A Villain’s Mind: The Pain in the Neck

Remember that A Villain’s Mind series introduction? It’s ba-ack; and ironically we aren’t starting with a full-on villain (per se). Let’s get to it.

I have a favorite type of antagonist. He’s not the over-arching villain (usually) – generally he’s a secondary character, someone with whom the MC clashes frequently. They’re kind of a ‘bad guy,’ but not necessarily evil and they usually exist to create extra conflict and danger for the MC.

My favorite example of this character – we’ll call him the PIN, or Pain in the Neck – is Eric from Divergent. (I’m NOT talking about the books, only the movies; as the two characters are almost totally different and I don’t have any liking for book!Eric as a character.) When we first meet him it’s obvious he’s arrogant, tough, and merciless. Literally every time we see him it’s in a negative light because the movie frames it that way.

But ah, there’s the rub – because I have always liked movie!Eric as a character. What’s more, I usually agree with him. We’re supposed to view his words and actions as negative because he does not like the main character, Tris, whom we’re supposed to see as positive. But let’s flip it around and look at it this way –

You’re Eric. One of the new recruits is from Abnegation – the exact opposite of a warrior. She’s a skinny teenage girl with exactly no personality, and there’s very little promise there. Sure, she jumped off some stuff, but that doesn’t make her a good recruit. It just means she, like everyone else, was afraid of failing. Training continues; she mouths off to her instructors, is less-than-stellar at almost everything she does, and still dislikes the idea of hurting people – in which case, she should never have joined the militant Dauntless faction. She routinely breaks rules, ignores orders, and mouths off – but everyone sees her as a hero because she stands up for people sometimes.

I don’t know about you, but if I were Eric, I wouldn’t like Tris either. In fact, I’d want her out of Dauntless. Throughout the movie, Eric is shown in a negative light because he’s ruthless. He’s efficient. He doesn’t stand for back-talk. Of course he possesses negative qualities – he’s unnecessarily harsh, he enjoys watching good recruits climb through the ranks at the expense of the less-talented, and he gives no quarter even when he should lighten up.

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And yet there are moments, too, where he isn’t so bad. When Tris runs in order to catch the train that was leaving without her, he’s even willing to show he’s impressed. Because when Tris acts like she belongs in Dauntless, Eric is okay with her.
He’s a soldier. He follows orders, he does what he’s told – to the point where he’s apparently willing to shoot a young Divergent girl in the head. But before his execution, he tells Four in a moment of candor,

“Listen. I’ve found a way to live with the blood on my hands. But can you?”

Those aren’t the words of a villain. They’re the words of a soldier – and beyond that, Eric was born and raised Erudite – the faction now calling all the shots over his head. He believes in what he’s doing.

So like I said, I’ve always liked Eric. He’s my favorite character in an entirely stupid movie series, and the only thing that kept me watching it – because Eric, for all his terrible flaws, was quite possibly the most well-rounded character in the whole series.

He’s an antagonist, true, but he’s my favorite kind – the sort with whom, if you look just a little closer, you just might agree with. These characters are tricky to write and I’ve often seen it fail – I even think the Divergent movies failed Eric because they painted his every action as that of a Bad Guy and his dimension happens almost in spite of it – but it can be done. Here are a few questions to ask when writing your PIN character:

Give them a strong set of beliefs. We don’t want a character who’s annoying just for the sake of being annoying; then we get Peter from the Divergent movies and he’s just – well, you don’t want that. Eric’s beliefs are a solid mix of his firmly Erudite upbringing and his Dauntless adult life; making him someone who believes Erudite should rule and is generally able to enforce those rules.

Give them likeable moments. Eric actually has a few, believe it or not. He’s impressed with Tris’s initiative in chasing down the train; he’s impressed with her bravery in standing up for her friend. He has a brief moment where he pauses to pet a horse – all these little things add dimension to a PIN character, making them something more than merely an Antagonistic Force. It keeps you wondering whether he might change his mind and join the good guys.

