Tag Archives: Pantsing

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (2/5)- A meandering love story that only leads to a sequel

10 Mar

This immediately goes to the top of the ‘Longest Audiobooks I’ve Listened To’ list. 28 disks, over 30 hours and yes, it took me over a month to finish. To be honest, it got rough toward the end. I’ll explain later.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

World War II is over and Claire Randall and her husband, Frank can finally be reunited. On a trip to the Scottish highlands to reconnect, Claire wonders off to explore some ruins and is transported back in time over 200 years, to 1743. She is taken to the MacKenzie lands and determined not to be a threat, but must find a place for herself in the new time. Claire hopes to return to the ruins where she was transported through time and joins a routine journey with the MacKenzie men during which she’s stopped by John Randall, descendant of her husband, Frank, who thinks she might be a threat and hopes to interrogate her. To become a Scott and remove herself from his English command, she marries Jamie Fraser, nephew of the MacKenzie lord. The adventures don’t end as Jamie has a price on his head for murder and the two must continue to escape Randall’s sphere of influence. Facing prosecution for being a witch, Jamie takes Claire to the ruins where she passed through and gives her the opportunity to go back. Claire decides to stay in the 1740s and stay with her new husband and try to save the Highlanders from the massacre that will come when Bonny Prince Charlie tries to take the English throne.

Outlander is the first of eight books in the series written by Gabaldon. I’ll be honest and say I have no intention to continue the series after reading Outlander. Most of my complaints are from a story-telling perspective, not from an entertainment perspective. On the contrary, there are some wonderful stories within the book. I read that Gabaldon starting writing the book to see if she could do it, not really planning anything or knowing what would come of it. I feel like she never got an editor that explained story arc or character development very well. I think the book could easily have been 500 pages shorter. So many of the mini stories didn’t further the plot (which I’m now confused as to what it is) or develop the characters. There’s only so many times Claire can be almost-raped and saved by Jamie at the last second before I think she’s careless.

I was also not a fan of Claire as a narrator. I know I’ve said it before, but she had that ‘Nick Caraway’ quality as a narrator; she was a window through which I watched the story. She had very little internal dialogue, thoughts, or emotions. Most of what she said was description of action. The reason this really bugs me is it felt like she wasn’t interacting with her own story. She seemed blase, not an endearing character in a narrator.

The thing that bothered me the most was how quickly Claire seemed to forget about her first husband, Frank. They had a weird marriage, from the sounds of it, but I still think she forgot him rather quickly. It was implied that because of the war, they weren’t together for very much of their seven-year marriage and that because of this, they had an understanding that both would be unfaithful and that there would be no questions about it. I’ve never been involved in a wartime relationship and I’m not going to pass any judgement over this, but I will pass judgement on how soon after arriving in the 1700s Claire seems to stop thinking of Frank. He comes up every 50 pages or so, interspersed with how in love she is with Jamie and many near-death experiences. I find it hard to wrap my head around how she seemed to move on and give up on the life she was building for 30 years in about four months.

As with many books about time travel, Gabaldon touches on what would happen to the 1940s if Clair changes things in the 1740s. She has an in-depth conversation with a French scholar at the end of the book when she is deciding what she should do about the pending destruction of the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden. Does she have the right to interfere and maybe change history? They decide that her knowledge of the future is a gift from God and to remain inactive is to deny his blessing. I really like this idea. Claire’s biggest concern is the death of Jack Randall, ancestor of her 1940s husband, Frank. He died sooner than family records indicate; does that mean if she goes back, Frank will not exist? These are the kinds of questions I love about time travel.

I realize that this is starting to be me ripping on the book more than a review of it and I apologize for that. I follow Gabaldon on Twitter now and I saw that she is heading to Scotland to film a TV series for the Starz network based on her books. I feel these books will make a better TV show than they do novels, honestly. The up and down of the action will lend itself well to one-hour segments. While I’m not going to get cable to watch it, I’ll try to find it on Netflix when it becomes available. From me, that’s a huge compliment.

