# Tag Archives: Pantster

## Excel 2016 – how to fill a series… backwards

I’ve used Excel for a very long time, but I literally just discovered this neat trick so I’m going to share. 🙂

Ok, to start at the beginning, I started an Excel spreadsheet to create a super accurate timeline of the Vokhtah story. To track the number of days of the timeline, I created a column and ‘filled’ it with a sequence of numbers. Most people know how to do this but I’ll cover it nonetheless:

Step 1 Type in two consecutive numbers and then select both together:

Selecting these two consecutive numbers tells Excel the step order – i.e. 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4 etc. If you typed in 10 followed by 20, Excel would know the step order was 10 + 10 = 20, 20 + 10 = 30, etc.

Once Excel knows the step order, clicking and holding the small square [as shown below] allows you to drag that step order to as many cells as you wish:

In the screenshot above, I dragged the handle down to the 7th cell, filling all the cells with the correct sequence of numbers.

So far so good? Stay with me. This is where it gets exciting. Being able to fill a series of cells with consecutive numbers was perfect for tracking how many days there were in the timeline, but that didn’t help me work out on which calendar day the journey/story began.

To put this as simply as possible, imagine a task takes you 10 days to complete, and you finish it on the last day of March [which has 31 days]. Now imagine if someone asked you which day of the month you started the task. If it’s only a few days you can easily count backwards, but if it’s more than a few days, you might have to drag out a calendar to work it out.

On Vokhtah, there are no months per se. Instead, there are 4 seasons which have an irregular number of days. Book 1 of Vokhtah takes place during the season of Tohoh, which has 100 days. To find out which calendar day the story began, I needed to do a backwards fill. This is how I did it.

1. Click in a vacant cell.
2. Look at the top right corner of the Excel toolbar and click the small arrow next to the ‘Fill’ icon:

This will display a small, drop down menu.

1. Select the ‘UP’ option from the drop down menu.
2. Now type the last number of your desired fill sequence in the cell.
3. Next, type the second last number of your desired fill sequence in the next cell up.
4. Select both cells.
5. Click-hold-drag the small square box UP to fill the cells from last to first [or any point in between]:

In the example shown above, I only dragged the small square as far as the number 4. In my real spreadsheet I dragged it from 100:

to Tohoh 42 – i.e. the day of the season on which the journey/story began:

I know a lot of writers out there will be shaking their heads right about now. “Use a spreadsheet? No way!”

To be honest, as a pantster, I would never have thought of using a spreadsheet to work out how the story should progress. But once I started writing books in a series, I had to make sure that info. in the first book married up to info in the second and third books. And that’s where Excel comes in because it allows me to outline in reverse.

So there you have it. Outlining in reverse aided by a backwards fill from Excel. It’s been a good day. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks

## When pantsters become plotters

I’ve been struggling a bit of late. Part of that is due to our sixth lockdown, and part is due to the difficulties of writing one long story over a number of volumes.

The first volume is a joy because the world and its people are yours to create. The second volume is a pain in the proverbial because…some things are now set in stone. In other words, I’ve written things in the first volume that I cannot, must not stuff up in the second.

-sigh- And that, my friends, means doing some serious plotting.

At the moment, I’m back in book 1 of Vokhtah, trying to reconcile the timeline I created there. I wrote that there were only 51 days to go before the torrential rains of Kohoh stopped all travel. Therefore the ‘hero’s journey could only take 51 days.

Then I wrote about the character spending XX number of days at this spot and that spot and t’other. Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that I’m three days short – i.e. if the journey follows a certain pattern, it will have taken 54 days rather than the allotted 51:

I can fix this shortfall, but I’ll have to adjust the map I originally created to show the route of the journey. This is what it looks like at the moment:

The dotted line marks the route…and now some bits have to be closer together to make everything fit…

Don’t judge me! I know exactly how anal this all sounds. 😦

Anyway, I’ll update the map etc in the next couple of days and explain why this level of detail is needed to get things right in book 2.

Stay well!
Meeks

## Editing as a Pantster

A pantster is a writer who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’ – i.e. doesn’t outline in advance. I’m a pantster, mostly, and I learned a long time ago that pantsters have to trust their subconscious. If that little voice says ‘no’ then we have to listen, even if that means deleting thousands of perfectly good words.

