Novel in progress 12/22/21

Here’s how I left my Scrivener project today (left side is the Binder; middle section is the text for Scene 7, and the right side is a character card (a text file) for Hannah Dodd).

To me, there is no more important feature to the Scrivener writing software than the binder. Although I’ve read and studied intensely how to outline a novel in full up front before writing the first word of the story, I always gravitate to the pantsing side of the fence. However, during my past two completed novels, and now my WIP, I’ve adopted a pantsing with a twist approach: from the beginning I don’t know where my story is going, but once it does, and I have a scene in mind, I outline that scene and move on.

Notice in the binder (Scene 7), I created a text file, “Hannah and David do some probing.” And, under that, there are two subfiles (“What if Glenn was supposed to have a meeting at 11:00?” and, “Had neighbor seen something [?]” Notice, the next text file is “Who are Hannah and David?” There are several other text files, but for now, let’s limit this discussion to the above.

Recall, when I start a scene, I know very little. What I do know is the result of asking a simple question: what should happen next? I try to put myself in the story and think logically about what might happen.

Here’s an example (story alert): prior to Scene 7, Glenn has been kidnapped, and the pair who grabbed him returned his Mustang to his home and took his Toyota Highlander. Further, I had just completed a scene where the protagonist (yes, he’s one of the kidnappers!), checked up on Glenn at the barn where he is hidden. So, I thought, what else is going on at this same time? Glenn owns Elkins Hardware; it’s a Monday. The store has opened and Glenn is always there by 6:30. Thus, I decided to change POV and write in third person (previous scenes were in first person).

From my outline, and over three days mind you, this is what I created [I’ll insert some current comments in brackets and bolded]:

Scene 7

“No luck.” David said as he walked inside Elkins Hardware. “Mustang’s right where it was this morning. No sign of the Highlander.”

Hannah Dodd, Glenn’s operations manager, stood behind the front checkout counter and shook her ash blond hair, a habit she’d perfected in high school over twenty-eight years ago. “This is getting surreal. You know he’s a robot six mornings a week: eat breakfast at Grumpy’s, and here by six-thirty.”

David handed Hannah a stack of mail the post lady had handed him outside. He was more worried about his future than his boss’s health or happiness. “If he doesn’t show, will that be it?” A chance to manage a big box store was David’s dream, but that hinged on Glenn’s 1:00 PM meeting [to fit my timeline I changed the meeting to 1:00] today with Home Depot’s Joel Griggs [full disclosure: this character was created by visiting Lowe’s website and borrowing the names from two actual people]. Their fourth in as many months, with today’s seal-the-deal meeting at Atticus French’s law office on North Main.

“My guess is yes, since the City of Albertville is trying to woo the Depot with more incentives.” The business phone rang and Hannah grabbed it immediately. “Elkins Hardware.” She looked at David and shook her head sideways, while mouthing, “Pastor Miller.”

[The above gets us “in the moment.” Now, I delve into my Binder question, Who are Hannah and David?]

Hannah and David were the glue that held Elkins Hardware together, although Glenn naively believed it was himself. David had started part-time in the tenth grade. Hannah, as Gracie’s best friend [Gracie is Glenn’s daughter], had unofficially started in middle school, satisfied with a bag of Planter’s Salted Peanuts and an RC Cola in exchange for sweeping the floors and flirting with prospective customers who looked like they had money.

Hannah’s official hire date was August 13th, 1993, the day Glenn and Gina moved their only child to Tuscaloosa to attend the University of Alabama. Gracie and Hannah had been friends since first grade and were destined to be close forever, including sharing a dorm room at Tutwiler Hall for four years. That had all changed when Hannah’s father was killed in an auto accident and she was left with an invalid mother and an eleven-year-old sister to care for.

[David needs to get to his office. I thought a believable interruption would be helpful.]

“I need some paint.” A customer interrupted David as he walked to the stairwell that led to a row of offices overlooking the front half of the store.

“Hold on, I’ll grab Troy.” After doing so and settling into his office, David called Valerie at the French Firm. “Hey, it’s David at Elkins. Have you seen Glenn this morning?”

“No, and I don’t have time to chat. I’m getting ready for the closing.” Valerie said, ending the call without a goodbye. David had always had a crush on the voluptuous Val, but she still didn’t know it.

[Here’s more about David—hold on, I’m getting to that ‘probing.’]

Gerald, Glenn’s father, had hired David in 1970 as a stock-boy when he finished the tenth grade at Boaz High School. Four years later, with an Associate’s degree from Snead State under his belt, and a growing fascination with numbers, Gerald had moved David into sales for three months before awarding him the lucrative sales manager position. But, it was Glenn who’d figured out David was more valuable as finance manager since he could work magic with interest rates and late fees, not to mention his easy-going, highly persuasive personality.

