Plotting vs. Pantsing: What’s your investment? – Each commenter gets $1000 from Bill Gates

I’ve struggled for years now with plotting (that was 8 months ago. I’m still here). I’d rather do seat of the pants and avoid all the plotting. I think I’m like the lazy man from Proverbs, the one who says, and I paraphrase, “I can’t go anywhere. There might be a lion in the streets that will devour me.”

If I plot, I’ll be eaten by a lion. I like it. It’s as good an excuse as any.

So what do you do? I mean, not in a rhetorical way. What do you do to plot your book? What’s your routine, if any? Or are you with me, pointing to the lion outside and whispering, “I caaaaan’t. The lion will eat me!”

These jerks live right down my block and wait for me to start plotting books, then bust in and make a meal out of me. I’m okay as long as I pants everything.

If You Typed 10,000 Words a Day, You’d finish a Book Every week. Just sayin.

I’m re-reading Little Miss 10 K a Day, which is actually titled 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love (Rachel Aaron, 2011). Sure, I sneer at her. “People,” I say, “can’t write 10 k a day. Not in house, not with a mouse, not with a fox, not in a box, they can’t do it, Sam-I-Am.”  Her secret, which isn’t a secret at all, ***SPOILER ALERT*** is to find the best time of day to write, the best location, oh, and did I mention she plots everything extensively? There’s a great deal more wisdom in the book, so I’ll leave it to you guys to pick up a copy and read it. I’ll wait.


“I don’t want to buy your 1 dollar ebooks, even if it revolutionizes my word count. Humbug!”

Okay, those of you who are sipping your Starbucks while saying “I can’t afford a 1 dollar ebook that might change EVERYTHING about how I write,” go to the back of the blog. GO TO THE BACK OF THE BLOG. Go on. You know who you are.  The rest of you, give it a read. Go on.

Did you finish? Okay, you guys with the lattes, here’s a link to the free information, if you must: Look! Rachel speaks pearls of wisdom. Are you wise, or are you swine? Don’t be swine. I’m posting this to help you, you know.

Dig those rail coveralls… Now, what sort of person would put THAT paper on a nice red wall like that? And why is there a placard? “Here you see the one armed paper hanger in action, with nary a bucket of glue in sight.” I think this is making fun of  one-armed paper-hangers, too much.

See, I always think, “If I’m pumping out 5000 words an hour, I’ll be busier than a one-armed paper hanger!” Then I think, “What’s a paper hanger?”  I know, contextually, it’s probably a guy who hangs wallpaper. You know, put on the glue with one hand, put on the paper with the other. But if you only have one hand…Boom. That’s busy.

Back to pantsing.

I tried to find some blog posts or books that tell you how to pants. I did. Crickets. Sorry guys, this isn’t defensible. HOWEVER! I did find a great post by Larry Correia.  Trigger warning: Sometimes he uses strong language -and- he’s conservative, so if you don’t like having your views challenged, don’t read the following quote from

“When Stephen King isn’t pontificating about political topics he’s fucking clueless about like gun control or government healthcare or anything vaguely related to the military, he’s one of the most successful authors ever. If I recall correctly he’s a pantser. He’s also one of the best damned wordsmiths who has ever lived. Nobody else strings evocative language together like he does, but personally I think his endings tend to fall flat. This is all a personal opinion so I’m sure I’m going to get jumped on by his fans, but when I read a King book it is like he gives us 700 pages of brilliance and then… eh… I’m bored. Guess I better wrap this thing up… Uh… Everybody dies. Aliens did it. The end.” Original Post here.

I share that quote with you because Mr. King is held up as the epitome of all authors. He even wrote a book about writing books.  Oh! That’s my point. Stev-o says in his book how to pants. So do exactly what he does, and you too can be churning out bestsellers.

Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

Pshaw, Matt, you say. That trick never works. If it did, there’d be thousands of Stephen King clones all moving to Maine, saying “Boooooks… boooooooooks.” Stay away from the clowns up there, kids. That’s a piece of advice you can take to the bank.

What are your word counts, oh you pantsers? Please reply with your words per hour, with explanation if necessary of factors that affect your numbers such as a strangely too affectionate bond with your small ratter dog, or children, or you contracted a loathsome physical disease which causes people to cry out when they see you, “Unclean!”