Show them interacting with people. Often in a book it will feel like the PIN character exists in this nebulous vacuum of space-time, existing only to pop out and taunt the main character whenever the plot starts to lag. Establish this character firmly within the world, or they won’t feel believable. Eric has history with one of the main characters and we see how he interacts with the other initiates, not just Tris.

You don’t need a lot to write a PIN character – they’re interesting; they often live in a gray area that’s fun to write, and they keep the reader guessing; so go forth and conquer!

Do you have a favorite PIN character?

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Ways to Grow Your Writing

Here’s the deal. There are many new, budding writers out there who have no idea what they’re doing. They’re fragile – they’re newborn writers and they’re flying blind, wanting to create all sorts of cool things with no idea how to do it. They can be easy to make fun of; I see the cliches and tropes they’re writing with gleeful abandon, I see the mistakes they make with everything from grammar to romance to characterization and I think ‘Oh honey. Ohhh honey.’

But me thinking ‘Ohhh honey’ and sipping my coffee with a Sage Expression on my face doesn’t really help anybody, and here’s the thing – I was that fragile, newborn, budding writer with no clue what she was doing. I took ideas from everything I read and was so ‘influenced’ by some authors that I was practically plagiarizing them. I had the Stereotypical Fantasy Characters – the brooding hero with the tragic backstory (and YES I still lOVE HIM leave me alone), the Feisty Independent Heroine (who was actually just a bitch, honestly, pardon my French. She was) and the sarcastic, hapless comedic character who didn’t….really further the plot in any way. Obviously the FMC needed a brother, so….there we are, I guess? Oh, and it was an ALLEGORY, PEOPLE, because Intellectualism™ a la the Door Within series. (Also I’m fine with allegory; I like a certain amount of allegory. We’ll get to that in another post.)

The point is, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve been writing since I was twelve, I’ve completed over ten novels and started + shelved a dozen others. I’ve tried just about everything. So here are some tips to help move your writing out of the….I don’t even know what to call that space. The Bad Place. These will help move you from The Bad Place to The Good Place; let’s call it that.

ONE: GRAMMAR IS ACTUALLY IMPORTANT

‘That’s what editors are for.’ I see this one a lot, even from writers who aren’t necessarily newbies. But here’s the thing – if you don’t have a good grasp on grammar, your writing will lack a certain amount of depth, description, and sophistication. (I don’t mean you need to be Arthur Conan Doyle or quirk your pinkie; it’s not that kind of sophistication.) Your writing will not be as good as it could be. That’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t have to do with typos. If you don’t know how to use grammar, you will not know how to write as well as you could. You can write passable things, sure, but there will be a childish quality to the writing that people will notice. (And I say they will because I do, every time. Every single time.)

Is grammar hard for you? Don’t despair! I didn’t even realize indentations were a thing until a year into my writing and my mom pointed out they were supposed to exist in a manuscript, and I realized – I’d been reading since I was a few years old, but hadn’t been paying attention to structure. Pick up a book (a good book, a book you know to be well-written and not just your average YA fantasy novel. Not that one. But not Jane Austen; that’s another load of…well, structure wasn’t much of a thing then, either). Pick up a Charles de Lint book, or a Patricia McKillip or an Allison Croggon book or even Brandon Sanderson. Pay attention to things like indentations. Pay attention to spacing and structure and pacing; pay attention to turns of phrase, the difference in each character’s speech and sound. Grammar can be fun and it doesn’t mean you need to sit down and take a course from beginning to end (unless you have a real issue with it in which case, you might have to).

TWO: SHARE YOUR WRITING

This one is hard. It still is hard, actually, although it’s gotten significantly easier over the past decade. But you have to do it. You cannot – I repeat, YOU CANNOT – reach your fullest potential as a writer if you don’t have feedback. And this means all kinds of feedback. It means finding some people who will tell you the truth. Do NOT share your writing with someone who tells you how MAGNIFICENT and MARVELOUS your writing is each time, without any critique. You know why? Because they’re lying, and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you’ve sent out ten chapters in a row with no constructive criticism from someone, they aren’t helping you. You want truly constructive criticism? Find a family member. Generally I don’t give manuscripts to my mom until they’ve been revised, edited, and proofread because I want it to be as good as I can make it, but once she reads it there’s nobody more helpful because she’ll tell me what’s wrong with it. ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ ‘There’s too much of X element.’ ‘Did you mean to do this here?’ But when she comes to me and says, ‘I need more,’ or proceeds to bring up her favorite characters for the next few weeks, there’s nothing more encouraging.