Writer’s Takeaway: I was talking to my friend Alex, who is also reading this book and he said that he heard Gabaldon was a ‘pantser,’ meaning she wrote with no plan. I’m in the midst of trying pantsing myself, being quite the planner, and I think this book is the epitome of the bad things that come with pantsing. It seems like Gabaldon had no direction for her book, which becomes increasingly obvious as the book goes on. I felt that she finally figured out she wanted to talk about the effects of one’s actions on changing the future very close to the end. The pregnancy at the end felt a lot like Fifty Shades of Grey which had much of the same feel.

I think Gabaldon did a great job with character development. Claire was not as well-developed, but Jamie and the MacKenzie men were each their own, distinct character and I really enjoyed reading about them. They had very realistic strengths, especially Colum, the handicapped leader who was as sharp as a tack. None of her characters, even Jamie, seemed to have any ‘super natural’ heroic qualities. I thought the villain, Black Jack Randall, was perfectly loathsome. I loved him.

I also must add, Gabaldon writes some really quality sex scenes. This is, after all, a romance novel, and she does it well, without the action seeming overly explicit or underdone. She’s a good example of this.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. Only two out of five stars.

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 time period for When Are You Reading? and Foreign Country: Scotland (UK) for Where Are You Reading?

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon | Rhapsody in Books WeblogThe Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon | the redheaded reader
Review: Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Cross Stitch) | Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Reviews

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6 Secrets to Pantsing (Article)

21 Oct

This will be a shorter post, but I wanted to address Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) again as we’re leading up to NaNo.  Nicole sent me this article that I wanted to share with you all.  It’s called 6 Secrets to Writing a Novel Without an Outline.  It’s well worth the read!

I think that even as an ourliner, there are some good things to learn from this article.

  1. Don’t be formulaic- there doesn’t have to be a standard story-line progression to your plot, keep it interesting.
  2. Make sure the things in your outline that you will introduce/foreshadow deliver upon the expectations you set for them.
  3. Re-Evaluate if you’re going in the right direction.  It was suggested to me that as an outliner, it’s good to stop half-way through and see if the plot is still heading in the right direction based on the first half.  Re-outlining might be in order.

I hope you enjoy the article and that if you are an outliner, you can still learn from it.

NaNoWriMo Pre-Writing Workshop Summary

17 Oct

I can’t believe NaNo is a short seventeen days away (I’m writing this early, 14 when you read it).  In the spirit of being a planner, I went to a pre-writing seminar put on by my local chapter, NaNoWriMowtown.  (How punny is that.)  A lot of the advice was really great and I wanted to share it with you all.  This may be a bit long, but here it goes!

Storyboarding v. Outlining

As a die-hard outliner, it was good for me to see what Storyboarding can do.  The presenter recommended using note cards to write down events, plot points, quotes, and even add pictures.  With these note cards, you can put them in order of how you want your plot to go, rearranging as needed for new cards or to make the flow more logical.  Once your note cards are in the order you want, number them to save the order and then you can put them into a formal typed outline.

I personally start with an outline in Word and slowly add to it as I think more about the story, but this might not work for everyone.

Exercises in Inventing Character, Setting, and Plot Mapping

One of the chapter members is a high school English teacher who every year has his class collectively write the 50K novel.  He went through his lesson plan for the first week of November when the students plan the novel they will write.

(1) Character Invention: with a large group of people, sit around a table with two cups; one for first names and one for last names. Give everyone a note card and have them write a last name on one and a first name on the other.  When everyone’s names are in the cups, draw first-name last-name combinations.  This exercises depends on some people coming up with weird names and some people getting the cups mixed up.  You want to end up with about 30 names.  Choose your 10 favorite.  Write 1-2 paragraphs of back-story for each one giving their job, age, dreams, etc.  After you’ve defined the characters, create relationships between them.  Pick a protagonist and antagonist.  Decide who will stand with each.

(2) Define your scenes: Think of  your story like a play with 3-4 Acts.  In the story, the character wants something, has to overcome an obsticle to get it, and takes actions to get around that obsticle.  Act 1 is exposition where your main character is taken out of the normal and thrown into the action of your story.  Here is where you define the wants and maybe the obsticles as well.  Act II is rising action where the wants are solidified and the obstacles become more obvious. Characters may try some actions that fail or succeed partially.  Act III is the climax where the character completes the action that will give the character what (s)he wants, or close enough to it to satisfy the reader.

