Pantsing vs. Plotting

If you spend any time around writers, the conversation will inevitably come around to “pantsing” vs. “plotting, that is, writing by the seat of your pants, or writing from a well-plotted outline.  Neither of these two methods is “right”; it’s a matter of one’s preference, and, well, personality.

I’m a scientist by training as well as by temperament, so you’d think that I would fall into the plotters’ camp.  But no.  I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming into working out a plot. I’m more of an R&D scientist than a Quality Control scientist.

When I was writing my first book, which I did during NaNoWriMo, I started writing and just kept going.  I reveled in the magic that occurred when my characters came to life and I felt as if I was just following them around taking dictation.  A method which works out well if you have a pretty good idea where your characters are going in the first place.  Around day 13 or so of NaNoWriMo, I realized that my characters were being a bit more wayward than I wanted.  So I stopped writing and spent a day figuring out what kind of adventure they were on, and what was going to happen to get them to the end of it.  Once I had some idea of the plot ahead (and really, it was a pretty flimsy outline that I had crafted…), I could go back to happily letting my cast of characters lead me through their adventures, and banging out my 1666 words per day until I had reached the end of November, and fortunately, the end of the story.

I recently found myself in a similar circumstance in my (third!) novel whose working title is “There be Dragons Here”. I participated in NaNoWriMo again this year, but since I realized that I’d never have time enough to reach 50,000 words written in November (“winning” in NaNoWriMo parlance), I set a lower goal of 500 words per day which I easily accomplished.  But come around New Years, even though I was still writing at a fair clip, I felt that my characters were losing their way, and began to wander aimlessly.

So, I cut off about three feet from a big roll of butcher paper I have, put on my writer’s sweater (the one with the elbow patches), and sat down with a big cup of coffee and pens of many colors to craft an outline, or at least a visual flow chart of what has to happen to each character from the beginning of the story to the end.  A couple of hours later, the outline was completed with a few surprises. A couple of characters end up being not quite who I had suspected, a whole set of airpirates turn out not to be in this book after all, and one event that I had hoped to be able to work out differently I realized has to happen the way I had first conceived after all. And by the way, I discovered a starting point for the next book that I hadn’t realized was going to happen (a four-book trilogy, hurrah!)

So, pantsing vs. plotting? Both have their uses.  Pantsing can be magical, but only if you have a good idea of the plot already.  Plotting, I’ve found, can be necessary at some point in writing your story if only to keep the action moving and to keep the strands of your plot as tangled or untangled as they need to be.

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Happy Birthday Michael Faraday!

September 22, 1791 is the birthday of my favorite scientist, Michael Faraday.

Here is a portrait painted of him at age 51, looking much younger than he does in most of his later photographic portraits.

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Portrait of Michael Faraday in 1841, painted by Thomas Phillips.

If you’re interested in reading more about this fascinating man, see this blog post.  A slightly more fictional Michael Faraday also features prominently in my latest steampunk adventure novel, “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday.”

Old House Idiosyncrasies #6–The Octagon House

In a blog post on Steampunk Architecture that I wrote almost three years ago (and which has consistently been one of my more popular posts), I included a picture of the Armour Steiner House in upstate New York which has the distinction of having an octagonal floor plan.  Prompted by a post in the always interesting website Atlas Obscura, I looked around for more examples of these unusually shaped buildings.  And it turns out there’s an interesting story behind them.

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Armour-Stiner House, Irvington, New York. Source: JMReidy on panoramio.com

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The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday — Now Available!

I am happy to announce that my second book, The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday, is now available!

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This novel is the second I’ve written in the Airship Flamel Adventures series, but is actually a prequel of my first novel, To Rule the SkiesWhen I wrote that book, I came to the realization that I was starting in the middle of Professor Nicodemus Boffin’s story.  This new book tells some of his history.  Here’s the synopsis:

Nicodemus Boffin rose from a boyhood in the ash heaps of East London to reach the pinnacles of British science when he is mentored by the great scientist, Michael Faraday. When Boffin finds a secret laboratory notebook in which Faraday has described incomprehensible experiments, Nicodemus wonders if Professor Faraday has discovered a new science, or has lost his faculties. Nicodemus’s rival, Viscount Whitehall-Barnes, seeks to gain the notebook by any means necessary to study the descriptions of a strange orange mineral with unusual properties which he believes is the alchemists’ Philosopher’s Stone. Realizing that the Viscount must never learn the secrets of the orange stone, Nicodemus takes action to keep the knowledge hidden, protect his family, and preserve the legacy of his mentor.

Besides telling the story of how Nicodemus Boffin grows from a poor but uncommonly clever boy in the slums of London to the forefront of Victorian British science, the novel features pompous aristocracy, a surprisingly capable laboratory assistant, and snarky air pirates.  Several Illustrious Personages may wander through the story as well.

The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday is available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon, and in many other ebook formats at Smashwords.

FIRST Robotics goes Steampunk!

FIRST Robotics is a program for high-schoolers that teaches invention, design, and teamwork through the process of designing and building a robot to accomplish several tasks during competition.  Although most of the teams are in the US, teams in over 25 countries worldwide take part in the program.

Each year the competition has a different theme, and the tasks change.  For example, in past years, robots had to be designed to shoot basketballs, throw frisbees, and climb a tower.  The competition is announced in early January and teams have approximately six weeks to design, build, and troubleshoot their robots before competition.  My sons participated in their high school’s team and count their robotics experience as one of the best parts of high school, and their teammates as among their closest friends.

So, we were especially excited to discover that the theme for the FIRST Robotics Competition this year is Steampunk! And the game was introduced by none other than  Professor Elemental, steampunk and chap hop musician extraordinaire.  The good professor even wrote a song specially for the competition:

 

If you’re interested in learning more about this year’s competition (narrated by Professor E.), you can see an animation here that outlines the rules and scoring opportunities:

as well as an even longer description featuring more steampunk antics here:

I think this year’s competition looks to be the most interesting and entertaining to watch in years (and that’s topping last year’s Storming the Castle theme!).  And it’s a great introduction to steampunk for all the students taking part in FIRST.

DIY Steampunk Medal

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A steampunk outfit is really made by its accessories.  They at once evoke the Victorian era that typifies the time frame of much of Steampunk culture, as well as adding bits of interest to your outfit.  And no matter what manner of steampunk outfit you wear, you can always think up a reason why your character has been awarded a medal.

I’ve got a few medals that I’ve bought over time.  My airship wings are one of my favorites, as is the George V cap badge from the Royal Engineers that I turned into a pin.  (I know, not strictly Steampunk era, but close!)  But I wanted something unique. Continue reading