Find somebody who will tell you the truth. Will it hurt your feelings? Yes. Especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have a good grasp on things, because there will be more negative than positive for a while – but if this person loves you and wants to see you succeed, listen to them. Take their advice. Take a deep breath, strap on your helmet, and dive in. It’s more comfortable to believe your writing is just fine. But comfort won’t get you anywhere.

THREE: TREAT YOUR WRITING SERIOUSLY

Obviously writing should be fun. Writing is incredible. But let me show you a few phrases that might sound familiar to you – “Haha yeah, gotta follow the plot bunnies!” “My poor charries!!” “I know this doesn’t really FIT but it was so CUTE.” “Yeah I know this isn’t perfect, but I mean…”

No. Stop. Stop making excuses for your writing, and stop treating your book like it’s some kind of over-excited Pomeranian puppy. Remember, I did all these things and my writing never got better because of it. THAT I can promise you. (Nor have I ever seen anyone else’s writing get better because of it.) Plot bunnies? They’re an excuse to be lazy and not have to come up with any actual solid plot. Your poor charries? Oh honey. Ohhh honey. It doesn’t FIT but it was so CUTE? Yeah, it sucks, but cut it out. Cute or otherwise, if it doesn’t move the story forward it has no place. I don’t care how adorable it was, and neither will your reader once they finish the book and go, ‘You know…there were a bunch of scenes in there that made no sense, though.’ And as for ‘Yeah, this isn’t perfect, but’ – no ‘buts.’ No. If you know something you wrote was lazy, sloppy, or unresearched, then you have no excuse. Fix it. Make it better. I don’t care if this is just a first draft, your first draft should be as good as you can possibly make it. If you get halfway through a first draft and realize you don’t like it, or you already know the whole plot but that it needs massive revisions, then stop! Start another book, or shelve this one for later. Be flexible.

And just….please don’t call your characters ‘charries.’ It really does encourage you to not take them seriously, which you should. People don’t connect with Charries. They connect with characters.

FOUR: TORTURE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR DRAMA

I mean sure, torture is dramatic and my books have a fair amount of it in different ways, but one thing I see amateur writers do c o n s t a n t l y (and I did this myself) is substitute physical pain for other kinds of drama. I mean I know – it’s hard to write genuine, believable pain, drama, and angst when you’re new at it, but don’t settle for just torturing your characters. It’s an amateur mistake and I’ve seen some new writers rely on it so heavily that they honestly creep me out a little so…tone down on the torture. Here’s a tip – try embarrassment instead. We all HATE to be embarrassed and most of us suffer from secondhand embarrassment, too – which is why it’s an important element to write. In The Last Samurai (one of those historically horrendous movies I will still watch) one of the characters is subjected to having his hair cut by enemy soldiers. It may not sound like much, but to him, it’s an abject humiliation. They don’t torture him – they just cut his hair, and the impact is far more powerful than if they’d stood around kicking or punching him.

FIVE: DON’T FOLLOW THE LIGHTS

I’ve seen new writers (and accomplished writers – looking at you, YA section in the library) do a Thing. This Thing is to have more character than they know what to do with, and try to give each character their Very Own Spotlight. This is absolutely fine if you’re an experienced writer – I love huge casts and weaving their storylines together. But it’s painful when I see someone who can barely write one character’s point of view try to write seventeen. The result is that each POV sounds relatively the same, gives nothing new to the plot, and winds up frustrating to the reader (this is one reason why, terrible plot aside, I never could get into the Divergent books. Everyone sounded exactly the same – but this is very common in young adult novels). Focus on writing one point of view. Focus on keeping it simple. Discover your strengths as a writer and pursue those – work those up so that eventually you can start turning your weaknesses into strengths, too. But don’t pile your plate three feet high in an over-ambitions attempt to Do All the Things. I have to remind myself of this even now, after almost fourteen years of writing. If you have an overload of ideas for one novel, step back and take a look at them. Maybe you actually have TWO SEPARATE books here! (I know I often do.)

