Pantsing, Plotting, and Sussing

 

Pantsing, and Plotting, and Sussing …      Oh My!

I’ve read a number of literary discussions on the relative merits of “pantsing” versus “plotting” when it comes to developing one’s story line, and have always been left in a little quandary as to which I’ve done when writing my first novel, “The Expanding Seas”. I didn’t start out with a plot. I began only with a scenario that I found intriguing.

As I wrote, the typical form of most SciFi/adventure plots took shape. I placed my protagonists in the most impossible position. They would have to outwit their captors, overcome great odds, recognize and accept they had a greater responsibility, and ultimately take action to protect others. Obviously, this is a common trope in many genres.

But wait! Not so fast! Rather than plot out how I’d lead my characters and story toward resolution, I found myself approaching each new chapter in their journey from the standpoint of “why have these particular obstacles been placed in front of them”, “what would they need to do next”, and “how might this affect their goals”.

I had already set up a myriad of questions in my opening chapters. I felt I really needed to answer each to properly grasp the next logical action or event – before I could move on. Sussing these out, recognizing this natural progression, is what drove each successive chapter. Moreover, it’s what logically forced twisting the plot before the end.

Now, I won’t suggest that Sussing – as a concept – should be given an equal place next to Pantsing and Plotting. Perhaps it might be regarded a subset to plotting. But I do suspect it fits somewhere in between the two.

You start your story, establish the rules of your story world, then must follow those rules. If you are writing SciFi, or procedural (detective) novels, some of these rules may be strict, leading you down the same path to discovery as your characters. And the more confidant and professional you make your characters – both heroes and villains – the narrower that path will be. Their logic begins leading you down the path to a better understanding of the world you created, and maybe even of your own world.

My own sussing led me in an entirely new direction, and dramatically affected my novel’s theme.

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Learning Curve

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Having now experienced the slings and arrows of seeing this site buried in spam, I’m hoping my new filters will properly remedy the situation, so I and my two or three (?) followers can actually comment and participate.

In the process of learning, I had to remove several of my older posts (fastest way to get rid of blocks of spam messages that I knew). Some of these I’ll repost.

I’ll be more watchful in the future, but hopefully have found a reasonable solution to the problem. And, of course, I’ll try to make this site a little more interesting to watch.

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Protocols, Procedures, and Rules…Oh My!

Having already staked out a position on bad rules, it seems only appropriate that I should give equal time to the value of good rules – in general, at least.

OneTwoThree.

(Scene from MGM’s classic 1, 2, 3…with James Cagney)

The reason we constantly surround ourselves by “best” and “required” practices is to get through life in the least stressful, most efficient and productive manner.

Being human, we are, after all, toolmakers. Much like a computer, hammer, and test tube, these protocols, procedures, and (yes) rules are simply tools. Their purpose is to help us get the job – whatever that may be – done in the best way we can manage!

This brings up two questions. The first is “what is the right tool for the job”. If you have a box of screws and some wood to assemble, do you use a hammer? Obviously, a screwdriver would be better. But then there is that adage “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Remember that? Good! Now forget it. Go out and buy a damned screwdriver.

IMG_1180The second question is “are these the best tools for the job”. This is more subtle. If you have some hammering, sawing, screwing, and gluing to be done on your project, do you buy the ten-pound hammer, hand saw, long handled screw-driver, and Elmer’s Glue? Or do you buy the heavy-duty electric stapler, a saber saw,IMG_0055 an electric drill, and a water-proof epoxy? Now there are variables. Each must be taken into account to formulate your answer.

In fact, now you have multiple variables affecting your decision on each tool. How big is your project – i.e. how much repetitive action will be involved with each function? What type of materials will you be working on – thin, soft wood? thick, hard wood? And how many projects of this nature will you be participating in, in the future? Will it be just this once? Will this be one of a series of similar projects you’ll need to do? How much time can you allot to this project? Need it yesterday? Need it next week? Plus how precise must your work be? Impeccable quality? Rough, simple and functional? Some place in between?

I’ll assume you’ve got the idea. Answers to these questions will help determine what tools – protocols, procedures, or rules – will work. However, the one safe, albeit generic, takeaway you can get from this exercise, is that most tasks can be successfully accomplished in several ways. What practices are good, better, best, or awful will depend upon your individual situation. The difference, if any, will be in their relative efficiency.

Let’s look at your woodworking project. You have flexibility in the order of work, and the safeguards you choose. You might cut all the wood to size in advance of doing any assembly. You might instead begin assembly of some parts as you finish cutting each piece. Neither practice will be wrong, but their relative efficiencies will depend upon your allotment of time and your immediate objectives. Do you need to turn out a number of units quickly? Then the piecemeal approach might be more effective. Do you need to complete the entire batch quickly? Then doing the cutting, then assembly in stages might be better.

Either way, you get the job done, and get it done right. But the procedure – tool – you choose must fit your objectives and deadlines.

Note that the physical tools you have at your disposal, whether hammer and nail, or computer and software, still affect your final efficiencies. The more automated your tools are, the shorter, simpler your protocols, and the more efficient your overall operation can be.

Bottom line – no procedures, protocols, or rules are – or should be – carved in stone. There are only “best and latest” practices that fit your current situation. The truly “best practice” is to recognize best practice is a moving target, and that organizations should always review and strive to achieve better. The tools – protocols – you

Four friends accept responsibility
(Four teammates dedicated to established  procedures embrace exciting new conditions.)

 use today were developed over time through trial and failure,

In a changing world, when you stop reviewing and refining your procedures – stop updating your tools – you stagnate and set yourself up for failure.

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