Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plontsers, Pantters & Igor

by KAK

I’ve an older sister who looks like an angel with the mind of Dr. Frankenstein. When I came along years after she’d grown accustomed to being the only child, she put on her lab coat and cackled with glee.

Behold! Igor!

This is most likely why I’m neither a true Plotter nor a total Pantser. I need a framework, the 5,000-feet view of:
  • Who are my characters
  • What do they want
  • Why can't they have it now
  • When will they get it

The "how" I leave to creative flow. This drops me squarely in the middle of the Plotter versus Pantsers camps. I like to call my little brand of insanity: 
Plontser, erm, Pantter. 
Probably the latter if I’m writing a werewolf story.

For all that my sister was, and still is, the brains behind the operations, she taught me far more than how to manage a mad genius. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the noble position of eternal henchman / sidekick:

Spontaneity is permissible only when planned

Case: My mother wore make-up that came in fat gold and silver tubes. Sparkly tubes that held pretty colors. I wished to be pretty and sparkly too. While my mother was out, I determined that not only should I be covered from tip to toe in the glories of the tubes, but so should her entire bathroom. Master was not amused. Cleaning with toothbrushes was involved. Thus began Master’s revenge of soap on my toothbrush every morning for the next ten years.

When the risk is high, be certain of the reward

Case: We had a beloved baby-sitter who one night had the gall to sneak her boyfriend into Master’s domain after the ‘rents were gone. Foolish baby-sitter. Master’s goal was simple – vanquish the interloper. Hiding places, the main-switch for the fuse box, and a wicked thunderstorm all played to our advantage. Baby-sitter panicked and phoned the ‘rents. Boyfriend fled, but beloved baby-sitter never returned…
When the plan is in play, do not disrupt the show

Case: Once upon a foreign country, we lived in a house with a great winding marble staircase and a nanny with the tragic habit of telling Master what to do. I’ll let you guess the goal.  One night, while the ‘rents were gone (naturally), Master and I filled tall trashcans with water and placed them at the top of the stairs. My bin of building blocks was similarly situated. The nanny passed the bottom of the stairs. We toppled our traps. A more beautiful waterfall was never seen nor a more delicious shriek heard.

I assure you, we were not wholly evil children, but what our parents didn't know never hurt us.

What life lessons have shaped your writing style? Is there someone among your family or friends to whom you attribute your means of attacking a challenge?


  1. Damn, KAK! You've made me aware that I was total slouch as a big sister!

  2. No kidding. I apparently failed to recruit the little brother as a minion!

    As far as life lessons shaping writing style...I think that preparing for worst-case scenarios in my work, whether software testing, doing analysis, or working in criminal justice...taught me that overplanning averts disasters. I've always been in in a position in which I would have to defend what I did before a budget committee or a guy in charge behind a desk.

    So, I plot. Nobody in my career to date has been much interested in my feelings or my intuitive grasp of things. It's about what I can prove on paper and the result I promise by a given date.

    I often wonder what it would be like to be on the other side of the fence. To be able to experience unfettered, unjudged flow.

  3. Have I ever mentioned how happy I am that I was an only child?

    That's interesting, Marcella. In my day job, I absolutely plot everything out. In fact, I'm the queen of organizing complex projects. I can design experiments and marshal large teams of people. I can always bring things in on deadline, even when no one else sees how it's possible.

    Hmm. Something to ponder.

  4. LOL. You see all the missed opportunities for mayhem? Henchmen make it much easier to do much more, much more quickly.

    I think preparing for worst-case scenarios has helped maintain my sanity on the submission front the most, though it's also helped the protags escape random harrowing experience too.

    Now, defending my deeds to the uber PtB? That's where having an evil-mastermind to cover your ass comes in handy. ;D

  5. Hmm. I pushed my two year old brother down a flight of stairs when I was three or four. I don't think we worked together much...


  6. I was ten years younger then my older brother and eleven years older then my younger brother. I, unfortunately, was the parent to my younger, and never really knew my older. I know I became a fanatic of schedules (it's noon, I can finally put his ass down for a nap!) because of it.

  7. I too am a younger sibling. My sis was 6 years older than me and was known to find glee in my pain. She "taught" me to write cursive (rulers were involved) before school just to make my kindergarten experience particularly confounding. She also "taught" me to roller skate. (This involved her much too big for me skates and a rope tied around my waist, and her running while holding the other end of the rope....) Learning to stand up was survival!

    I was never her minion as much as her annoyance, but it sounds like the waterfall events and such were much more FUN. :-D

  8. My older brother - apart from a few teasing episodes when we were little - was my idol, hero, champion, confidant, and best friend.

    As for planning - well, unlike Laura, it has been my experience that the more I attempt to plan, the more likely it is that some twist of fate will come sweeping in and turn everything upside down. In my job, crisis is literally the name of the game. My approach to writing is very much my approach to my job: carefully assess the people involved, make your best guess as to what you think they're going to do, and then try to get the ducks lined up for a happy ending.

  9. We love a schedule! Schedules make for accountability. Deadlines, when met, provide opportunity for celebration!

    My sister and I are the best of friends. Her lone rule is that she is the only one allowed to pick on me...which was wonderful until she went off to college and left me to face high school alone.