Plotter vs. Pantser

person writing on white book
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

If you are newer to the writing scene, you might have no idea with either of the words in the title of the posts actually mean. Or maybe you do know, but don’t know which one you are yet. That’s fine. Really.

For those still scratching their heads, a plotter is someone who likes to plot out their story ahead of time. Notes, outlines, character profiles, etc. A pantser has an idea and more or less just sits down in front of the keyboard and starts telling the story. They fly (or write) by the seat of their pants, hence “pantser”.

The first manuscript I ever wrote was a pantser project. I wrote one chapter per week and when I finished one chapter, I usually didn’t know what would happen in the next one. I finished the project, which was good. I proved to myself that I could finish an entire manuscript. It sounds like a small feat until you have to do it.

I didn’t sit down at the keyboard and decide to “pants” the project. I just didn’t know where to start, so I started writing. This works for a lot of people. I know some very talented writers who choose to write this way all the time. There is nothing wrong with it if it works for you. It…didn’t entirely work for me.

My next project, I plotted out a few things. I didn’t make a whole outline or character profiles, but I certainly had an idea of what would happen at the end of the story and all the major plot points that would lead there. A writing partner of mine calls working like that being a “plantser”. That project went better. It didn’t go perfectly, but it went better.

For my next project, I’m doing a lot of plotting. I have a lot of notes. I have character profiles. I have a road map to keep me from getting distracted from, well, the plot. I don’t know if this will improve my writing or decrease the time it takes for me to finish the first draft. Only time will tell. But I want to try it because I’m still trying to figure out what works for me as a writer. I’m experimenting with my process until I find my groove.

Let me know which one you are in the comments!

 

I’ll Have What He’s Having

I have two young sons. The elder of the two is five. The younger is not quite two. And I will readily admit that I learn just as much from them as they do from me. One of the ways I learn from them is to see my own behavior mirrored back at me in undeniable ways and being able to see it from a more objective perspective.

My younger son, though blessed with a very independent personality, is more dependent on me than my five-year-old. Kid #1 is old enough to dress himself, brush his teeth on his own (though not as thoroughly as I prefer so I usually end up helping anyway), carry his own backpack, read, do simple math, etc. Kid #2 desperately wants to do all that, but is still only a year old and has a lot of skills left to master. As you can probably guess, this means Kid #2 gets a lot of attention. I try to make sure I’m fair to Kid #1, but he usually thinks his brother gets more attention than he does. There are some days that he’s probably right.

Whenever Kid #1 begins to feel like he’s getting shorted on his time at center stage, he begins to do things more like his brother does, thinking this will force me to bestow more attention on him in order to help him. He pretends to not know things, like how to talk (which, I assure you, he does well and with a vocabulary far beyond what is expected of someone his age). This always hurts my heart a little and so I talk to him about it. I remind him that while his brother needs help doing a lot of things right now, the truth is that all Kid #2 wants is to be just like Kid #1 in every way. It’s his goal. And while the attention I give Kid #2 is usually to help him learn new skills and achieve new milestones, the attention I give Kid #1 is different. I get to laugh and listen to his abundance of terrible pun jokes. I get to cheer him on while he plays sports or listen to him tell me all about the newest thing he learned by reading a book.  I cherish that. It’s so wonderful that I can’t really describe it. I remind Kid #1 that he’s fun, kind, incredibly intelligent, and imaginative. I tell him he shouldn’t disregard all of that by trying to be more like his younger brother just so he can feel like he’s the star of the show again like he was when he was an only child. I often say, “Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. Being you will always be more than enough for me.”

And yes, this is a conversation we’ve had a lot. More than I’d like. But I can’t blame him for not being ready to take it to heart. After all, I know plenty of adults (sometimes including me) that struggle with this. In fact, I think we all have those moments where part of us just wants so badly to be like someone else, sometimes anyone else, that we forget about what makes us special to begin with. What makes us unique. What makes us, us.

The next time I give that advice to Kid #2, I’m going to write it on my heart as well. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I just need to be me. And in case you need to hear it, I’m telling it to you too. Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. You are enough just as you are.

 

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.

 

Homepage Update

So I decided to update the homepage today instead of working on a blog post. New year, new aesthetics. And a new “tagline” that better outlines all my topics of discussion.