David sat behind his desk and opened the middle drawer. He removed an eight by ten-inch photograph of the newest house in Hunters Run, only six weeks away from completion, and David’s occupancy. But, and that was a big but, only if Home Depot was coming to Boaz. A sick feeling in his stomach made David want to rip the photo in half. He would have if his desk phone hadn’t started ringing. [Here, you can start to see the importance of that 1:00 PM meeting, at least to David. I don’t have a clue how this twist came to mind. Maybe it was from my Binder/outlining—there needs to be some reason Hannah and David find Glenn (recall, he was kidnapped yesterday afternoon)].

Unenthusiastically, he answered, “David, Finance Department.”

“Is this Mr. Vance?” The voice was old and vaguely familiar.

“It is. May I help you?” David said, wishing he hadn’t been quite so short. However, an old lady, three months behind on her washer-dryer payments, was the last thing he wanted to deal with.

“This is Irene Capps. We talked this morning.”

“Yes mam. You live across the street from my boss, Glenn Elkins.” David sat up straighter and felt a slight breeze of optimism. “Have you remembered something?”

“No, but Charles has. You know I told you I go to bed at 8:00 but my old man stays up till at least midnight.” Irene’s voice was scratchy, like sandpaper.

“Did he see something across the street, at Glenn’s house, last night or this morning?” David instantly thought he was about to learn his boss was bedding the widow Dorothy Frasier, whose husband Frank had died six months ago from Covid. The plain looking but sharp dressing woman had been politely stalking Glenn since the beginning of summer.

“Hold on. You best talk to Charles.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. David thought. While he waited, he couldn’t help but look at the two-story Tudor one more time.

“Hello.” A gruff, let’s-hurry-up voice said.

It took a trio of back-and-forth questions and answers for Charles to tell his story. To David, it sounded like the old man was drunk as a skunk.

“So, let me summarize.” David believed this was the best way to pin Charles down and get off the phone. “A little before midnight, you and Brandon, your miniature boxer, were outside peeing. I mean, Brandon was peeing. That’s when you saw Glenn’s Mustang ease into his driveway with its lights off. Am I right so far?”

“It’s a shitzu.”

“Okay, then you saw a man exit the Mustang and drive away in Glenn’s Highlander. Right?”

“Yep, got her from Second Chance Kennels.”

“Brandon’s a girl?” David often asked irrelevant questions.

“Yes.”

“Charles, I’ve got a customer waiting, so let me ask one last thing. Which way did the Highlander go?”

“You hold on while I wet my whistle.” David could hear ice cubes tumbling into a glass.

“Okay, but hurry.”

Two swallows later, Charles continued. “Towards Elder.”

“Thanks, now one more. Sorry. Did you get a good look at who was driving the Highlander?”

“Come on baby, come on.” David’s mind didn’t like the image that suddenly appeared. Was Charles coaxing Irene or Brandon? “Now, I’m sorry. Brandon is a daddy’s girl.”

“Charles, could you tell if it was Glenn driving the Highlander?”

Without hesitating, Charles dismantled David’s theory. “Oh hell no, the guy was shorter, fatter. It couldn’t have been Glenn.”

“Did you determine this when you saw the man get out of the Mustang and walk to the Highlander?” David’s mind scrolled through a list of Glenn’s friends and customers who fit Charles’ description.

“I guess, and when he turned to look at me as he drove away.”

“Okay. Thanks. One last question and I promise this is it.”

Before David could ask, Charles added, “Yeah, that’s what they all say.”

“Is there anything else you can recall, anything at all?” David literally crossed his fingers, eying the English Tudor.

“Hold on, let me think.” David shook his head and hoped he wasn’t going to be so dense when he was old. “Got it. I knew there was something. You want to know what it is?”

Oh my fucking God, David squeezed his right hand to keep from sounding the words, “yes, please.”

“The man’s jacket. I mean the back of his jacket. It had something written on it. In yellow. I couldn’t tell if it was a word or just some letters. But, I know the first one was an F. Might have been ‘fuck off,’ but I’m only guessing.”

David sat and pondered. Falcons? That might be it, the Atlanta Falcons. Or was it Faith? He had seen a group of teens wandering through the Appliance Department a few months ago wearing tee-shirts with Faith across the back. David heard the line go dead. That’s when he remembered the youth was from a church in the valley, Cox Chapel Methodist. Yes, that was it. And the group might now have jackets with Faith highlighted in yellow across the backs.
David returned the receiver to its cradle and concluded he was beyond desperate and was doing nothing but chasing an uncatchable rabbit.

END OF SCENE

As stated, this draft of Scene 7 has taken all week. It’s still a little messy, but you should have seen it yesterday.

One other thing about my writing method. Yesterday, I pretty much had the basic ideas down, but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon’s bike ride that I thought, “Doesn’t David need to learn more from Charles, Glenn’s across the street neighbor?” At that time, all Charles had told David was about seeing a man (who wasn’t Glenn) bring the Mustang to Glenn’s house—with lights off—park it and drive off in the Highlander.

So, biking, I kept thinking, “what could Charles have seen that might be harmful to my protagonist (yes, that kidnapper guy)?” It wasn’t until this morning during reread and pondering that same question that I remembered Marlon (okay, now you know the name of my protagonist) wore his FBI jacket the first night he was in town. Bingo if you have an F. Ha.

