Pantsing…

Pantsing is the art (?) of writing by the seat of one’s pants. Winging it. Going where the story & characters take you. Or, just writing to see where you end up.

The other end of the spectrum is outlining, where you plan it all out in advance…and then stick to that outline.

It’s never either / or … not for me, at least. I do both. When I get into trouble or when I’m trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing, I outline.

I’m currently rewriting yet another scene, one that I mostly pants’d my way through probably 18 months ago. When I read my book in Sept ’15, this particular scene stopped me dead in my tracks b/c the pacing was off. It was too slow. Leaden.

There are two reasons:

  1. It’s unfocused (too much pantsing)
  2. It’s just people talking — about important things (major plot events, etc.) and there’s a lot of interpersonal dynamic stuff going on, along with backstory references and foreshadowing, but it’s still just folks talking.

Think Council of Elrond, but without  John Rhys Davies having an allergic reaction to his dwarf prosthetics and the “Elves extras” who were paid to sit still and act wooden. Or w/o Agent Smith’s overacting, Mr. Anderson er Underhill er Baggins.

My in-progress solution to reworking this leaden scene is:

  1. Rewrite it. Some of my writing is cringeworthy, even only 18 months out. Good sign, really (that I can see it & can therefore fix it).
  2. Totally re-organize it — Just started today and am doing it by falling back on a new outline.
    1. Figure out the absolutely key things
    2. Make sure they’re addressed appropriately and without redundancies or repetition 😉
    3. Obscure those important thingees with red herrings, tastefully placed
    4. Fill in backstory & foreshadowing
    5. Make sure the characters are acting and interacting as they should
  3. Revisit POV
    1. Is the POV with whoever has the most at stake?
    2. Is the scene written so that it shows who’s talking — ie Odin vs Frigg or Vidar?

The only way I can do all that is outline it, then (re)write by sticking to the outline, then rewriting it again (and again) so it sucks less.

One author quote that’s been resonating for me is from Nabokov: “My characters are galley slaves.”

So while my inclination is to use pantsing to get to know my characters,  I use outlining to chain them to their oars.

Flight, capture, punishment

I’ve started catching up on the most recent season of Vikings. I’m 4 episodes in. The next three paragraphs are a titch spoilery. The fourth and fifth, though, are completely safe 🙂

Overall, I’m finding it a bit disjointed and boring — I skip the scenes in Wessex and most of those in Paris. I skip Wessex b/c I don’t care about those characters. I skip Paris b/c, despite liking Rollo (and knowing what he’s the start of), the resolution between him and princess whoever (Gisla?) was both boring and inevitable.

Back in Ragnar-land, I enjoyed the nod to Loki’s myth. Floki fled up a river to a waterfall (Franangr, anyone?) and was then discovered and caught. Floki was then bound in a cave with water dripping on his head — another fun nod to the myths — as was Helga (in Sigyn’s role) standing there, exhausted, arms trembling from catching the water in a bowl. Floki begging her to wake up and save him from the incessant dripping was also neat. A nice focus on her role and her sacrifice.

In my epic fantasy novel, Loki’s flight, capture and punishment is every bit as pivotal as it is in the myths. I also haven’t pulled any punches in my retelling of Loki’s horrific punishment as portrayed in the Lokasenna. The hard part is making it work for a modern audience.

And, of course, the complexity of the Aesir — and Odin in particular — is one of the most compelling aspects of Norse myth. I’ve tried to focus on those grey areas, to put their actions (as told primarily in the Poetic Edda) into context. Why would they do such things, if they were real people? And I’m trying to do it w/o modern condemnation of those actions.

When I finally finish this third rewrite, and publish the dang thing, maybe you’ll let me know how I did.

So, it worked…

My plan of reverse engineering my timeline worked out pretty well.

I went old school first, printed my outline from Scrivener, taped it together, and figured it all out. Moved a dozen scenes around and identified a dozen new scenes I have to write.

Next step was to organize the Binder (in Scrivener) by days. I made still more changes during that process. Mostly for pacing and continuity.

The novel spans 15 days. Part One (~38K words) is one day. A lot happens. The pace picks up considerably after that.

Having (mostly) solved this time issue, my next problem is with “backstory time.” I’m constantly referencing where Odin’s been for X years, and a war that happened Y years prior, along with other events that happen still farther back.

Right now I just have placeholder timespans in there, but I need to figure it out. In time.

 

Time!

Time is the single biggest problem I’m dealing with in my novel. At this time 😉

As a fledgling author, most of the advice I received (from podcasts) said: stick with smaller stories, with one or two point of view (POV) characters, maybe three, at the most.

I have eight POV characters.

The story I’m telling calls for it and I love all eight of the characters, but dang…that advice makes sense now.

It wasn’t a big deal when I was writing all the character arcs individually, or even skipping around, as I sometimes did (and do). But, it’s become a problem now that I’m weaving the stories together. Throw pacing into the mix and, ugh, it’s complicated. For example, I have to:

  1. Make sure the different scenes/POVs line up correctly.
  2. Allow enough time for the characters to get where they need to be
  3. Not have the characters spend days traveling only to arrive, do what they need to in 5 minutes, and then leave again.
  4. Signal the passage of time to the reader in a clear, but relatively subtle way.
  5. Keep the reader interested in what’s coming next.

In Book One, I’m dealing with a roughly two-week period. I had originally called the first event “Day 1” and then counted down to the end day.

But, that’s not working for me. It gets confusing. And if I’m confused, the reader will be hopelessly lost.

What I’m going to do now is count backward from the final event, factoring in travel time & when events need to happen. Then I can re-organize the chapters & scenes and write new ones if needed.

Seems like a plan.

 

 

 

Norse myth…here I come

Since early 2013, I’ve been writing a novel that interprets and adapts Norse myth into an epic fantasy setting.

So if you like the old stories of Odin and Frigg, Thor and Sif, Baldr and Nanna, Loki and Sigyn, Hel, Vidar, Heimdall, Freyr and Freyja, Hyrrokin and Vafthrudnir, as well as the fantasy genre, you’ll like my books.

And if you don’t know the Norse myths, then, after enjoying my books :), maybe they’ll launch you into reading the source materials — primarily the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, but there are others (e.g., Saxo Grammaticus, multiple Icelandic sagas, the account of Ibn Fadlan).

In writing my books, I have meticulously researched Norse myths through a multitude of secondary sources — Simek, Crossley-Holland, Davidson, etc. This blog is as much a recounting of that research as it is a glimpse into my creative process.

In 2017, I will publish the first book in my series. So, if you read this, thanks! And, stay tuned!

Copyright (c) 2016 by Matt Bishop. All rights reserved.