In case anyone is interested though, here’s an explanation of each of the new pictures.

chapel

This is the Chapel of Memories at Mississippi State University. I graduated from MSU back in 2008 and got married in this chapel in 2009. I lived in the dormitory next door back in the day and the bell tower saved me from oversleeping on more than one occasion. The building itself was built from the bricks salvaged from Old Main Dormitory after it burned. Old Main (originally just “the main dormitory building”) was the first dorm on campus (built in 1880) and, after four expansions, was the largest college dorm in the country. Four stories high with more than 500 rooms, it housed over 1,500 students at a time. It burned on January 22, 1959 (sixty years ago this month!). As a tribute to all that was lost, bricks were salvaged from the rubble and used to build a campus chapel. It was dubbed the Chapel of Memories and, along with the bell tower, sits in the main part of campus, diagonal from the Colvard Student Union.

eudoraweltylibrary

This is from Eudora Welty’s house. She’s a famous writer from Mississippi. Her nieces once complained that whenever they visited her, they had to move stacks of books just to have a place to sit down. I don’t see the problem with that. Also, if you ever think your family is a little crazy, give The Ponder Heart a read. I read it in my Southern Literature class in high school and it has influenced my own writing voice in several ways. Also, it makes me giggle.

magnolia

A magnolia. The state flower of Mississippi. Most people think of magnolia trees as smaller trees used to decorate a landscape. However, they can grow to be quite enormous given the right conditions. In fact, when I was very young my family lived out on a farm. The semi-circle driveway that came in off the glorified turn row leading to our house curved around a magnolia tree that was over fifty feet tall. As far as I know, it’s still there, but I haven’t been back in many, many years. I used to love to climb that tree and remember my biological mother, God rest her soul, yelling at me to get down before I broke my neck or got snake bit.

kudzu

Kudzu, aka The Vine that Ate the South. You cannot kill this stuff, and it covers everything it touches. When the world ends and all of us are gone, cockroaches and kudzu will keep Keith Richards company. But seriously, if ever they figure out how to make useful products out of kudzu to replace plastics, it’ll save the planet. It grows so fast that “sustainability” will never be an issue.

So that’s it. Those are my big updates. A tagline and some pictures. It sounds so simple that I won’t tell you how long it took me. Let’s pretend it was quick.

A Hairy Situation

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I have curly (wavy, if you want to get technical) hair. Most people who know me didn’t know that until recently. Some of them still don’t know that this is my natural hair instead of the board-straight locks that they have been accustomed to seeing on my head. You might be wondering how that’s even possible. Because every day for twenty years I either wore a bun or flat-ironed my hair. Every. Single. Day.

When I was a little girl, my sisters loved to play with my hair. I was like their little doll. My middle sister practiced braiding on my hair so she could see how different techniques would look on our hair. And then, when her hair started to get curlier, she continued to practice on me because my barely-there waves were easy to manipulate. But then middle school happened.

My sisters (and my brother, for that matter) are several years my senior. So by the time I started middle school, they had all moved on to college or careers. I was suddenly the lone kid in the house. So you can imagine my horror when puberty, in all of its benevolent glory, changed my dark honey, subtle waves into a dark molasses, frizzy nest. Braces and acne, and the plethora of other pubescent problems weren’t enough. No, I also got to have hair reminiscent of a labradoodle who stuck their paw in a light socket. Awesome. And there was nobody around to commiserate. Even better.

Cue my very own Regina George. For the sake of this post, let’s call her M. Now, M was a popular girl with an “it’s my world and you just live in it” attitude and gorgeous blonde hair. She wasn’t always nice to people and people, for the most part, didn’t care because she was M. For reasons unknown to me, in sixth grade, M decided to make me her new project. I was the Elphaba to her Galinda (with a Ga!). She was determined that she could take my no make-up, messy bun, jeans and t-shirt style and burn it to the ground so I could rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Well, I’m in my 30s now and am still partial to jeans and t-shirt, but do at least throw on (at minimum) some mascara before I’ll agree to leave the house, so she won some and she lost some. But back then, her real battleground was my hair.

She curled it (and burned my forehead with a curling iron in the process). She hot rolled it. She fluffed, styled, and quaffed. She would ooh and ahh until she realized that my hair didn’t “fall” like hers did after she curled it. It stayed in those tight ringlets up next to my head and made me look like Shirley Temple after a bender. It was not cute. So she changed her tactics. She crimped it. All the rage back in the day, it is something that should never, ever be done to someone with remotely frizzy hair. I went from light socket labradoodle to the love child of Hermione and Einstein. Y’all.

Then she had an epiphany. She took the plates off of her crimper (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself here. I’ve already admitted I’m in my 30s, though, so meh) and traded them out for flat ones. She straightened my hair. Suddenly, my dark hair matched M’s style completely. She squealed in delight. In less than a year (it took me a while to convince my dad, who just didn’t understand the need for a twelve-year-old to have anything other than a hair dryer as part of her daily routine), I had a flat iron of my very own. I never did become one of the popular girls, but I didn’t care. I had awesome hair!

