A Pantser Plans

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

The unthinkable happened today. I did planning. With beat sheets and notecards and everything. I’m a Pantser to the core: analysing a scene down to the tiny details paralyses me. Especially if I do it before I write, as I have done for the extra third of a novel I’m putting at the front of Class Act. But actually, do you know what, it wasn’t so bad.

I’m still working on some of the terminology, for example pinch points and black moments, although instinctively I have a shrewd idea what they are. I have done it before, actually, for all my seat-of-the-pants writing preference, and I’m always relieved at how much of the necessary detail I already have. Sometimes it just needs writing down to reassure myself I do know something (although a VERY VERY long way from everything) about this novel writing lark.

I had gathered much of the required information during my last craft session (the sporadic times when I read through a load of blogs and books to refresh or learn elements of writing craft.). My favourite resource is Jami Gold: as a Pantser and a romance writer, I feel she understands my pain. In fact her Beat Sheet for Romance Writers formed a large part of my morning’s work. She explains that if, like me, you can’t pkan in detail for fear of frightening off the Muse, you can use beats – points in the story – to make sure things are developing as they should.

I also used her posts based on a Michael Hauge workshop she attended to put more thought into my characters’ development, flaws and ultimate romance. The key ones I used were Are These Characters the Perfect Match and An Antidote to “Love at First Sight”. Both of these look at two elements of characterisation – a character’s Mask (the role they play, based on their longings, fears, wounds and beliefs: their emotional armour) and a character’s Essence (who they are inside, behind the masks, or who they have the potential to be). In a good romance, attraction will be based on Essence rather than Mask.

Planning Elements of a Scene

Planning Elements of a Scene

So, in Baby Blues, Helen was attracted to Daniel because his businessman forceful character Mask played to her career orientated Mask. But Marcio was her right love interest, because they both had the same essence underneath: a love of creativity and interpreting the world through their art, and a desire for home and family.

The concept really helps when a character moves from one relationship to another (as mine often do.) You don’t want the protagonist to look like an idiot because the previous relationship was flawed, and also you don’t want the previous partner to be a stereotype or a villain (although Daniel, in Baby Blues, is a bit of both!)

The other thing I’ve been trying to use is an Elements of a Good Scene checklist, which I also found on Jami’s Blog, the idea for which came from Janice Hardy’s blog. I feel exposed, using something like this, as I feel I don’t know the difference between “Plot point” and “action to advance the plot” or “how the stakes are raised” versus “reinforcement of the stakes”. I suspect that might be why I find it hard to write tense page turners! In my head, though, I’ve summarised it as “plot development”, “character development”, “conflict” and “backstory/theme/tone/foreshadowing”. As long as the scene has some of those that’s good. Well, it’s a start!

Of course, I was right – at the beginning when I said planning paralyses me. I need to start writing, before I spend so long on planning I’m fed up with the story or too scared to start. But it was a useful day’s work and hopefully, when I sit at my desk on Monday, I’ll be able to write some of the additional 45,000 words the story needs to get to a full length novel!

Anyway, hopefully now I have a plan this will be the last of the ‘I’ve forgotten how to do manuscript revision’ posts and I’ll get on to writing something more interesting for the non-writers who follow my blog! Thank you for your patience.

Beat Sheets: 2013 365 Challenge #204

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Apologies to anyone who received yesterday’s post without the Claire installment attached. Technical issues were to blame (combined with crawling to bed last night without finishing my Claire Installment).

On a Monday I often write the remaining part of my post in the coffee shop (because Sunday night is the hardest time to write). I have some of the post scheduled to go live if all else fails. This morning was the first time (I think) that it happened, only because the internet was down in coffee shop I chose to visit. I’ve learned my lesson! (I spent the morning wandering round town discovering which businesses have free WiFi!)

Today I have been looking at Beat Sheets and other planning tools. Following on from recent discussions about how hard it is to plan a novel if you’re a Pantser, I’ve been doing more internet research, specifically around planning romance novels (although most things seem to be quite generic). I came across the most amazing collection of resources on the website of an author of Paranormal fiction: Jami Gold. Jami has even written a post called A Pantser’s Guide to Beat Sheets. Perfect.

Even Pantsers can have structure!

Even Pantsers can have structure!