Today I deleted 3688 words from the second book of the Suns of Vokhtah. I replaced all those words with just 490. To give those 490 words some context, the MC, Kaati snuck into the Healers’ Settlement as a refugee, not knowing that refugees were locked up like caged animals. It needs to escape but the other refugees are too beaten down to help. Or so it thinks :

Kaati woke to the sound of voices raised in anger. Propping itself up on one elbow, it peered across at the lattice and saw that the Big Twin was shouting at a group of iVokh armed with buckets and baskets. Clearly, the drudges had arrived, and they were not happy.

Rising to its feet, the young Trader was edging closer to hear what they were arguing about when Hands appeared by its side.

“Wait!” the Refugee hissed, grabbing Kaati’s wing with one hand. “Drudges not wanting to take body. In case being contaminated. Insisting that Healers should being called.”

“Not being sick!” the Guard shouted as it flung open the door. “Seeing for self. Dying of wound.”

Two drudges entered and placed their loads on the sand before gingerly peering down at the still form lying on the ground. One of them nodded, albeit reluctantly, and the Guard retreated back down the tunnel.

“Getting ready,” Hands whispered as a small group of Refugees began drifting towards the door. Were they trying to escape?

Apparently not. As soon as the small group reached the baskets left by the drudges, they darted in and began cramming their mouths with food.

“Ho!” Hands shouted, its voice shrill. “Should sharing!”

“S’so!” Someone else cried.

The cry was quickly taken up by all the Refugees in the cavern, and in moments the area directly in front of the door was a pushing, heaving mass of angry iVokh.

“Guard!” a drudge shouted as it pushed inside, using its basket as a ram.

But the Refugees were in no mood to be intimidated. One tore the basket from the drudge’s hand while the others shoved it up against the lattice. The whole structure creaked and groaned as more and more iVokh pressed against it.

“Now!” Hands whispered as the space before the door suddenly cleared.
The two took off at a run but were still five wingspans from the opening when the Big Twin stormed into the cavern. Shrilling in fury, it began lashing out with its switch, and wherever the switch landed, iVokh keened in pain, Refugees and drudges alike.

They all fell back, except for Kaati. Ducking under the Big Twin’s arm, it grabbed the switch with one hand and a bunch of cilia with the other. And then it snapped the guard’s head down onto one bony knee. The iVokh was dead before its body hit the ground, delicate echo chamber smashed like an egg.

The young Trader roared in triumph as it brandished the switch in the air.

“Out!”

The drudges in the tunnel dropped their loads and fled. A moment later, a bone jarring crash came from behind.

Spinning around, the young Trader saw a band of iVokh pour over the fallen lattice. At their head was Hands. The two locked eyes for a moment before Kaati turned and ran after the drudges.

It felt good to be a hunter once more.

Despite losing so many words, this scene was very…therapeutic to write. This is the music that drove the words:

For those who are interested, LiquidCinema is a music production company similar to Two Steps From Hell, but not as well known to listeners. I’ve just discovered their music myself, and I’m totally in love.

Now I’m going to log on to ESO and kill some different kinds of monsters.

cheers
Meeks

## Indie Writing – about outlining in reverse

Most Indie writers will be aware of the two extremes of writing technique: pantsting and outlining. Well, I’m kind of a hybrid. Most of the time I write as a ‘pantster’, meaning that I allow my sub-conscious to direct the flow of the story rather than planning it out ahead of time. The trouble is, after a certain point, my stories become rather complex and convoluted, so I do have to think ahead, at least a little.

Nevertheless, my ‘thinking ahead’ still doesn’t constitute an outline. For me, outlining is something that happens after the story is told, not before. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three days. I’ve been going through Vokhtah, line by line, noting down all the bits and pieces that make up the story. These include the plot, of course, but also things like timelines, motivation/backstory and the introduction of Vokhtan vocabulary.

All in all, my reverse outlining takes up 19 pages of notations. This is just one of them:

As you can see, its data in the raw, and tomorrow I’ll have to massage it into some sort of order that goes beyond the simple chronology of the story. But that’s for tomorrow. For now, I need a coffee and a walk around the garden with the ‘kids’.

cheers

Meeks

## #amwriting – using StoryBox 2.0

I’ve been using StoryBox novel writing software for years now so it’s easy to forget what a difference it makes to my writing. You see, I’m a pantster at heart. I don’t outline, I don’t storyboard, I don’t use ‘cards’ and I don’t know how my stories will end.

That last point guarantees that my stories will not be predictable. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that they are always in danger of turning into a sprawling, self-indulgent mess. I know, because I used to use Word [before I found StoryBox] and I remember how hard it was to see the forest for the trees – i.e. to get an overview of the whole story. I also remember how hard it was to restructure that story in order to make it flow properly.