The next year, my father remarried and I moved far away from M, but my flat iron came with me. However, there was already a girl in my new school who had my same first name, large blue eyes, and gorgeous, perfectly straight, dark locks. People confused the two of us at first. She was hard to compete with, so after a while, I gave up. Messy buns with a halo of frizzies got me through the day, and through sports practices too.

Little changed over the next decade. When I wanted to look nice, my flat iron ruled the day. When I didn’t care, messy bun it was. When I first became a mom and had even less time to get ready, there was the very occasional day when I left the house with my waves and curls on display, but I had to be desperate.

Fast forward to this year. Medical issues arose and one of the less-than-glorious symptoms of my particular issue was hair loss. Until this year, if I wanted to know what my scalp looked like, I had to physically separate and restrain sections of my hair to see it. It took effort. And no small amount of it. But after my hair began to shed, if I didn’t style my hair just right, small white patches could be seen. I was heartbroken. I was scared. Moreover, I was more insecure about my hair than I had been since before that first time M introduced me to heat styling. All the soul-crushing angst of puberty, none of the youthful glow to accompany it.

My doctor pointed out that I should do whatever I could to treat my hair more gently. My hair loss might stop. It might not. It might grow back, it might not. No matter what, it had the best chance of being healthy if I did my best to make it so. The only way to do that was to stop heat styling and all the other harmful things I was doing. It was time to embrace my natural waves and curls.

It’s been a few months and I can tell you that on a good hair day, I have grown to love my waves and curls. I wonder why on earth I covered them up for so long. On not so good days I miss my flat iron so much it hurts. I’m still insecure about my hair, but I know what I’m doing now is better than what I’ve done for the last two decades. And this time around, I have the benefit of knowing what my middle school self didn’t yet know–it’s okay to be me.

I have pondered, though, why I spent so many years in an exclusive relationship with my flat iron and never really got to know my curling iron (which I have also ditched) or hot rollers (which my oldest sister had an intense love affair with in the late 80s). Well, in most media, when the nerd girl gets a make-over, they straighten her hair. When a girl is an outcast, she has crazy, frizzy, curly hair. Mean girls, villains, or side characters, might have heat styled, twisting locks. But protagonists don’t. And I didn’t want to be a sidekick in life. I wanted straight hair.

Even the shampoo aisle makes it clear. There is an entire aisle of (harmful) straight hair products with a smaller section of healthier products, all still meant for straight hair. On the next aisle, there is a tiny section of healthy, curly hair products. Curly-haired girls are an afterthought and never the main attraction. So when we connect over our curls via social media, no wonder we retweet and like until our hashtags go viral. We have to support each other because we know nobody else will.

So here I am, embracing my natural hair and declaring that, at least in my life, the protagonist has curly hair. There will be no make-over montage (at least not involving hair). There will be no surprise reveal. This is me. This is my hair. I’m going to slay the dragon and look fabulous doing it, thank you very much.

Curly hair, don’t care.

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Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year!

low angle photo of fireworks
Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Part of me wanted to start this post with “May 2019 be less of a dumpster fire than 2018!” But that’s not fair. Yes, there were some trash things that happened in 2018, but not all of it was bad. In fact, I’m going to take a moment to celebrate.

  • My youngest turned one. He’s not really a baby anymore. That’s bittersweet because I love watching his milestones. Running. Talking. Climbing everything in sight. But it’s also a little sad to know just how fast he’ll grow up. Having said that, I’m choosing to celebrate.
  • My oldest turned five. His birthday is late in the year, so this is recent. I’m still a little in shock. I have a five-year-old. Next year, he’ll start kindergarten. He’s my firstborn, so I knew absolutely nothing about parenting before him. I still know nothing, but now I know that I know nothing. Still, it’s a miracle we’ve both made it this far so hats off to us.
  • My husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage. And we still like each other. A lot. Cheers.
  • I got another, brand new, shiny and tiny nephew. I get to be near a baby again, but don’t have to change diapers this time. That’s pretty special.
  • I added to my list of critique partners. She is one of those partners who is a natural teacher, because of how she asks her questions. It forces me to think about why I made this decision, or wrote a passage that way. She doesn’t just comment, she asks. She makes me be the one to really think it through and digest it. It’s both hard and immensely helpful.
  • I gave myself a break. I didn’t always post on schedule. Sometimes, I started reading a book for a review and let myself DNF. I took a step back and didn’t berate myself for it. Okay, I didn’t berate myself as much as last year. It’s progress. Baby steps.
  • I learned a lot. Some of it by listening more than I talked (that’s new for me too!), some of it by reading (tried and true favorite!), and some through trial and error. Regardless of how, I learned and that’s always a good thing.

