Friday, November 30, 2012

From Pantser to Plotter, by author Gwen Perkins

While I'm away selling books at our local Holiday Bazaar (or maybe just trying to sell books?) I'm delighted to welcome author Gwen Perkins to my blog with a post that's of particular interest to me as my writing routine grows. Welcome Gwen, and can you help me stop worrying?

Going from "Pantser" to "Plotter" – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying
 and Love the Outline, By Gwen Perkins

Anyone who spends enough time on online writing forums will eventually hear the terms "pantser" and "plotter."  At first, I admit, when I heard those words, writing was decidedly not what came into my mind (I'll plead the fifth as to what did) but after I became familiar with them, I thought that I had a lot more in common with the first than the second.  Even if I wasn't yet prepared to out myself as a pantser in public.

You see, I've always been one of those people to whom ideas spring forth easily.  I'm one of those crazy writers you read about who carries pens with her, scribbling sudden thoughts on paper, on napkins, on her hands, on any passerby who holds still… I'm always making up stories on the fly and half-writing them down.  It's something that I've done since childhood and until I began my first novel, it was something that I prided myself on. 

"You have lots of ideas!"  I frequently exclaimed to myself.  "You will never run out of stories!" 

Having lots of ideas is, in fact, a wonderful thing.  There is, however, a catch.  Flying by the seat of your pants is marvelous, indeed—as long as you remember to land.

And that was my problem.  Prior to the notebooks that would later become The Universal Mirror, I started lots of longer works and rarely finished any of them.  Short stories were no problem, articles likewise, but when it came to the novel, I'd start pantsing alright… and I'd fall on my ass.

So I realized that something had to change.  I started working on figuring out what that was.  It became quickly apparent to me that the problem rested with the fact that I often came up with ideas but no real structure or sense of where those ideas needed to go.  Every time I tried asking other writers about outlining, I had the sense of the outline as a mountain too high to ever possibly scale (particularly for a girl with a fear of heights).  I saw outlines as pages and pages of themes and content but then I realized something.  There was really no "right" way to outline—if there was anything right, it was whatever worked for me.

It was then that I began to see what I needed was to break down a book into manageable pieces.  I forced myself to outline the story simply, by writing a sentence about each scene.  I then took those scenes and rearranged them until I had a plot that worked for me.  It wasn't large and it wasn't detailed but it wasn't intimidating either.

Then I set myself another goal. Using my outline, I would write a chapter a week until the book was finished.  I didn't have much faith that I would do better as a plotter than a pantser.  To my surprise, however, even just developing the simplest of road maps helped me find the way.  It kept me from getting lost when I wandered down the path.  Just glancing back at where I was supposed to be reminded me that there was a destination and that I now had the tools to get there.

Since that first book, The Universal Mirror, was written, my outlines have slowly progressed and have also become more developed just as my novels have.  Plotting is just as much an art as writing is and I'm glad that I've found the method that works for me.                 

Gwen Perkins is the author of fantasy novels, The Universal Mirror and The Jealousy Glass (Hydra Publications, 2012). She can be contacted through email at

AUTHOR BIO: Gwen Perkins is a museum curator with a MA in Military History from Norwich University. She has written for a number of magazines, exhibitions and nonfiction publications. Her interest in history fueled the creation of the world of The Universal Mirror, inspired in part by people and events of the medieval and Renaissance periods. 

BOOK BLURB:  "We came to stop a war before it came to Cercia.  And it seems the war has come to us."

Responsibility and patriotism spur Cercia's new leader, Quentin, to protect his beloved country at all costs and he assigns Asahel and Felix to serve as ambassadors and secret agents to Anjdur. Their journey quickly turns awry and Asahel and Felix barely escape a devastating shipwreck, walk a tightrope of political tension, and rescue an empress before they learn they must face an enemy closer to them than they thought.

Will they be able to uncover an assassin's plot before it's too late? Will Asahel be able to unearth a secret that is vital to their mission? Will Cercia survive its own revolution? In The Jealousy Glass, Perkins boldly continues a series of unforgettable characters and events that will leave you begging for more.

GIVEAWAY:  In conjunction with the release of The Jealousy Glass, Gwen is running a giveaway for an autographed, first edition paperback of The Universal Mirror through Goodreads at: The giveaway officially ends on December 21, 2012—the author's birthday and supposed date for the oncoming apocalypse.


Twitter: @helleder

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