By Stephanie Jaye
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I feel like that’s a question every writer gets asked at least once in their writing journey, and one that we may even ask ourselves at one point. Some people are strict plotters, while others just write and see where their characters take them. Some don’t even stick to the same approach with every novel they write.
I for one, used to be a hardcore panster. I would write and see what happened. For all I knew, my characters could do anything from spontaneously up and decide to leave the state, to propose to their love five chapters too early (talk about moving too fast)!
After pansting two novels and getting stuck in the editing stages for both, I decided to start plotting. In an attempts to do a total rewrite of one of my previous novels that crashed and burned in the editing stage, I decided to switch from telling the story in first person with one POV, to third person with multiple POVs. I thought of it like this: The first draft, where it was told in first person, was like the main character telling me their story in their point of view. I was now my job to write their story, but in third person.
Coming to this realizing changed the way I plotted my subsequent novel (and current WIP). Now, to avoid getting stuck in the editing stages again, I am a hard-core plotter... and here’s a groundbreaking way of plotting I discovered.
In the development stages of plotting, where you’re trying to figure out the backstory and your character’s voice, try letting the characters write to you. As if the character was telling you their story. And just listen as they talk. In doing so, you’ll start to pick up on their voice, their attitude, their key life events, and the emotions behind their circumstances. Listen to what makes them emotional. What parts of their story is hard to tell? What makes them giddy? Did they happen to slip in their favorite color in there somewhere? All these things can bring about vibrant backstory, essential events of your novel, and key emotions that need to be unearthed to tell the story the way it needs to be told.
You can start like this:
Dear Stephanie [Insert your name here],
My name is Lauren [the character you are working on]. I am twenty-five years old and I live in Memphis, Tennessee. While it’s great here, I miss home. I miss the old oak tree in my backyard, the sound of the waves crashing on the beach when I’d take long walks, and Jackson. Always Jackson.
Woah. I didn’t know Lauren lived anywhere except Memphis. What’s the story behind the old oak tree … why does that stick in her memory? She lived near the beach? (Lucky.) And Jackson. Stop right there … WHO IS THAT?
This is such a simple exercise that can help unearth the most mute of characters. You can start as far back as the character’s childhood and go all the way through the key events of your novel, or you can just use it to understand their backstory and voice. The choice is up to you, or really, the character writing to you.
Great writers are great listeners. Let’s start listening to our characters and let them tell us their story in their words. Then let’s tell it the best we can.
Stephanie Jaye is a Christian Romance writer and blogger who loves Jesus, sweet tea, and sunshine. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @stephjayewriter, and you can find her blogs at stephjaye.com.
This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.