Plotter or Pantser? With Laura Moe
Welcome to Creative Conversations. Today I’m talking with Laura Moe.
Laura is a YA Author, Writing Instructor and Podcaster Master of The Young Adult Cafe on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network
Some lucky Dreamwalker will win a signed copy of BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA (details below!)
~There is a beautiful relationship between two teens who connect over poems of Neruda . . . and their ever-witty banter. – Voya
Janet: Here we are Laura. I’m here with my bubbly grapefruit drink. What’s bubbling to the surface for you today?
Laura: Hi, Janet. I’m sipping a cup of green tea. This morning I worked in a different cafe than my usual. I often do that to allow for different writing.
Janet: Did you find what you were seeking?
Laura: I think I did. I’ve started a new project and wanted to “air out” my head with a new surrounding to get my feet wet with it. I plan to return to my regular hangout (The Aloha Cafe in Lynnwood) now that I have a semi-solid draft of Chapter One.
Janet: Ah, the delicious and dreadful Chapter One! Wondering how much you plan ahead and how much you just dive in. Would you say you’re more of a plotter or a pantser?
Laura: Well . . . in the past my process had been to dive right in and discover as I went. There’s an endorphin release in letting the characters lead you to new places. Yet it’s also hugely inefficient, and with my last work, which I finally completed, it took ten drafts. I kept starting the story in the wrong place.
Recently, one of my plotter friends, who is also a critique partner, loaned me a book called TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS by Libbie Hawker, which demonstrated a more efficient way of designing the story before you begin to write. I tried that with my current WIP, yet I found myself blocked–and I’m not one to suffer from writer’s block. By trying to use this outline and planning method I found I didn’t enjoy writing. It’s like asking a neat freak to work in a messy room. I felt out of sorts.
Yet I am incorporating some of the planning strategies. It helped me create a reverse outline on my recent book, and I know my logline for my current one, along with a sense of my ending. The logline serves as a beacon to keep me on the road. Or like Luke Skywalker, “stay on target.”
Pansters have the advantage of developing fleshed out characters, emotional depth, and beautiful prose, but we often take side paths that drift away from the story.
Janet: Well said. (Janet rubbing her hands) I love talking about the writing process. I’m somewhere between plotter and pantser. A plantser? I do a long, deep story journaling process that explores the characters’ pasts, uncovers hidden motivations and emotions that will drive the story. I have some key scenes, and like you, an ending in mind. Then I go! But I also plan along the way.
I want to mention the brilliant book we are both reading. I vanished before this pic was taken
but I was there for the SCBWI WWA NoteWordies book discussion of THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION: How to Write the Story Below the Surface, by Donald Maass.
The book affirms how I write and is giving me more tools to work with as well.
Laura: Yes, that book is so much more than a craft book. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone starting out of the gate. I’d advise he or she to write the draft first. But Maass offers so much richness for revision. Most craft books have us concentrate on the prose and structure, yet Maass gets to the core of what we need to address, and what readers will connect with, and that’s emotion. Readers need to fall in love with the world, the tale, and at least one character in order to keep turning pages. I recall hearing Garth Stein’s agent (Jeff Kleinman) telling of how when he read the submitted draft of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, he was on a train back to New York on his way home from DC, and he was so absorbed in the book he not only missed his stop, he was in tears when he finished reading. That’s what we all want from our readers.
Janet: We cannot give our readers what we do not have ourselves. That’s something I have thought about. To write with emotional authenticity, I have to have the capacity not only to feel deeply but to pass them on through words. This isn’t easy. We are limited to the paint supplies we have. I’m learning to keep it a little simpler, to trust the reader more. And simply strive for clarity. Always seeking the most telling way to say something — every story is a translation.
Laura: Yes, we have limited supplies in our paint drawer. Often if I’m stuck trying to get a high-level scene just right, I’ll physically “act it out’, or I will go take a walk. Walking in rhythm helps me find the right “beats” I need for a scene. Occasionally I’ll step away from my own writing and read poetry. Poets have the burden of even fewer words than prose writers to capture the ‘objective correlative’-the intended emotional response from the reader. Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska is a master at this. Her diction is simple, but her poems always pack a wallop.
Here are a few lines her poem Coming Home From the book VIEW WITH A GRAIN OF SAND
He’s nearly forty, but not at the moment.
He exists just as he did inside his mother’s womb,
clad in seven walls of skin, in sheltered darkness.
Janet: We’re all of us feeling our way along in the dark. I think this might be true for those who plot ahead of time as well, but I’m not sure. We are still faced with how to bring the story alive. It can feel like a long cold winter within, but there is life under the surface.
This quote comes to mind
~A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.~ -Franz Kafka.
Laura: I love that! We pantsers dig our way out of the story that lingers above us. I wonder if plotters carry a lighter ax, or perhaps they swing it with better control. When I write I keep chipping at icebergs with an ice pick.
Janet: Beautiful stories come from that.
BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA is a very moving book. Happy two-year book birthday by the way.
Laura: Thank you, on both counts. In writing BWN, I had to dive underwater quite a bit. Maass talks about the protagonist’s longings, and Michael has plenty of those. I believe Shelly’s own longings balance his out and yet tip them on end simultaneously.
Janet: I think you nailed it. It’s a wonderful read. I also think the Longing D Maass talks about is key. When we are in touch with that- the character drives the story. The writing comes from that primal unstoppable source. And when it’s working, it just feels like I’m along for the ride.
Laura: Exactly. The characters take us on weird and wonderful journeys, and often to places they shouldn’t go. For example, Rosie, in your novel, DRAGON’S KEEP, places herself in jeopardy at several turns. Yet her ultimate longing is worth risking her life over.
Janet: For Rosie, as for many of us. She longs to belong. She thinks she has to throw a part of herself away for this to happen–that no one can accept her fully as she is with her “beast part”
It is a play on Beauty and the Beast because Rosie is both. What she discovers in the end happened without planning at all. The right words came. It was a revelation for Rosie and for me.
Laura: I love when that happens. In several scenes with BWN, Michael’s reactions to events or people were revelations. Those moments are one reason I love revision. Not only do I get to revisit these characters I love, but they reveal secrets they trust me to know.
Janet: As authors, we do the same. Reveal secrets we trust the reader to know. It’s a very intimate art form. Thank you for sharing some of your writing secrets with us, Laura, and for generously offering a signed copy of your book.
Laura: You’re welcome. And thank you for asking me to be a guest. I always enjoy talking writing with you.
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Dreamwalkers, if you want to hear more about Character Secrets, Laura Moe and I discussed it together on her show. Listen in. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheairradio2/2017/08/28/award-winning-ya-author-janet-lee-carey-believes-in-dragons )
Meet Laura Live
Meet Local Authors at Half Price Books
19500 Highway 99 Lynnwood
SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2018 2-3 PM.
They will discuss writing, publishing (traditional and independent,) and living the writer’s life.
Win a signed copy
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