And you plotters: How much time do you spend plotting? How good is your WPH? Please post that here, as well, with explanations about dogs, children, loathsome disease, etc. Let’s compare and contrast.


Logline, part III- back to the salt mine

Russ J. Fellows tossed in some opinion here  where he said,

“Just a bit confused – is the “newly discovered family” doing the galactic takeover, or is the protagonist saving them from one? What is a “galactic takeover” anyway? Some alien corporation looking to pad their margins? It has some intrigue to it, and it piques my interest, but too many questions that might stop me from reading further. (Just my $.00002 worth).”

The logline I’d submitted was this:

“An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover.”

I think Russ spotted a huge weakness. So back to editing it to get it really right. I’ve got only 22 words there, so I can potentially add another 18 to total it out at 45, though that might feel wordy. So, I’ve got the protagonist: An orphan who joined the military
Antagonist: her newly discovered family
Active Verb: returns
Active Goal: stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover
Stakes: a galactic takeover

Jaime pointed out that the stakes, which I had thought not really present, were the galactic takeover. But then Russ pointed out that it’s not compelling. Why isn’t it compelling? I used boring terms. Galactic takeover.  (Galactic makeover? Story idea.)

So I shall hack away at it some more.

“An orphan who joined the military becomes marooned on her home planet and must decide between her duty to protect the Imperium or fighting her newly discovered family to take the reins to the highest office in the solar system.” (38 words)

I’ve got the protagonist: An orphan who joined the military
Antagonist: her newly discovered family
Active Verb: decide
Active Goal: protect the Imperium or fighting her newly discovered family to take the reins to the highest office in the solar system
Stakes: duty vs. taking the highest office

Better? Worse? Ideas? It’s up to you, peanut gallery. My logline is in your hands. Sort of. I mean, if you came up with something totally ridiculous, I’d blow raspberries and ignore it. Or maybe I wouldn’t.

Edit: Yeah, reins vs. reigns. Sorry.

Logline – comments gladly accepted, please skew the averages

It’s a good logline, really. From

Yesterday, I wrote out my process for establishing the logline for my novel (which is 26k already written. Better late than never).  I figured for the folk out there who’ve never done a logline, watching my tortured process might be helpful. I had a short logline which I liked, but it was still lacking. I ended with this:

“A marine orphan must stop her family from a galactic takeover.”

I submitted it to the peanut gallery after some handwringing about wanting to say something about orphan who joins the marines but not wanting to imply the story was about the process of joining the marines, and darn if Mister Cool Hand Boyack didn’t just nail it.  He said:

An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to…

Boom. That’s what I need. Let’s cobble that together with my semi-final from yesterday.

An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover.

I added “newly discovered” because that’s important, otherwise the orphan/family part doesn’t make sense.

What do you think? Opinions, comments, etc. gladly accepted. Go ahead and comment to throw off the averages and help me out. Even if you’re one of them there Romance novelists and this isn’t your cuppa, comment to say “it’s not my cuppa but it sounds good as a logline” or “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it” or whatever it is you have to say. Or promote your book. Or your editing services. Comment. Yes. Go, you masses of readers. Your work here has begun.

Top 8 Reasons I Didn’t Finish My Book: Be successful; be prolific.

1. Kids were crazy last night. I couldn’t get them to write for me. Of course, they’re 3 and 7.

2. I’m waiting for Kristen Lamb’s next blog post to tell me how to do it right.

3. I have conflicting advice from two different blogs, so I’m waiting for them to fight it out and tell me the correct rule.

4. I’m still collecting rules on writing. I need to read more writing craft books before I can start.

5. You can’t push this sort of genius. It happens when it happens.

6. I have writer’s block today.

7. I could write, or I could play Planetside 2. They need my help in that virtual war.

8. That clickbait about “When you see this picture, your jaw will drop!” or “Mind. Blown,” with a thumbnail intriguing enough that I have to find out what it says? There’s chains of that stuff. It’s like smoking, but much, much worse for your body. Must… click… next… blurb. “Top 5 underdressed red carpet leading ladies.”  “Kanye’s simple trick that will earn you millions.”

