Person Limited/Omniscient POV.

And if you stop there and say to yourself, “But I don’t have to do that when I write a book” you’re missing out on an incredible learning opportunity. Sure, you may never have to do that in a book but learning how to do it and – more importantly – how to work with such a constraint gives you the flexibility to use that technique, parts of that techniques, concepts from that technique, modify it, et cetera, to make your own non-script/screenwriting work sing.


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Margaret Shertzer’s “The Elements of Grammar”

I previously reviewed Arthur Plotnik’s “The Elements of Editing” and Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, both of which are worthy reads. Shertzer’s The Elements of Grammar was the third of the three volume set I purchased years ago and finally sat down to read.

First, it’s a quick read. At least I found it so, and perhaps because I still remember Mrs. Woodbury’s 4th grade class in which grammar played a major role.

My volume is from 1986 (I mentioned years ago, right?) and is based on a 1950s text. I was fascinated by how much grammar rules have changed, and anthrolinguists should give this a good read as it shows language shifts recognizable in retrospect. Case in point, “like,” as in “So he said, like…”

It did clear up several confusions I had in my own work (mostly because I remember what I was taught – good job, Mrs. Woodbury! – and some editors are more current in their grammar than I). It still serves as a good general reference. Examples:
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