The thing I love about the post, and beat sheets, is that they can be used against a first draft, rather than (or as well as) for pre-planning, as a way to see how well the draft is structured. I spent this afternoon trying to map Baby Blues against Jami’s Romance Beat Sheet, with mixed results.

It would seem that (as suspected) my climax and ending fit the right pattern, but my opening third is way off beat. I also am not entirely sure what my inciting incident or first plot point is. I searched around some more to get a real definition of these, but haven’t reached a consensus of exactly what they are or where they should come in the novel.

I see my inciting incident as Helen finding out she’s pregnant and then leaving Daniel (apologies about spoilers!). In the Romance Beat Sheet, it suggests the inciting incident should involve both protagonists. Except Helen doesn’t even meet Marcio until a third of the way through the novel. One of my Beta readers did comment on this fact, but I admit I like the first third for setting Helen on her journey without it being about Marcio. Maybe it makes the book more Chick Lit than Romance (which is how I have categorised it anyway) or maybe it’s just plain wrong. Interestingly, both Baby Blues and Class Act originally started with the meeting between lead girl and lead boy, but I pulled the action back so that the backstory didn’t become overwhelming.

Pillow Talk by Freya North

I am looking forward to using beat sheets to rebuild Class Act and, had I had something similar before I rebuilt Baby Blues, I suspect it would be tighter. These things are all about learning. If I had used the sheets, though, would I have invented Sharni and given her so much air-time? She’s one of my favourite characters and I would hate to lose her.

I seem to recall that I was reading Pillow Talk, by Freya North, at the time of redrafting Baby Blues, and the structure of that novel may well have had an impact on me (as there are super-strong secondary characters and the love interest comes later). If it’s good enough for Freya North, then maybe it isn’t so bad!

What’s your view? Can you have a Romance/Chick Lit novel where the lovers don’t meet until a third of the novel has passed? Does it give you a chance to understand why they’re made for each other or would you have given up on the novel before that point? They say to write the novel you want to read, but that’s only going to work if others want to read it too!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire closed her iPad and looked out the hostel window. In contrast to the dark wood furniture in the dim room, the view that beckoned sparkled in the late evening sunlight. In the distance the sea reflected the blue of the sky, in a deeper hue. Behind the strip of water, a long barrow of land jutted out into the ocean. Claire could just make out fields falling into the limestone cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Her research informed her there were several pleasant walks up from the National Trust car park near the Bankes Arms pub in Studland. If the sun continued to shine in the morning, she knew where she would be.

So far, her impression of Swanage matched Conor’s description. The faded seaside town showed glimpses of its former glory, in the amusement arcades and the long wooden pier. Rather than Victorian ladies promenading along its length, Claire met only blue-rinse grannies out for their afternoon constitutional. As she had driven around looking for the youth hostel, she had seen more signs for retirement complexes than B&Bs.

It would be a tough ask to increase tourism here. She knew that Purbeck included other towns, but Swanage was the main seaside resort.

There’s also a nudist beach, but I can’t see Jason signing off tourism promoting that particular asset.

She tried to imagine living in the town for any length of time. If she had envisioned an end to her wanderings, this didn’t seem the natural place. No Waitrose, no Starbucks, so mainline train, nobody under fifty. It’s not really selling itself to me. Poole or Bournemouth were marginally better, as far as she could tell as she came through. At least Poole had Waitrose and a Starbucks, as well as being the home of the Sunseeker luxury yacht factory.

Not that I could afford one, even if I saved every penny they’d be paying me for a dozen years. Still, maybe I could hang out with the rich and famous at Sandbanks and hitch a lift.

Claire sighed and reached for her tea. One sip told her it was stone cold, and she replaced the mug with a bang on the dark wood table. Assuming Conor wasn’t exaggerating his ability to influence Jason, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do so, I will have a job offer to consider by the weekend. Two, if you include New Zealand. So why don’t I feel better?

She thought about the imminent trip back north to see Kim’s opening night. Butterflies reared in her stomach and she discovered at least one cause for her unease. It was more than fear of facing her erstwhile best friend, though. Normally she would have a gut feel for whether a job offer was the right one. Now, there was nothing. Only confusion

If only Josh were here, he would advise me what to do.

The thought took hold in her mind and grew. With a quick mental calculation, she worked out how many hours before she could call him. Without pausing to consider the wisdom of her decision, Claire gathered up her things and headed to her room to wait.

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