So there we are – the five top tips I could think of off the top of my head. The point of this post was not to be discouraging, but to tell you I’ve been exactly where you are and made all the mistakes new writers make, and if someone had been able to point me in the right direction my literary life would have progressed faster than it did. If you LIKED this and have your own questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them in another blog post!

Oh, and here’s my last tip – don’t stop. Keep writing. Keep writing through both the gold and the trash. Keep it up.

& You’ll Be in a World of Pure Imagination (or, a brief workspace tour)

Things happen when you sprain an ankle and have a hard time hobbling anywhere – they pile up. Things pile up on desks and chairs and the floor and by the time you can walk easily again, your once-organized chaos has reverted back to a simpler form: catastrophe. Now that my foot has healed, I buckled down to clear out and re-organize my workspace so I can paint, draw, and write without using a ball of string to find my way out again. Since I love seeing tours (be they in video or picture form) of art studios and workspaces, I decided to make a small tour of my own. Commence away!


I need to keep my space whimsical but functional, with bits and pieces that inspire me. It all tends to gravitate toward the magical; like ‘if Gandalf had been a Ravenclaw Professor.’ Probably teaching the History of Magic and Charms.

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On the right side of my desk I have a box containing all my watercolors (the top is decorated with a Celtic-style sun/moon emblem, made by my friend Ian). On top of that is a box that holds the pencils and pens I use for my artwork. Standing on the box are a little brass leprechaun from my friend Hannah George, and a rat skull from a coffee shop in Omaha. Sitting on the waterproofed slab of wood are various jars holding sea salt, water, dip pens, paintbrushes, feathers, rulers, and two magic wands for all my painting + spell-casting needs.

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To the right of my desk, siting on my vintage steamer trunk, is the printer (covered with rabbit fur to help it match the rest of the room) and a letter tray; the letter tray holds all my ink bottles, water droppers, watercolor tins, tape, and odds and ends. It also features another jar of feathers, a volcanic stone mortar + pestle, a hornet’s nest, Boba Fett, the Ancient One, a Predator, a Galor-class Kardassian Warship, and AARRRGH! from Trollhunters (my favorite show in the world next to Prison Break).

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On the left side of my desk I have a stack of Chinese calligraphy paper upon which sits some vellum envelopes, a box of colored pencils, a stack of leather-bound journals, a wooden raven, several bottles of glitter, my crystals, and Vortigern, the skull I use when give art lessons. (Leaning against the pencil box is George’s foot. George is a decorative skeleton whose body resides in Florida. George’s foot is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Don’t ask me why.)

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After that comes the crate with my various pads of art paper, sketchbooks, envelopes, and extra journals. It’s guarded by Jareth, Newt, and Snart; as well as Gringott’s. Also seen are my waxes and seals, and two jars of miscellany, including my pipe and a fan (printed with samurai. It doesn’t get much cooler, iron war fans excepted).

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Underneath my desk lies the rest of the artistic miscellany – the leather folder in which I stuff my completed artwork; old sketchbooks, jars of magic things (from Melody, who gifted me George’s foot), old sketchbooks, paper cutters, and the like. I also have my favorite art + design books lined up; John Howe, Alan Lee, Tony Diterlizzi, Ed Org, Alphonse Mucha, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, and others. Sitting on top of ‘The Hobbit: Art & Design’ is my Loch Ness Monster, Vincent; a gift from my bro Lauren and knitted by her sister. (His name is Vincent because he’s dark blue + glittery and therefore starry.)

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The walls feature a unicorn, masks, Thorin’s map, a Carnival poster from when my dad was a sophomore in high school, a painting of Big Ben (painted by my sister), Studio Ghibli prints, keys, lights, and some paintings I’ve done for myself – Frankenstein’s Creature (specifically Luke Goss’s portrayal from the BBC Miniseries), Jareth the Goblin King, Prince Nuada, and Reylo.

