Planning, Pantsing, and Prototyping

My writing style for most of my NaNoWriMo novels ( including my WiP ) has started with visualizing a small number of scenes, some of them coming from the mists just before falling asleep or just after waking up. I then have to knit them together into some kind of coherent story. Initially this made me pretty much a pantser (from “seat-of-the-pants”). In the last few years I learned to do more planning, such as using 7-point structure After a lesson for Mary Robinette Kowal’s Patreon supporters, I wrote an outline for the combined threads of the two NaNovels I’m editing together. And this month I’ve done several exercises that may have a significant influence on the story. I call these exercises “prototyping.”

(A-Z challenge P logo)
I’ve described several exercises previously; writing descriptions of, and preferably scenes for
Another lesson asked for a story spine:
  • a description of the character’s initial state, what they wanted and what they typically did before
  • the inciting incident that started their story, followed by
  • a series of “because of that” sentences, relating story and character elements to each other in sequence
  • an “until finally” climax and conclusion.
It was helpful particularly in getting me to say more about initial state and motivation (even more so than 7-point structure), and in linking key story elements together in sequence.
The exercise that I’m still struggling withwith asks for a scene about an important step in a relationship between two characters: the beginning, the highest point, the first serious risk, or the end. The next exercise was to write the same scene from the other person’s perspective. It took me a long time to decide what to do; I currently think I’ll redraft a scene from my WiP when my priestess first meets a particular adventurer, without reading the original, this time focusing on the relationship instead of a series of events. The reverse PoV is something that will be a challenge; I think this means I’ve not yet developed a clear view of who that character is, which this exercise may go partway to fixing.
Another exercise I expect to after the relationship pair asks for a description of a character crossing a crowded room to deliver an important piece of information. I’ve done description exercises before, where the challenge isn’t just to write the scene, but to show elements of the viewpoint character solely by the language they use and what they notice in the scene. So this is more challenging than it might be on the surface. But the more serious challenge is the second scene, where you give the character a different physical ability level and cross the same room, and the third, where they have a different gender. Unlike some of the exercises, I don’t think I would wind up using the results directly, but the second and third scenes may lead to insights about my default assumptions that might help enrich my view of the character as she is.
I used the word “prototype” based on my experience in software engineering: something you build to throw away, with the goal of learning something significant that will make your eventual main effort better. I hadn’t ever thought about applying it to writing exercises before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.