Now when I say ‘structure’, I don’t mean a neat, pre-ordained three act roadmap of the story. I mean placing scenes where they are meant to go.

“Well, duh. Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do?”

“Yes, but I’m a pantster, remember?”

The truth is, I ‘see’ scenes in vivid technicolour and write them down. If I’m having a good day, the scene will fit perfectly into the progression of the story. Other days, not so. That’s because my sub-conscious doesn’t work in a neat, linear fashion. The process is more like putting together a spherical, 3D jigsaw puzzle. My sub-conscious gets an idea and my fingers translate that idea into something more or less relevant to the part of the story I’m currently working on. It’s not until later, often much later, that I realise scene A is in the wrong spot and that it would go much better in position 123. Something like this:

And this is where StoryBox comes in. It allows pantsters like me to become hybrid ‘pantliners’, and all without trying to turn my brain into something it’s not.

For me, StoryBox does two things extremely well:

1. it allows me restructure chapters and scenes as easily as moving physical cards around on a storyboard, and
2. it allows me to create quick and dirty outlines on the navigation tree as I go [sort of like creating a roadmap rather than following one].

This is the navigation tree. In the beginning you start with just one chapter and one scene. As the story progresses you add more chapters and scenes on the fly until you get something like this:

At the very top of the navigation tree is the name of the story itself. Below that are the chapters and inside the chapters are the scenes.

I can leave the chapter headings as just ‘chapter x’ [created automatically by the software], or I can add my own road signs to show what’s in each chapter/scene.

Over time, these road signs add up to that quick and dirty outline I was talking about.

I’m too lazy to add a synopsis to each chapter/scene, but that is also easily done on the fly.

So now I can look at my ‘outline’ to get a quick overview of the story. This allows me to see whether it’s flowing correctly. It also allows me to rethink what comes where, both in terms of events and in terms of character motivation.

In fact, this post was motivated by the fact that I have just had to do quite a substantial restructuring of the second half of Innerscape. If I had still been using Word…-shudder-

As wordprocessors go, Word is probably as good as you’re going to get, but it simply doesn’t have the tools a writer needs. Yes, you can move great chunks of text around. You can even set up a form of navigation to help you, but it’s still hard work. First you have to find the exact chunk you need to move. Then you have to select it, cut it, scroll through hundreds of pages of story, find the new spot and paste. If you mess up anywhere during that process you can do terrible things to your story.

Now look at how StoryBox does it:

In this screenshot I have selected the whole story by clicking on ‘INNERSCAPE 5 TO 8’ [at the top of the navigation tree]. Then I click on the storyboarding function which displays every chapter [and part] as a digital ‘card’. To move a ‘card’, I simply drag & drop it to its new location. Every scene associated with that chapter is moved right along with the chapter.

On a smaller scale, I can do exactly the same thing with scenes. To move a scene around inside a chapter, simply select the chapter, select the storyboarding function and move the relevant ‘card’ for that scene to a new position.

If I want to move a scene from chapter A to chapter B, I click on the scene in the navigation tree and drag and drop from there.

I truly do not think I could have written the Innerscape beast without StoryBox to organize it for me. The story has become so big, with so many threads woven through it, that I simply could not have kept it all in my head.

If a project you’re working on is turning into a behemoth and you’ve reached the limits of Word functionality, I really would recommend trying one of the dedicated writing packages. I’m very happy with StoryBox, but I’ve heard that Scrivener is very similar, and there are other options out there as well. Stop struggling and start optimizing your time and energy!

cheers

Meeks

p.s. If you want to read my original review of StoryBox version 1, you can find it here. Version 2 has the same core functionality but is sleeker.

p.p.s. I just realised that using StoryBox has changed the way I write. Now I think totally in ‘scenes’ and that has resulted in a dramatic drop in the amount of waffle I produce. 😀

## Plotting for pantsters

Most writers who identify as pantsters do so because they can’t or won’t use outlines for their work. They like the thrill of the unknown, of putting finger to keyboard and jumping into a story without any idea of where it’s going. I know this because I am one. In fact I can’t outline to save my life.

But plotting and outlining are not quite the same thing. A plot is like a road map; it defines the destination of the story, and offers possible pathways for getting there. But if you don’t want to take the highway, or even those twisty country lanes, a plot will allow you to set off cross-country with just the position of the sun as your compass.

Outlines, on the other hand, are more like a GPS device. They tell you when and where to turn. They can even tell you how long it will be before you reach your destination, and they definitely take the guesswork out of driving. But some people like to get a little bit lost.