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And there you have it! My workspace keeps me inspired; not only because I curate things I love but because so much of what you see was given to me by friends and family (seriously I think maybe half of what you see was bought by me + for me).

What does your workspace look like? Please let me know in the comments!

How to Spot Bad Writing When It’s Shooting You in the Face: A Commentary

That wasn’t going to be the original title but I threw it out as a joke and it was accepted so here we are. Having finished two of my newly favorite TV shows, Trollhunters and The West Wing (to be fair I didn’t finish The West Wing, I stopped watching after Sorkin left and it took a nosedive) I’ve been looking for something else to watch while I paint. I could paint in silence, or with music, but I’ve always been better at working when my brain can tune in to something else.

I decided, finally, to give Dark Matter a try. For those of you who don’t know, Dark Matter was supposed to be the answer to Firefly fans everywhere. (I’m not an avid Firefly Lover but I do ENJOY Firefly and have seen it several times.) I knew, in my gut, it wasn’t going to be any good. I’d seen the character pictures. Still, I turned on the first episode thinking, ‘how bad could it be?’

What resulted was…amazing. It was amazing, guys. It was so bad. It’s the kind of bad that pretends like it’s not really /too/ bad, but everything that happens is also bad and stupid, and I didn’t finish the episode. In fact, I’ll let you know how far I got at the end of this post, because right now I’m going to take you on a walk through some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen. It’ll teach you critical thinking skills, or something. It might just make you mad. It might leave you going ‘It really wasn’t that bad,’ and that’s………………….fine, too.

Let’s begin. Note: These reactions were taken straight from a Facebook chat I had with Arielle while I watched. She can attest that they are genuine, if edited for grammatical accuracy.

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Dark Matter: A Dramatic Reading (kind of)

“Okay so I’m ten seconds – hang on let me check – okay fifty five seconds – into the first episode of Dark Matter and my tolerance for silliness is so low that I’m just staring at this tunnel in a space ship life support is at %15 and all I can do is go OKAY BUT REALLY HOW COME ANY TIME A SHIP IS FAILING IN ANY WAY IN ANY PORTRAYAL THERE’S RANDOM STEAM AND SPARKS FLYING OUT OF RANDOM PLACES LIKE THAT’S NOT HOW SHIPS WORK

Because a ship failing in some way is pretty boring to look at and we must have SPARKS and things because the voice going ‘life support at fifteen percent’ isn’t enough of a giveaway

Oh look a boring guy waking up from cryosleep. This is good I’ve never seen this before.

He takes off running immediately how long has he even BEEN in cryosleep

If it’s longer than 24 hours he’s already impressive
The Hot Girl has woken up and they’re already fighting for control of the ship they haven’t even spoken that was fast how about a ‘hey do you know where we are? or what’s going on?’ just wHAM.

Honestly her bed head is out of this world

get it
out of this world
they’re in space
I wish /I/ could wake up with that hair after who knows how long in cryosleep

How come you can never actually READ anything on ship computer screens? It’s always in this tiny unreadable and/or alien font and never like

you know
easy

SO SHE’S RESTORED LIFE SUPPORT LIKE IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WERE DOING WHY DIDN’T YOU ASSUME THAT’S WHAT /HE/ WAS DOING DO YOU THINK HE WANTS TO DIE?? I JUST

‘what was that for?’ ‘you were in the way’ okay but like he was doing THE SAME THING YOU WERE DOING i just
Angry bed head double-gun man is here
he’s no help either
that’s their big opening wow
I’m blown away
Okay seriously there is CONDENSATION inside these cryo tube things like their hair would be horrendous and not these flawlessly styled curls

‘shake and wake, tiny; shake and wake’ okay in what universe is ‘shake and wake’ the new ‘rise and shine’
Mr angry double guns is such a bad actor and i have the sinking feeling he’s the Leader
We have angry asian man who a) was the only person we didn’t see wake up and b) is just scowling in the background so he’s probably not long for this world. probably gonna mutineer

