Sunday, May 22, 2011

(GPT) Pants-ing Yourself, Or: The Joys of (Not) Plotting! by Rusty Fischer

I'm very excited to welcome Rusty Fischer to Bookish today!

Rusty is a phenomenal new YA writer, author of absolutely fantastic novel, Zombies Don't Cry.  To read my review of Rusty's book, please go here: Zombies Don't Cry review.

My interview with Rusty combined with a giveaway of a printed copy of his book is coming up soon! Stay tuned!

Guys, please give a warm welcome to Rusty...

About Rusty:
Rusty Fischer is the author of Zombies Don’t Cry: A Living Dead Love Story (Medallion Press, 2011).
Visit his blog,, for news, reviews, cover leaks, writing and publishing advice, book excerpts and more! And look for his next book, Vamplayers, due out from Medallion next year!

Pants-ing Yourself, Or: The Joys of (Not) Plotting!
A Guest Post by
Rusty Fischer

When it comes to writing YA, are you a plotter – or a pants-er?

In other words, do you write it all down ahead of time and then follow that plot to the end of your story (a plotter)?

Or do you just sit down with a blank Word document, ala Carrie Bradshaw on Sex & the City, and wait for inspiration to strike and then write the whole thing by the seat of your pants (a pants-er)?

I like to think I’m a little bit of both.

Case in point: almost nothing that appears in the published version of my new YA supernatural romance, Zombies Don’t Cry, was there in the original plot!

Even the title was different for the very first draft. (It was originally called Have a Nice Afterlife.)

The original outline for Zombies Don’t Cry-slash-Have a Nice Afterlife called for Maddy to already be a zombie when the story started.

There was a brief Prologue that explained how she became a zombie – Ferris wheel, broken chair, electric pole, fade out – and then, boom, you go into this story where this badass zombie chick is hunting down other zombies in a graveyard.

There was still a football kicker named “Stamp” involved, but he died way in the beginning and, not to give too much away, there was no love triangle because the zombie character who would eventually come to be Dane started out as Maddy’s ZFF (Zombie Friend Forever), a chill, slacker zombie dude named Phil.

There was no Bones, no Hazel, no Dahlia, no Chloe, and the bad guy was this reanimated serial killer who… okay, okay, enough. Now, you don’t have to have read Zombies Don’t Cry to get my point: plotting is really, really important – but so is flying by the seat of your pants.

I absolutely need a plot – a beginning, a middle and an end – to complete the first draft of ANY story. I even plot my short stories because I always like there to be some “twist” at the end and, well, planning ahead makes for better twists.

Part of that plot is the central cast of characters – I like to keep this list down to around 6-8 people if humanly possible – and a central setting with various minor settings, i.e. Barracuda Bay High School, the locker room, the Fall Formal, Dane and Chloe’s trailer, etc.

Lastly, I have a bullet list of about 15-20 loosely organized “chapters” that tell me how I’m going to get from Point A (the beginning) to Point B (the end). Sometimes they’re a sentence, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes simply a phrase or mental reminder.

I might say something like, “Maddy waiting for Stamp by his graveside.” Or it might even be simpler if I’ve already dreamed up the scene in my head, “Maddy + graveside.” Or it might be ornate to remind me of various details, like, “Maddy waits at Stamp’s graveside; she has a picnic basket with ‘zombie treats’ for when he wakes up a ‘good’ zombie and weapons if he wakes up bad…”

And I list these “scenes,” one after the other, until I’ve fleshed out the story in my mind.

Once I get these variables locked in, I can start writing. The problem is, every inspiration, every “aha!” moment I have along the way makes me change course. Okay, so that’s not really a “problem” for me because instinctively if I give into a temptation to fiddle with the original plot/outline, I know – I just “know” – it’s going to be better for the story.

I’ve tried it both ways. Several times I’ve started with a very strict plot and followed it to the letter. I even get all the way to the end of the book that way. The problem is that usually after I’ve had a few great ideas that would have helped the story but didn’t follow them because I was “sticking to the plot,” I’m uninspired by the way the story develops and generally the books don’t turn out so hot.