Look, you guys, if you write 2000 words a day, you will finish your book in a month and a half. So easy!

Over 20 years, you could have written  14,600,000 words if you did 2000 words a day. That adds up to 146 books of 100,000 words. It’s 243 books of 60,000 words.  It’s hard to ignore an author with a body of work that large.

Perhaps you’re giving me the wall-eyed stare.  I had a professor who taught a very nifty landlord/tenant class at the local community college who was wall-eyed. You could never tell if he was calling on you.  He’d have to point. The class materials were useful, though. I wish I’d had the class back before I’d rented from the one lousy landlord who decided to keep our deposit.

Yeah. Wall-eyed stare. “If that’s true, Pontius, why haven’t you finished <i>your</i> book?”

*Ahem*. Yes. There is that. I’m working on it! I’ve got excuses saved up, and I’m going to sell those on amazon instead. “The Book of Trite Excuses Why I’m Not Finishing My Novel Timely You Guys,” that’s the title.

If you wrote 3000 words a day, you could finish a novel in 20 days. It’s a month and change if you want 100,000 words.

So, what’s your excuse for not finishing a novel? Join me wallowing in guilt! Comment away. And then get back to writing.

Crumbling Empire Placeholder for Chapter 6

This was where Chapter 6 was, which is the confronting-the-past chapter.  Which it didn’t do. It skirts around that issue and tries to figure out why Yuen looks like someone else. I bet you can guess.  Go ahead. Why does she look like someone else? Why, indeed? Maybe it needs explosions.

If you are new, Chapter 1 is here.

As of 1/18/16, I’ve removed it. I left the comments here because those are useful.



Word Grammar checking

It looks like you're trying to write a novel. Would you like to: o Write it however you please and re-edit it a dozen times? o Write it correctly the first time? o Start and stop without finishing multiple projects?
It looks like you’re trying to write a novel. Would you like to:
o Write it however you please and re-edit it a dozen times?
o Write it correctly the first time?
o Start and stop without finishing multiple projects?

In a fit of pique, and to avoid further writing, I checked my manuscript in Word for readability statistics. To get there, you must set it up first. This is done by selecting file > options > proofing and clicking the box for “show readability statistics.” Run a spell check, and once you’re done hacking through your passive sentences, it’ll spit out result.

  • First impressions: My characters all speak in sentence fragments. I’d like to think that’s how everyone actually speaks. I may be off. Does the dialogue seem stilted or odd? Or does it sound natural and flowy?
  • Second: It hates the colloquialisms.
    Screw it, we gotta go.
    It didn’t like “gotta,” and flagged it as a non-standard word, like ain’t, irregardless, and alright. “…these words are always incorrect in written text.”Hey marines! Word says you’re a bunch of fragment using non-standard word lovers.

    “Tell Word to go shove it,” said Yuen. “It’s not as if we’re speaking English in a thousand years. Microsoft will be extinct. Or run the government. Just don’t bring back clippy or I’ll shoot the little ********.”
    Right, then, now that we have that conflict out of the way…

    Another colloquialism it caught and flagged:
    It’s not a good idea to send the most junior member of the squad out alone.
    Sure, that’s a fine sentence, except that the dialogue points out that “certain adjectives cannot be modified.”  Meaning that “perfect” is not modifiable. It cannot be made more perfect. Good point, Word. I’ll take it. Most is deleted. He’s the junior member of the squad.

    Another phrase for in the worst way?

  • Third: Contractions. It hates my contractions. However, contractions are the way people speak.
  • Fourth: Passive voice. I am slowly rooting that out. Word is very useful in finding the problems. Much of it is coming out of Yuen’s thoughts and conversation. Do I firm up her thoughts to be less passive? Or does passive voice reflect the character’s choices (unsure, unable to plan, uncertain)?I’m going to run with eliminating it altogether. Even from the thoughts. It helps readability, hey?

    It hates, “They were sacked.” I flipped it around. “We sacked them.” How active!

  • Fifth: It thinks impacted is jargon. In business it is. Here, it describes the action of the shuttle and the ground. Thus, the suggestions of “the shuttle influenced the ground” may not have the same, ahem, impact. Er, affect.
  • Sixth: It hates my cliches. In a nutshell. What’s another good phrase for that?
  • Seventh: Simplify. I have this word construction in two three places:

    She found the tool and snatched it from the compartment and retreated from the fiery shuttle.