I have so many questions but the most pressing is

Mr angry double guns has no shoes. nobody has shoes. but he retained two guns and two tHIGH HOLSTERS??
AND NO SHOES??
WHAT IS THE PREREQUISITE FOR BEING FROZEN

That’s the thing NOBODY HAS SHOES apparently you can’t be frozen with shoes but THIGH HOLSTERS is just OKIE DOKIE

THIS IS SO STUPID SO FAR I’M SO ANGRY BUT IT’S HYSTERICAL
okay and now – NOW
he’s all ‘guys check this out’ and opens a door and it’s just another big hallway-room THEY’VE BEEN RUNNING THROUGH LOADS OF OTHER HALLWAY ROOMS WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE HIM THINK THAT DOOR WAS DIFFERENT. WHY DO THEY NEED TO CHECK THAT ONE OUT IT’S NOT SPECIAL
‘What is this place?’ ‘it’s a ship’
He just said that with no humor it wasn’t supposed to be funny. Why. Obviously he’s the Enlightened one
And Hot Chick is all like ‘as soon as I stopped us from VENTING ATMOSPHERE I was able to get the ship back online and restore the repair protocol’ and I’m just like /THAT’S WHAT HE WAS DOING /TOO/ OH MY GOSH/”
The First Dude wasn’t sure what he was doing but that was no reason to just beat him up and waste the time you find so valuable to FIGHT HIM and then go fix things USE YOUR WORDS
Two Guns Angry Man found a weapons cache and he’s like HA HA and he’s got one of the guns and the nice girl with blue hair goes forward like ‘ooh’ and picks up a gun and Hot Chick is like ‘I don’t think so’ and takes it from her and then starts giving orders I hate her already
I HATE her.

Like the blue haired girl has done nothing to indicate she doesn’t know what she’s doing or is in any way irresponsible and hot chick isn’t even going ‘we put these back until we figure things out’ she’s just like ‘no you can’t have it I’m taking it’

“Expecting trouble?” “HOPIN'” brother you’ve been awake for five minutes chill
Also Two Guns Angry Man doesn’t seem like he’s gonna be the leader anymore I think he’s the Jayne but without the likability
okAY so Asian guy is the weapons expert and that’s cool and all but they also didn’t show him waking up while they showed literally everyone else so that’s just a goof on their part if he’s not a red shirt
The only character with common sense so far just let the dumbest character walk off on his own because he was like ‘ooh i wonder if I can fly this side-pod’
He called another woman they found in cryosleep ‘sweetcakes’ nobody calls anybody sweetcakes that’s not a thing – OH SHE’S THE ANDROID CHARACTER the one good thing in this whole dumb show really I’m pretty darn sure.
‘Is somebody gonna die?’ asks the wide-eyed blue-haired girl LADY THE HOT CHICK ISN’T gOD HOW WOULD SHE KNOW
how dumb are you
now he’s calling the hot chick ‘dollface’ also taGGING NAMES LIKE THAT ONTO THE END OF EVERY SENTENCE DOESN’T HELP ANYTHING /or/ MAKE YOU COOL it just sounds awkward. Nobody talks like that
Okay I’m done with it I can’t do it”

THE END.

I made it 13 minutes.

Note: Over the course of my life I’ve had people say “Watching movies with you would be SO MUCH FUN.” And I’m here to say – it depends on the movie. Or show. And also this is why I have a hard time finding anything to watch. 

How to Wing It, Literarily

Yesterday a friend asked me if I had any advice on writing without an outline. I’m a panster. For anyone who doesn’t know, writers are typically divided into two camps – plotters and pansters. A plotter knows everything down to the last detail. They have pages and pages (and pages) of outlines for the series, the novel, the current chapter. They know what everyone will wear in X scene. They are generally impressive creatures with a long-term battle strategy.

Pansters, like myself, cannot work this way. The way we write sounds either whimsical or downright ineffective to most people, especially hardcore plotters. “How can you work that way?” “I could never do that.” “Don’t you need /some/ kind of outline?” are all things I hear regularly when I’m asked about writing. The answer: No.