On the other hand, I’ve sat down with a blank Word document and just gone to town and, inevitably about 20-pages in I give up because I just don’t know where the story is going.

I have no character list so I don’t know who’s who or what they look like to describe them or why she is meeting him or what his exit strategy is or her end game.

I have no “bad” guy so there is no tension, and I have no three or four fight scenes or twists and turns or betrayals so there is no conflict.

So what do I do? Write an entire book according to a plot that’s no longer fun, relevant or engaging, or get really excited about the first 20 pages and then… move onto the next 20 page no-plot, half-start?

So over time I’ve learned to plot like crazy and give into the “pants-ing” when it happens. To trust my gut when it comes to plotting AND pants-ing and really enjoy both. That way I can finish every book AND be excited about what I’ve just finished.

So, how about YOU? The secret, I think, is to find what works for you. I know many of my writer friends who hate outlining, who never do it and are far more creative than I about plotting, pants-ing and everything in between. The lack of an outline does little to hamper the twists, turns, drama, conflict and characters that inform their stories.

Likewise, I know other writers who plot down to every detail and create wonderful stories thanks to their forethought and careful planning. I can’t imagine writing a mystery, for that matter, without knowing who the killer is first, right? Then again, sometimes it’s nice to be surprised; even as the writer!

Bottom line, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer; what works for you works, and that’s the secret to plotting, pants-ing… and everything in between!

What do you guys think? Are you plotters or pants-ers?
Both Rusty and I would love to see your comments!

Rusty, thank you so much  for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us here today! I'm so looking forward to reading your next book~!

Published May 1st 2011 by Medallion Press

Maddy Swift is just a normal girl—a high school junior surviving class with her best friend and hoping the yummy new kid, Stamp, will ask her out. When he finally does, her whole life changes.

Sneaking out to meet Stamp at a party one rainy night, Maddy is struck by lightning. After awakening, she feels lucky to be alive. Over time, however, Maddy realizes that she’s become the thing she and everyone else fear most: the living dead. With no heartbeat and no breath in her lungs, Maddy must learn how to survive as a zombie. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than shuffling around 24/7 growling, “Brains.” Needing an afterlife makeover is only the beginning of her problems. As Barracuda Bay High faces zombie Armageddon, Maddy must summon all of her strength to protect what matters most—just as soon as she figures out exactly what that is.


Anonymous said...

I have to write a short story for my writing class. It's due in 2 weeks but my teacher wants an outline of it by tomorrow. I'm a total panster and I can't outline to save my life! I'm planning on having most of it written by tomorrow so that I could write up a quick outline to send to her. Glad to hear that being a panster is okay! Great post :)

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the short, Honey! I love that you're going to write most of the story first so that your outline matches; now that's pants-ing!

Birgit said...

I'm a bit of both - I usually know the general direction the story will go, or at the very least I know the vantage point of it, and then .. I just wait and see what happens when my fingers hit the keyboard. And in the rare occasion of plotting, my characters have this pesky tendency to take over anyway *lol*.

Leia-Ann said...

I'm definately more of a plotter than a pantser, though like Randy, I do both. I've recently discovered a way of plotting backwards from the ending you envisioned, which is really, really helping me out!

Honey, if you want to check it out, it's on youtube: search for Dan Wells story structure lectures.

Shorts I always pants all the way through and that's why I love 'em.

Novels? I'm only now for the first time actually writing more than the first couple of chapters of one because I tend to start with an idea/hook rather than a plot, I get bogged down in "what the hell happens now?" land if I don't at least sketch a tentative outline.

Great post, thanks Randy and Evie.

Leia-Ann said...

Oh great. *shoots the misspelled "definitely" up there*. All apologies.

Anonymous said...

This looks awesome. I love me some zombies!

Anonymous said...

Crap, wrong post. Derp. But these are good tips for writing - I'll need to think them over, as I'm writing something myself.

This is what I get for not sleeping enough. D:

Janine said...

I love zombies! I'm gonna have to check this out ^^

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