Personally, I find GPS devices unbearable, but that is only my personal preference. Maps, however, are fine because they give me the choice of where and how to go. And that is why I’m okay with plotting.

But why, you ask, would any pantster want to plot in the first place?

Well, I can only speak from personal experience, but I’ve found that once a story reaches a certain level of complexity, I have to plot …or perish.

Before I go on, however, I need to make another, defining point : complexity is not the same as plot. You could have one hundred characters all running around doing their own thing, but all that stuff will not give you a plot. A plot has a beginning, a middle and an end, and all the actions of the characters have to be woven into those structural grab-bags in a meaningful way. Events have to flow. They have to make sense. They have to progress. They have to get somewhere.

Not all stories have to have a plot, or get somewhere, but all the stories I love to read do, even if the plot is no more complicated than the development of a single character from one state to another.

As someone who loves science fiction stories, my writing style is complicated by the fact that I love tight plots that build tension amongst the characters, and in the minds of their readers.

I’m not talking about mystery style ‘tight’, of course. I suspect all mystery writers are plotters because keeping the reader guessing is the purpose of the genre, and if the writer doesn’t know what’s going to happen next then what hope is there for the reader?

No, the type of ‘tight’ plot I’m talking about is more like what you find in a thriller. Thrillers do not try to surprise the reader, until perhaps the very end. Instead, they turn the reader into an invisible spectator, one who can see far more of the game than any of the naïve characters. Thus the spectator sits there, biting his or her nails as the characters wander blithely into and out of danger, often without even knowing they have done so.

It is this helpless awareness that creates the tension in thrillers. Of course, a good thriller always keeps something in reserve so the reader is never quite sure if the inevitable is really going to be inevitable.

Unfortunately that final question mark in the story means that the author has to have some control over where the story is going, and this brings us right back to plot again. How does a pantster meet the requirements of the story without either boring the reader stupid with predictable action, or confusing them with a plot that goes no-where?

Marian Allen, author and blogger, discussed this issue in her post ‘Deadly Duck into Good Duck‘ just today. And yes, the post is humorous while making some important points.

For me, plotting as a pantster is a circular, rather time-consuming process. Imagine it like this. I start out on a journey. I’m marching along happily in the sunshine, just enjoying the view. But then storm clouds begin to gather. Ut oh…not good.

I look around for shelter. Where the hell am I? I whip out my trusty street directory and after much head-scratching, I work out a route to the nearest bus shelter.

Off I go, determined to reach that bus shelter before the storm hits. But just as I round the first corner, what should I see before me but a five star restaurant! Running inside, I have a delicious meal followed by a decaf latte, and by the time I’ve finished, the storm has passed and I can carry on strolling through the country-side once more.

If you could see my street directory, you would notice that my progress is more zig zag than ‘as the crow flies’. But that’s okay because along the way I pick up beautiful flowers, and lovely, odd-shaped pebbles. Plus I get to see into some interesting houses along the way. [No! I am not a sticky beak or peeping Thomasina! This is for research purposes only.]

Then, when I finally reach my journey’s end, I look back at the distances I’ve covered, and all the fascinating things I’ve found along the way, and I order them into a travelogue. The guide I create is not straight, and it does not take in all the things I discovered along my own journey, but it does include all the best, brightest, most exciting things. And of course, the route always leads somewhere.

In more prosaic terms, I restructure and edit until I’m blue in the face to ensure the reader’s journey is as enjoyable as mine was, just without the potholes. Sometimes things work as planned, sometimes they don’t, but as a writer, I can never leave the reader stranded somewhere with no bus shelter in sight and a storm brewing.

Plotting of some sort is as necessary as grammar and punctuation. We forget that at our peril.

## Busting the Pantster vs Plotter Myth

We humans seem to thrive on dichotomies. Descartes kick-started the mind/body dichotomy with his famous thought experiment in which he concluded ‘I think, therefore I am’.

In the last century, psychologists came up with the nature/nurture myth, and spent decades trying to work out what was more important to the development of a human being – nature, in the form of genetics, or nurture, in the form of social conditioning.

In recent years, science has busted both those myths. Human beings are neither mind, nor body, they are both, and their development depends on both their genetic heritage, and the effect of conditioning on that heritage…

This is my latest article for Indies Unlimited. If you’d like to read the rest of the article please follow the link below :

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2013/10/24/busting-the-pantster-vs-plotter-myth/#