Once I have The Story in my head, I start writing. I don’t need an outline. I can’t use an outline – and believe me, I have tried and tried again to be a more organized, structure-oriented writer. “It’s supposed to make me more efficient,” I’ve wailed, staring at a notebook full of detailed plotting notes. But the truth is, for a true panster, overthinking your novel can kill it.

I generally find plotters and pansters are people who approach life differently – plotters are destination-minded, pansters are journey-minded.

I need a vague idea of the ending when I begin a book, but it may change several times during the story and take me completely by surprise because I don’t need the destination to be solid. The development of my characters is more important to me, and that takes time and I need to be surprised. The less I know about my characters when I start, the more I unravel along the way and the more natural it feels for me to write it.

However, I don’t believe pantsing is any easier than plotting. It has downfalls, like hitting a metaphorical wall and sitting back, wondering how on earth you’re supposed to fix the mess you’ve created for everyone. It means not being able to continue until that one detail clicks in your head, because everything else rests on it. It means spending much of your writing time thinking, instead of referring to pre-thought-out notes. It means having writer’s block – something I’ve noticed is less frequent in plotters. (There are those who completely wave aside the concept of pansters altogether, viewing us as flighty, un-dedicated beings without the backbone to sit down and plot out a story. The truth is, we get just as much done as plotters; we simply have different ways of going about it.)

So, now that we all know what pantsing is, I have a little advice I’ve gleaned over a decade of writing and making mistakes.

Go with your gut. This is incredibly important when I’m writing. If there’s something I really, really want to write, something I know I need to write, it needs to be written. Whether it’s a novel or simply a plot point – when I ignore these deep-seated twinges, I regret it. Every single time.

Write when you feel like writing. One endless difficulty in my life is that I never just have ‘creative energy’ – it’s always a very specific type of creative energy. If I feel the need to write, I can’t turn that energy into drawing energy, even when I try. When you feel a surge of writing energy, write if you can. If you can’t physically get to paper or a computer, let your mind do some writing instead. There is no shame in writing when the inspiration strikes, because inspiration is like a muscle – the more you use it, the more you have. Inspiration takes work, and is well worth it.

•  Because we work more from inspiration than notes, let yourself be inspired. Watch things. Read books. Listen to music. Go somewhere new and pay attention. Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just sit in my room for days on end and keep up an endless supply of inspiration. Inspiration needs to be stimulated, and you don’t get stimulation from doing nothing.

Don’t put limits on your book. You are free (within moral boundaries) to write anything you like. Don’t be afraid to add X character because ‘he doesn’t fit’ or let the plot take a sharp turn. Remember, there’s a good movie about aliens and cowboys and people liked it. Besides, it’s a first draft – not the end of all things.

That said, don’t write with a ‘first draft’ mindset. I used to, and it resulted in many novels that ‘needed a lot of rewriting.’ Did they ever get the rewrite? Not most of them. Write well. Write tightly. Give everything your best effort, because we pansters don’t like the thought of rewriting, revising, and editing and so going back and doing all those things seems like a very daunting task that results in abandoned first drafts. Write your first draft like it’s the last draft, like this is the version that’s going to hit shelves. (Note: In the first draft, I don’t mind things like typos or some awkward sentences because the act of technically editing doesn’t daunt me that much. Figure out what does daunt you, and do your best to thwart it in the first round.)

Have beta readers who give active feedback. Not the beta readers who leave your chapter sitting in their inbox until they can get around to it – the readers you know will react to each chapter. This kind of encouragement is incredibly helpful and spurs us to write better and better, knowing a real person is out there waiting to see what happens next.

Plot. Sometimes I need to sit there and figure out what happens in a certain chapter. Sometimes you can’t blindly push through and you need to take an extra step – BREATHE. It will be fine. Nobody will slide in and take away your panster card.

Remember – half the great writers you know and love are, or were, pansters. If they could do it, so can you.

“I met a lot of things along the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlorien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horse-lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforseen adventure. I had never heard of the House of Eorl nor the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear on September 22.”

— J. R. R. Tolkien,

in a letter to W. H. Auden 7 June 1955