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Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Nina Pierce

Plot or Pants … Only one for me thanks

I've been writing seriously for four years, though the first year doesn't really count since that's when I pounded out thousands of words of crud. But that's an article for another time.

Anyway, I just signed my 8th contract. Yeah, I'm very proud of myself (but this article isn't about that either). I've written one series and have just started a second. All my books, save for one, are suspense. One of them (still uncontracted) is a complex romantic suspense with a stalker and FBI agents and a couple of dead bodies. I like complicated plots with twists and turns. Anyway, I did all those stories by the seat of my pants. Ya know, starting with the "what if" question and letting the story unfold organically from there. I didn't know there was another way because I'd only been on the reading side of novels.

Then I started meeting other writers and learning the basics of the craft. Words that become second nature to writers. Words like goals and motivation, internal and external conflict, hero journeys, black moments, character arcs and backstory. Huh? What do you mean it's boring for the reader if I tell the whole childhood history of my heroine in the first 18 pages? But she's so scarred and flawed ... everything else will make so much sense if you know that her Aunt Betty was actually a man in WWII with a penchant for wearing lady's underwear.

Back when I first made the decision to become an author, I was blissfully unaware of any rules in writing. I was happy just sitting at the computer letting my characters stumble into life-threatening situations, argue, kiss and eventually fall into bed (actually, the falling into bed part seemed to come waaaay to easily to me *wink* anywho...). I was naively typing away letting my characters roam through my stories until something really bad happened which often times included killing the bad guy and then riding off into the proverbial sunset.

But I've grown. I've matured. I've learned that other writers actually plot out their stories ... ya know ... like an outline for a research paper. Oh, I was a scientist in my former life, I've done a lot of research papers. I could do that. As a matter of fact, I thought I might actually thrive plotting a book.

So I signed up for the best plotting class I could find. These instructors were writing pros, presenting the plotting process one step at a time. I'm a good student ... I have always done all my homework ... and I dutifully kept up with the class assignments. We had to describe our hero, heroine and villain, if we had one (ha, mine was eeeevvvil) ... no problem. Then we had to talk a little bit about their childhood, their fears, their dislikes and goals. Okay, I was shaking a little bit ... I'd never really "met" my characters in any of my books until I threw them into some nasty situation. But that's okay ... I pushed through. I tried to discover who they were and what they wanted before writing chapter one.

Then, I had to write ALL their conflicts, internal and external along with the journey I was going to take them on during this story. WHAT? Like I had to know before actually writing the scene at the warehouse what the heroine was going to do with the antique glass vase when she got to the lake? I was breathing in paper bags and bathing in calamine lotion to control my breathing and the hives breaking out on my skin.

When the instructors (all smiles and sweetness) nicely sent out spreadsheets so we could outline our chapters ... well, that was my undoing! How the heck could I tell you what was going to happen in chapter 20 when I didn't even know if my heroine would still be alive past chapter 15? Heck I didn't even know if the story was going to be longer than chapter 10!


Sorry. *deep calming breaths ... in through the nose out through the mouth* It's still a bit overwhelming when I think about it. But I'll recover. I've set aside all their pretty charts and excel spreadsheets. I gave it a shot. More than one. But my poor muse has an apoplectic fit every time I pull them out. It's just not worth the pitchers of margaritas and soothing music it takes to pull her off the ceiling.

So I'm going to admit it now. Hi, my name is Nina ... I'm a pantser. I've tried plotting because so many writers look so happy with all that information spread out in front of them. Smiling as they happily take their characters on the journey they've taken weeks sometimes months to discover. I can't do it! I just can't ... please don't make me. It's just not in my wiring. I'll happily write my next book having no clue where I'm going or what terrible thing lies around the next corner, but knowing I'll be happy as I travel through the story and even happier when I arrive at the end.

Nina Pierce is an award-winning author of 7 erotic suspense stories. She spends her days typing without a direction, her characters happily wandering the pages chased by villains and of course falling into bed. You can visit her on the web at And if you want to read her daily babble, she’s also on twitter


Cathy M said...

Hey, if it works, why change it? Very entertaining post, Nina, you had me chuckling.

Nina Pierce said...

Cathy - Glad you enjoyed it. Stops for stopping by.

Nina Pierce said...

LOL! I mean "thanks" for stopping by. Sheesh. Type much Nina?

Kytaira said...

I think if everyone used the same writing techniques, everyone's writing would sound similar.

I went to a local American Idol style competition to support a friend. One of the judges told the contestants they needed to choose songs that started out slow, built up and then wound down at the end. I sat there thinking about all of the songs I enjoy and thought - how boring! They'd all sound the same. And songs are a verbal story.

Real life can jerk you in unexpected directions, so why not a verbal or written story?

Nina Pierce said...

Kytaira - That is so true. As a former teacher I can say this certainly is similiar to how people learn. Some people need visiual clues, some auditory and still others requre manipulation to put everthing in order. Writers' brains need to manipulate the story much the same way. Thanks for stopping by.