Finally, if you ask me how this yellow F is going to play into my story, I’ll have to say, I don’t know. But, hopefully, I’ll find out when I get there. Who knows, it might just appear in the Binder at just the right time.

Magic? No, it’s just pantsing with a twist.

What type writer do I want to be?

At the end of my last post I promised we would explore story structure. I’ve changed my mind. Since we’ve already talked about the ‘why’ of writing a story, I think we should first explore the ‘how’ of writing a story. Here, I’m speaking of your chosen method, although to some writers, method might imply more order than they would admit. Said another way, ask yourself, what type writer do I want to be?

Whether you like it or not, there are only three main categories of writers: plotters, pantsers, and plantsers. But, don’t see these as limiting your choices. There are endless variations of each. The takeaway is there is no right or wrong way to write a novel. What’s important is that you find the method that works for you.

Plotters, pantsers, & plantsers

The plotter. Obviously, this is someone who engages in varying degrees of prewriting. A full-blooded plotter would plan and outline his complete story before he begins to write. He would know his story from beginning to end—every character and every scene—before putting pencil to paper.

The plotter will develop his personal approach to plotting. Many choose index cards, using one per scene. On one side, writing a one sentence description followed by few or many notes. On the other side, listing the characters in this scene. After completing sixty to eighty such cards/scenes, this writer will arrange them any way he wants on the floor, table, or wall, rearranging them as he decides how he wants to tell his story. Many other plotters take a similar approach but digitally. There are several software programs that utilize the index or scene card approach. Two that I’ve reviewed are, Beemgee and Plottr.

Here are the pros and cons of being a plotter. Obviously, it involves a lot of work, maybe months before the first word of the first draft is written. A good thing is this method is singlehandedly the best way to avoid writer’s block: you always know where you’re going. Plus, you mostly avoid getting sidetracked. Chasing rabbits is often a dead end that causes many a pantser to abandon the manuscript. But, a plotter can also create a mess— if he concludes his outline has problems. Redoing an outline in itself is easy. The hard part is redoing the actual manuscript. Normally, a change in one place has a ripple effect, creating work that could have been avoided if the outline had been correct to begin with.

The pantser. This is someone who writes their story by the seat of their pants, trusting their daily imagination to create the needed characters and plots. Thus, he engages in little to no prewriting. In other words, he writes without the aid of an outline or roadmap.

His reason for doing so, most likely, is that he wants to discover his story as he writes (or, like me with God and Girl, he doesn’t have time). This might be grounded in his fear that doing otherwise would squelch his creativity.
There are pros and cons to being a pantser. One of the best things is that it avoids months (sometimes years) of pre-planning. And, as stated above, writer’s block can appear any day. Hopefully, you as a new writer will never experience this debilitating, ‘death’ inducing, malady.

The plantser. This is a relatively new term. Plantsers are crossbreeds, those that are both plotters and pantsers, say, half and half, to suggest one of an infinite number of combinations. For example, a plantser might plan three or four key events in his story before he begins to write, leaving much to his imagination along the long and arduous journey to The End.

As to the pros and cons of being a plantser, sometimes you’ll enjoy the best of all worlds. But, everything comes with a cost.

My own evolution

As to my own writing, I’m undergoing a major transformation: away from being a pantser to becoming a plotter. It has been a gradual process but it is picking up steam. As I hinted at in a previous post, with my first novel, God and Girl, my story idea didn’t involve much planning; in fact, the idea came quickly, shortly before I accepted a challenge. What illustrates me as a pantser more than anything is the context and timing. It was November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which requires (to be successful) you write a minimum of 50,000 during the thirty day period. In sum, I started my story writing career as a full-blooded pantser.

For me, the main reason I’m transitioning is to avoid (hopefully) black holes, the dark, scary, and inescapable rabbit trail a pantser can pursue that ties his story in knots, those that can only be untied by considerable retreat and rewriting. Don’t question my sincerity here. I have three incomplete manuscripts languishing in a figurative bottom desk drawer to prove my point.

The bottom line

No matter what type writer you want to be, you have to start where you are. The most important thing you can do is to start writing, every day. Learning to write is a journey. The only way you will grow and evolve as a writer, is IF you write.
I encourage you to write something today. Don’t have an idea yet? Then do one of the following: 1) just start writing anything; it’s known as freewriting; set your timer for ten minutes or two, and start writing, or 2) consider a writing prompt. Here are two websites for a ton of options: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/500-writing-prompts-to-help-beat-writers-doubt/, and https://diymfa.com/writer-igniter.

I intend to take up story structure in my next post. I double promise. In the meantime and in anticipation of my next post, I encourage you to daily ponder the following statement I recently found on Beemgee.com’s website: “In storytelling, structure is at least as important as language.” After ten novels, I wholeheartedly agree.

Want a copy of my second novel? For free? All you have to do is sign up for my Myths, Mysteries & Murders readers group. https://dl.bookfunnel.com/r6dwwflvxx

Take the quiz
If you’d like a little help in deciding what type writer you’d like to be, take the MasterClass quiz. You can find it here:

Have a nice day.