When a Pantser Starts Plotting

How does someone who normally isn’t into plotting plot out a book?

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Photo by MJ Blehart

I have an idea.

After watching The Clone Wars (finally) I had an intriguing thought. What if you have created hundreds of thousands of warrior clones — and then your war ends? What becomes of them? They were purpose-built to fight a war.

Once upon a time, when I first saw Star Wars as a kid, the mention by Obi-Wan of the clone wars in which he and Anakin served brought up images in my mind of massive armies made entirely of clones duking it out — or taking on non-clones. What it became in Star Wars canon — clones vs droids — wasn’t where I thought it would go.

Okay, so I have this idea now from my youth of two armies of clones battling one another. So that would imply that two governments created clone warriors to fight a war. But now you have the problem of — war over, what do the warriors do and become?

Hence, my idea. This is NOT Star Wars or based on Star Wars, just FYI.

The war ended a decade ago — leaving behind hundreds of thousands of clone soldiers (different clone “template” people were used to get infantry versus pilots and other specializations). The remaining clones have become a new intergalactic underclass with little to no support struggling to make a place and survive.

This has a ton of potential. I can do a lot with this general idea.

But commercial considerations are causing me to need a different approach from my normal — plotting.

How a pantser like me writes

To clarify — a pantser is a person who writes by the seat of their pants.

When I began Seeker — the first book in The Source Chronicles — in 1998, there was a scene in my head. I wrote it out. Another character, another scene. Then, a third character and a third scene — but all in the same world and intertwined. It wasn’t long before I had a book written — and a plan to continue the story for 3 more books (which is now at 4 more books).

Ideas come into my head and I write them. Usually, it’s a character and a scene and that will then shift to another character and another scene — and they come together in the same world/universe/story. I wrote all of Clouds of Authority with a direction but no set plot. Hell, I didn’t fully realize the plot (though the story continued moving) until I finished book 2 — Clouds of Destiny (someday I will edit and publish this, too).

One problem this presents is that these books are rather long. And in this day and age, that’s not so commercially viable. I am not George RR Martin, who can put out a six-hundred-page tome that will be sold in vast numbers.

When I began The Void Incursion series, I pantsed it. I started writing — and writing — and writing. BUT, in the interest of commercial viability, I found places to break-up what I had into books under 300 pages. This works — but more by chance than actual planning and plotting.

I get an idea — I start writing and see where it goes. That’s how I write. But I know planners who take a VERY different approach.

How a planner typically works

I understand how those who plan their work operate. Please forgive me if you are a planner and my descriptions here are incorrect — but this is how I see this generally done.

A planner gets an idea. They may have a scene, or a character, or a plot — or some combination therein. They have an idea — and now they run with it.

BUT — rather than just sit down and start writing — they plan. Some planners do an outline of their characters, scenes, plots, and various situations. Some just lay out their plan — but some set out a chapter-by-chapter plan.

I have a friend who I know will write a synopsis of each chapter — with specifics and details — before she sits down to write the story itself. I think she may even have partial scenes and some quotes in her outline.

A planner tends to devise where the story begins, what the middle is, and the end. They have it all figured out.

The biggest advantage of planning is that you can work out twists, major character changes, foreshadowing, and important plot elements in advance. As a pantser — I just write. Sometimes I need to go back and add bits in my first edit to have this same effect.

Planners have more direction and better knowledge of the where, who, how, and why than pantsers. Or more specifically, they have it laid out. Even as a pantser, I tend to have an idea for where I am going — but admittedly plot often comes up much later in the process.

This means my writing tends to be much more character-driven — so if my characters suck so does my work.

A pantser starts plotting

Okay, so I have this idea for my clone sci-fi story. However, I am also considering commercial appeal.

Specifically, how do I build a story that is intentionally set-up for 200–250 or so pages per book? The answer — plan it out.

Crap. I need to work on plotting this thing!

So far, I have begun to layout the general back-story. There was a war, each side created an army of various clones to fight it, a third party found a way to end the war, and my story begins 10 years later.

And it begins with a clone witnessing a murder.

The clones — particularly former infantry — are an underclass and disrespected by normal humans. They are easily identified by an impossible to hide barcode on their face. Oh, and they have begun to suffer a nasty disease that wrecks their mind and then turns them into bio-organic goo. Cloning problem or virus?

The last time I did this much plotting was for The Vapor Rogues. I created a unique Steampunk world I needed to layout in advance. This was initially for a short story — but was so detailed that I wrote 2 novels in this world (so far).

To build a more commercial book I need to figure out plot elements in advance. Why was the non-clone (and 2 clones with him at the time) murdered? Is it connected to the clone illness? How does the clone witness interact with the non-clone investigators?

Plotting to start

I admit I am super-excited about this. But it’s taking a new direction for me — so it’s going to be an intriguing study in work ethic, plotting, discipline, and direction.

In the meantime, though, I am still working on The Void Incursion series ( Critical Position will be available in November), have my one-off fantasy novel at the editor and coming out in December ( Infamy Ascending), and am FINALLY working on editing Harbinger (book 3 of The Source Chronicles).

Oh, and I am also writing blogs 5 days a week.

It’s imperative that I work on all of these — now it’s a matter of discipline. But I believe in my writing and that it can be my primary means of income.

I need to make time daily to work on the clone story plan, as well as my other writing and necessary editing. But this is not work — this is joy. I love being a writer.

Onwards and forwards. There is writing and additional work to be done.

Thank you for being a part of my ongoing journey. Thank you for joining me, and for inspiring me and my craft.

Know that you are worthy and deserving of using mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done our thoughts, feelings, and actions matter, as does the how of whatever writing (work, or arts) you do.

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Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on September 5, 2020.

Written by

I am a practitioner of mindfulness, positivity, philosophy, & conscious reality creation. I love to inspire, open minds, & entertain. http://www.mjblehart.com

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