    Word says to replace the extra ands with commas. It’s right on. The end result is:She found the tool,  snatched it from the compartment, and retreated from the fiery shuttle.
  • Eighth: It wants me to use gender neutral expressions. Crew Members instead of Crewmen. I’ll consider it… done. I’ll change it. Person instead of guy. Nope, he’s a guy. I’m not changing that one. I do have a disturbing high usage of guy, and may seek alternate expressions.
  • Ninth: Comma splice. I’ve got ’em. Three, so far.  Two of them I added conjunctions, and one I  changed to a period.
  • Tenth: Half and any word it modifies is hyphenated. So, half-day.

That was depressing. Results:
Words: 15,355.
Characters: 73,093.
Paragraphs: 543.
Sentences: 1601.

Sentences per paragraph: 3.0.
Words per sentence: 9.5.
Characters per word: 4.5.

Passive Sentences: 0% (Yay!)
Flesch Reading Ease: 74.8%
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.1

It says I write for a 11 year old?! Harrumph. I looked up what the reading ease and grade level scales are based upon. Wikipedia says:

In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read.

That seems about right – chewing gum for the mind, but not literary high falootin’ multi-syllabic words everywhere.

And that grade level? Hmmm. Says Wikipedia:

“These readability tests are used extensively in the field of education. The “Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula” instead presents a score as a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10.

Do I need to ramp up my literary score by substituting fancy words in place of those simple understandable words?

This “Was” thing is worse than I thought

“Result 4 of 127.”

This is an infestation! Does this reflect my real life? I note that the was problem seems to crop up in crappy writing clusters.  A few paragraphs of passive, and then I’m back to a sprinkling.  As I go forward, I will endeavor to simply NOT write the passive voice. It’s like author thumb-sucking. Really.


I suppose I’ll go bang out chapter 6. 793 words in, another 1300, and we should be safely up for the remainder of the night in the orphanage. Maybe. Or the protagonist is going to murder someone, the guy with the information she really needs.  That ought to be cathartic.

His life hangs in the balance.

As if it matters. Create characters, then mash out their puny existence. Muahahahahaha.

Fighting With Both Hands

A fantastic presentation on how to map out a successful writing career… and maybe some dire warnings, too.

Huge epiphany:

The fascinating part was that she actually sat down and analyzed the market and concluded that (a) most mega-selling authors had a long-running series, (b) often didn’t hit that crazy breakout level of success until as late as the fifth book in a series, and (c) publishers didn’t like offering longer than two- or three-book deals (and, obviously, cut authors loose if the numbers weren’t amazing, or asked them to start a new series, or new pen-name, or whatever).

Bella Andre concluded, if memory serves, that she was going to write a five-book series and self-publish it. Or maybe it was eight books. Either way, the rest is history.

What font, spacing, page size do you use for writing your draft?

I know some folks use special writing programs to compose their work. Others use Word, because it’s there. And a few misguided people probably use Wordperfect. [We use it at my work, so I’m multi-wordprocessored. I can make either one do my bidding, most of the time.]

And when I was reading a month or two back about what the final product is supposed to look like, I found a publishing site that said, “typical book page size is x by y.”  It was a smaller page than 8.5″ x 11″, about 195mm x 252mm, with 23 mm margins.

I’m working in Word, and I modified my page size. Then I looked at fonts. What’s a good font for a printed book? A couple of sites said different things, but the font they said was good that I have (pragmatically speaking, I’m not going to go spend $400 for a font at this point just to look at something nice) is Garamond. It’s an oldy but goody kind of typeface.  “Don’t use Times New Roman,” they scolded. “It’s designed for newspapers where they have to cram a lot of letters in.” 

But what font size? Again, I conferred with my team of experts. “10-12 words per line is ideal.”  Why, that means it’ll be 16 point Garamond, are you serious? “Yes, we are,” they replied.  So 16 point it is.

Line spacing? “White space. You gotta have white space.” 1.5 lines, then? I could play with point sizes, but was feeling lazy about this.

Justified or not? Justified, definitely.

