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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Affirmation!


On Monday, Vicki Tremper posted a link to an article by LibbaBray that I really, really needed to read this week. If a rock star like Libba Bray can struggle so much with a book – and a sequel, at that – and if she finds outlining strategies and worksheets as unhelpful as I do … well, it restores my faith in my own creative process.
I’m going to revisit this picture from SharkNado, because as many bloggers commented last week, it really embodies the heart of writing by pantsing – or even writing with an outline, as far as I’m concerned.
I thought Scrivener might help me plot out the third book in my series. So far it’s been helpful for keeping all my random notes, bad ideas, and research information in one place. It also gave me an excuse to comb the internet for photos that look like my characters and paste them into character charts. Wasted two whole evenings on that!
But I know in my heart that my process is to discover the story as I go. Scrivener can’t help. The Snowflake Method can’t help. Only writing will help.
I did have an outline for the first book. Well, plot points, anyway. I recently read back over that “outline” and laughed. The big plot points are all still there, but ALL the details have been changed – even the names of most of the characters.
I had an outline (list of plot points) for the second book, too. And again, those events are still in the current draft. But I realized, right before I hit SEND and zapped the manuscript to my editor yesterday, that my favorite parts of Book 2 were never in the outline at all.
I had a new character sharing POV with my MC, but I didn’t know anything about his personality or motivation when I started writing. I didn’t discover it until halfway through the first draft, and the revelation, when it came, required the addition of a new subplot.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is an episode that was never planned. I remember the idea hitting me in the middle of the school day. I spent my lunch break researching two specific things that would allow a pair of adolescent boys to secretly get down from the fifth story of a city apartment building without the use of the stairs or the elevator.
Then of course there was the climactic action scene. That was plotted out right before I needed to write it – at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains during a ski trip. “Listen everybody,” I said, commandeering all the forks and knives and a few condiments to make a diagram on the table. “I need to know how these people can fight this creature in this confined space. And since there’s an exit right over here, why don’t they just run away instead?” My husband and daughters were nonplussed by this demand. My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer/mom was a nutjob.
A brainstorming session, complete with the best Italian food in the Poconos, ensued. (Papa Santo’s in Blakeslee, if you’re wondering.) We talked about who was trapped and needed rescuing, how smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and cattle prods and broken steel beams played a role, how magic was used, and how not to accidentally knock the whole building down on their heads. (Thank heavens my husband is an engineer.)
So, am I ready to jump into the shark on Book 3 yet? No, but I have re-affirmed to myself that all I need is a few more plot points to get started. As long as I take my chainsaw with me, I won’t worry about how to get myself from point to point.

21 Responses to Affirmation!

  1. I’m like you. Just know the plot points and write. You can do it! You already are.

  2. Excellent! Usually my favorite scenes are the unplanned ones! Good luck, Dianna. Off to read Libba’s post.

  3. I’m a true pantster. Oh yes, I’ve outlined to death, made copious notes, written things down in my files, and then blindly toss them out and write what I want. The characters always talk to me so it really isn’t that hard to figure out where the story goes. Until one of the characters doesn’t like it and refuses to talk anymore.

    Those days I scream and rant until I allow the character to have their way. And then I just write.

  4. mshatch says:

    I have complete faith in your abilities and I can’t wait to read the result!

  5. Linda G. says:

    I’m predominantly pantster–the plot just won’t reveal itself until I’m sitting in front of the keyboard. I do tend to “see” a few scenes ahead of time (I call them my “anchor” scenes), but I have to rely on my subconscious to navigate to them.

    I’m also big on brainstorming with my family at the dinner table. They used to look at me funny, but now they take it in stride.

  6. Quote-worthy:

    “But I know in my heart that my process is to discover the story as I go. Scrivener can’t help. The Snowflake Method can’t help. Only writing will help.”

    You can write that on a rock….

  7. Your process has served you well up to now, so why change it? One interesting thing I’ve learned about those unplanned scenes that get added later is that, for some reason, they almost seem to write themselves. They flow beautifully and quickly, and need very little editing. I wish all the scenes were like that.

  8. Yes! Any post that includes both Libba Bray and Sharknado is a win in my book. FYI, I went to a reading Libba did last summer where she proudly proclaimed “I broke Scrivener!” So yeah, she struggles too.

  9. Julie Dao says:

    I love it when unplanned scenes happen! I always write with an outline, but the thing about my outline is that it’s just a basic skeleton. The rest happens along the way. I wonder if that means I’m part pantser? Sounds like you’ve got a good process going!

  10. Angela Brown says:

    Those unplanned scenes tend to be the best, don’t they? Though outlining works for some, it is diving straight into the writing headlong that can bring hidden gems to the surface. And I know you can do it!

  11. Tonja says:

    If the way you write works for you, don’t change it. 🙂

  12. Jess says:

    “My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer/mom was a nutjob.” HA!

    Love your approach~ and I love those random epiphanies where things suddenly fall in place 🙂

  13. Tiana Smith says:

    I write in a similar manner. I’ll get all the basic plot points figured out, and then I just write. The story changes as I go 🙂

  14. Cherie Reich says:

    We all have our own way of writing a book, and to each of us, that’s the best way. 🙂

  15. vbtremper says:

    Thanks for the shout-out! I’m glad I was able to provide you a link that helped. Reading Libba’s post was so liberating to me. As you said, if even she struggles…
    Good luck with book 3 and let me know the next time you’re in the Poconos (my in-laws live there).


  16. J E Oneil says:

    I still firmly believe that the best writing is pantsed, not plotted :). But maybe it’s not terrible to have the plot points straight before you dive in. Good luck with book 3.

  17. Affirmation!

    Thanks to you 🙂 for helping me feel like it’s OK to plot and go, instead of planning the whole thing out (which, of course, is not bad, just not me – I’m discovering 🙂

  18. Julia Tomiak says:

    Thanks for sharing your process. I’m a newby, and I pantsed the first draft of my novel and had major plot and structure issues. I’ve done some heavy revising. Perhaps once I get a better handle on writing, I won’t need an outline as much. But I’m definitely open to totally new scenes- sometimes those are the breakthrough that add new energy to the whole process!
    I love your story of the dinner table brainstorming- I’ll have to employ that method too!!

  19. LOL! Watch out for the flying shark! I love it.

    I’m pretty much the same way when it comes to plotting. I write a general outlines with the major plot points, get to know my characters as much as I can, study my settings, then dive. My best plotting happens only a scene or two out from where I’m currently writing–and let’s face it, what is better than your characters slapping you in the face and say, “No, stupid. This is how my story goes.” Glad I’m not alone in that. Keep writing you wonderful woman! You’ve got a great process. (Crystal approved.)

  20. Robin says:

    Yes! Every time I read one of your posts I feel that I can write too. Pantsing is my method and no amount of trying other methods or writing software is going to make a real difference in my writing.

    It’s great that you found your inspiration from Libba Bray and I find mine from you:D Thanks for being as awesome and open with your writing process as you are. And proving to your daughter’s friend that you are a crazy writer-love it.

  21. Even as an outliner, SO MUCH CHANGES as I write. The best stuff always comes from the moment. And I too have had to come to terms with the idea that everybody has their own writing process and THAT’S OKAY. Best of luck with Shark 3! 🙂