Truthfully, there were many good things worth celebrating in 2018. And yes, there were hard things, both on personal and more global levels. However, I am going to make the choice to celebrate the good and move into 2019 with my head held high. And because I love lists, I’m going to write another one for my resolutions.

  • To listen more and talk less. I started actively doing this in 2018 and it worked out well. I want to continue, but since I’m such a talkative person, I need to be purposeful about it.
  • To be more intentional about my health. If I say I’m going to go to the gym every day all year long, it will be an absolute lie and I’m destined to fail. However, if I give myself a more realistic goal that will also improve my overall health, that seems more sustainable. So that’s it. I’m putting myself back on the list of priorities.
  • To write more. To write better. To finish a big project. Basically, I took a step back in 2018, but in 2019 I want to step up. It’s time to dive back in.
  • To be kinder to others.

I think I’ll stop there. A shorter list is a more manageable list. Wish me luck!

What are your resolutions for 2019?

The Bow Tie Redemption

I’ve never been fond of bow ties. Especially not after I had to wear a red sequined covered bow tie and cumberbund in the 5th-grade choir.

Then as an adult, I began to associate bow ties of all designs with a certain person I knew who wore them every day. He harassed me. Sometimes it was more blatant than others, but it was all harassment and happened often. After I broke off my association with that person, I still had a little flare of anger and revulsion every time I saw someone wearing a bow tie. It was most unfortunate that they made a huge mainstream comeback right about that time.

Then I started a new job. I became a teacher. My first day, in the summer and weeks before the students came back, I hauled supplies and decor to my classroom and prepared to spend hours creating a welcoming learning environment for my new charges. I was excited and nervous. Mostly nervous. Across the hall, I could see a very tall adult about my age playing cards with what was clearly a group of students. I heard snippets of their hushed conversation and their laughter. When they concluded their game, the students left and the adult came over to introduce himself. It turned out he was the English teacher with whom I would share my end of the hallway for the next school year.

Over the next few days, he came into my classroom to check on me and introduce other teachers as they trickled in to prepare for the new year. By the time school started, I had a friend on staff and was all the more blessed for it. But on the first day the students joined us, I cringed. My new friend showed up wearing a bow tie. Gross.

It was unfair to judge his fashion choice so harshly. I knew it. It was irrational. And yet, I did. I detested bow ties. I didn’t say anything, even though he wore a bow tie every day without fail. It was his signature look.

Over the course of the year, we ended up coaching soccer together and spent a portion of each afternoon decompressing or sharing crazy student stories. We discussed Doctor Who, Ernest Hemmingway, Black Adder, religion, politics, music, and our ups and downs as educators. I made other friends on staff, but “Jones” was my buddy. And before any of you get any ideas, he was my completely platonic buddy. We were both married and my spouse felt like he knew Jones long before I ever got the chance to introduce them.

When I left my position at that school to embark on a new adventure, there were several things I missed. One of them was Jones. He was more than a smart, funny guy. He was a truly gifted teacher. He cared about his students deeply. And he had the world’s best catchphrases. “The utter/sheer jackassery.” “Feckin’ ridiculous.” “That’s nice.” The last was said with a deep–and exaggerated–southern drawl with just a hint of condescension, and something about it made me laugh every time he said it. It was his own personal version of “Bless your heart.”

Less than two weeks ago, I got word that Jones passed away. It didn’t seem real. How could this shining light be snuffed out so young? Students, fellow teachers, employers, classmates, and family began posting tributes on social media. They were all beautiful in their own way, but they also all had one thing in common. In every picture, Jones was wearing a bow tie.

Years of memories with a common thread. A man who was deeply loved and had an inexplicable affinity for bow ties. When I realized it, tears welled up and I started to giggle a bit. My husband thought I was hysterical, I’m sure, but he let me be because I was grieving. I will miss Jones in ways I cannot say. And I’m sorry for the students, at every level that will never get to know his gift. His legacy is one of caring and dedication. And bow ties.

But now when I see a bow tie I don’t cringe. I don’t gag a little. I don’t think of that man who harassed me. Instead, I think of Jones. Of hot tea and themed yarmulkes. Of my first ever teaching friend. Of a man who spent his life serving others.

If anyone was ever going to be able to redeem bow ties, it was Jones. And he did it. One more thing I can add to the long list of reasons I’m grateful to have known him.

Goodbye, Jones. Thanks for everything.