How much space for an indent? If you’re using one, they said about 3 mm at the most. Here’s the tricky part: The snobby typesetters said you should use a hanging quote. What’s a hanging quote? I wondered.

Wikipedia to the rescue (don’t judge, you know you guys use it sometimes, too):

Hanging punctuation or exdentation is a way of typesettingpunctuation marks and bullet points, most commonly quotation marks and hyphens, so that they do not disrupt the ‘flow’ of a body of text or ‘break’ the margin of alignment. It is so called because the punctuation appears to ‘hang’ in the margin of the text, and is not incorporated into the block or column of text. It is commonly used when text is fully justified.

So, if a paragraph should looks like this:
His face turned an angry red.
“Why do you insist on using hanging quotes?” he demanded.
“They look far more civilized,” I replied, “you should learn to use them too, unless you wish to remain a barbarian.”
He turned a darker shade of red.

See how the text all lines up, while the quotes are hanging? That’s the gist of it.

Since I’m quite comfortable with styles in Word, it was a piece of cake to make two different styles for paragraphs, depending on what the lead character is. If it’s a quote, it gets the quote style, and if it’s a non-quote, you get the idea. The quote style is 2 mm indent, the non quote is 3 mm. Technically, it’s not entirely lined up, but I could get more detailed later on if the typesetting really depends on it. The typesetter guys seem to think that my Word styles mean nothing and that I don’t know what I’m doing, and to just shut up and let them work.

For grins, I decided to research and find a flourish or two to add to the text breaks. I found two – one a triangular circle triangle deal, and another that is a swirly flourishy thing.

text break

chapter flourish

They look a lot better in my Word document than they do here, as I had to create a .gif with transparencies so the background wouldn’t be white, but the greyish color background on this blog.

I made a style in word for the swirly flourish so it could be after the chapter heading, and while I was there, I made a big 36 point Chapter style, too, with built in spacing, PLUS with word styles you can assign a style the “Page Break Before” option, so if I have a Chapter heading, it automatically inserts the page break before it. Thus, select Chapter style, and boom, it does all the formatting work for me. The beginning of each chapter, I used a drop cap. It’s classy and I like it. I made a no-indent style for this, too, which is inserted automatically using Word’s “Style for following Paragraph” option.

I added my name and the title to the header for each page, and a page number at the bottom.

It’s all very satisfying. Sure, it’s a draft. But I might as well make it pretty to look at so when I’m editing it, it’s in the nicest-looking form.

Maybe some of you are thinking, “I only want 8.5 x 11 page size, .25” margins all around, and I don’t know what a style is, I just hit Enter to add space between paragraphs.”  You, my friend, ought to investigate how to use styles in Word. It’s worth it for the amount of time you’ll save in NOT having to fix that later, or hire someone to fix it later.

If y’all are still using a typewriter or writing with fountain pens on college ruled paper, why? It’s going to have to be typed in to a computer at some point if you’re going to e-publish, might as well start there.

Here’s a question that comes up when I see things like Kristin’s kind offer at the end of her posts where one commenter each month gets a free critique of the first 20 pages of their novel.

Ah, 20 pages.  I can fit 12,300 words on to 20 pages if I use arial 8 point type. I’m sure that Kristin wouldn’t appreciate or accept that (it’s abusing her offer), but one technically could do that.  Is there an author industry standard for typeface/spacing/margins that we all tacitly agree on to use when we toss out terms like “Send me your first 10 pages”?

Who is the toughest audience for military sci-fi? Vets.


I’ve been slowly writing. We’re up to 10 k. I clearly need a word count widget, then people can check in to see the thermometer: “We’re this far toward our goal.” Aw, shoot.

I handed the first four chapters to four military vets: USAF NCO, USAF Officer (in satellites, no less), US Army MP and current LEO, and my steadfast mentor, Canadian Army tanker vet.

The first critique came back, and he’s saying I need to tell more about the environment.  Yar. And that I need to make the speaker tags clearer where I don’t have it. And he hates the scene where the protag removes her armor and lays down her weapon, and I can see why, so that gets a rewrite.

I’ve rewritten some sections and added more thoughts by the protagonist so we can get inside her head a little more, maybe form that emotional connection so we give a flying you know what about the character and read a little further just to see what happens.