(3) Mapping the Plot: Every scene should move your characters forward.  If it’s not, then you don’t need it.  The presenter recommended using a Star Novel Writing Mandala Schema, which I’m unable to find on-line and can hopefully link to in our NaNo forum soon (Link found!).  In essence, it gives you a basic 12 chapter novel and what will happen in each chapter.  You are taking the six star-points of Character, Theme, Action, Craft, Imagination, and Context and using them to create your story through problem, direction, organization, image, connection, and motive.  This will make much more sense if I can link to the visual.

Research for the Fiction Writer

I’m a big researcher so I very much enjoyed this session.  The speaker focused on four settings that will necessitate research.  The first being one I’ve done before, Actual Eras.  This is for all of the historical fiction writers who want to give that historically accurate portrayal of going to the bathroom in 14th century Germany: it’s a lot of details.  She recommended (in addition to libraries and Google) field trips to the place your writing about or going to museums with artifacts from that era.  The second research-worth setting is current places and cultures that the writer has not experienced.  The best way to do this (recommended by the speaker and myself) is to try to talk to people who live in that place or culture.  I’ve done this for my NaNo and it’s worked wonderfully.  People love to talk about themselves, you just have to ask.

The other two settings are not ones I’ve written for before.  One of is somewhat relevant to my WIP2, which is places that never existed.  This is more commonly known as worldbuilding.  When you create a fantasy world, you need to know as much about that world as the characters living in it do.  In essence, you have to write the history book on it.  It’s best not to do a complete carbon copy of Earth.  Add in some flavor which can play a big part of your story.  For example, the ‘What If’ game can lead you to some plot points like, “What if the birds hunted people and even a sparrow could kill?”  The Hunger Games is a good example of this.

The last one kind of ties in to the HG example as well: mythical or imaginary beings.  Like a setting you’ve created, you need to have all of the background story on how these creates have evolved and come to exist.  Collins created the mockingjay with a great back-story.  Your characters should have it, too.  Basing them off of defined mythical beings/real animals can help with this.

Planning for the Seat-of-your-Pants

In summary, you have to plan to fly by the seat of your pants.  Even if you’re winging the whole thing and don’t know where it’s going to end, there are still some steps one can take to mitigate the risks along the way.

The writer should still know a few things about how the plot is going to go. For example, are you going to travel to the moon? You might want to give your character a background or a world that would make this a little more plausible.

A good place to go for some support and to be able to bounce ideas of of people is Write-Ins. I’ve never done one myself, but from what I can figure, it’s a safe place for NaNo writers to come together and play fun word-count related games and bounce ideas off of each other. Not a bad place to be. The speaker recommended trying three write-ins before you pick your favorite. This doesn’t mean three of the same write-in group, but three different groups. Not all write-ins are created equal.

There are a few tips for pantsers.  The first is to know your characters because if you get stuck, your characters are what will push the plot forward.  Try basing one off of yourself.  Then you always know what the character would do next.  While you’re at it, base the other characters off of your friends.  Then, if you need to know what a character would do, you can call your friend and ask him or her.  As mentioned with write-ins, ask other writers what they would consider doing.  Who knows plot development better than other writers?  And lastly, if you don’t know how to move forward, do some back story.  Maybe something there will give you an idea for how to move forward.

Funny Writing

A good way to make people like you book is by making them laugh!  The speaker offered a few tips for quick one-liner jokes.  (1) stick to three characters or the listener will forget the first character.  (2) Keep it short.  (3) Surprise the listener so they’re not anticipating your punch line when you start.

Her other tips serve well for comedy of any type. (1) Be specific.  Don’t allude to your punch line, nail it on the head!  (2) Be relatable.  You don’t want to make a reference so obscure that no one or only a handful of readers think you’re funny.  You also don’t want the reader to feel alienated because they didn’t understand.  (3) Comedy serves a purpose.  Don’t throw comedy in for comedy’s sake; make it move your plot forward.  (4) Opposites attract.  If you can use comedy to set up drama it can be very impactful.

Tips and Tricks

The end of the seminar was past participants giving advice and this was extremely helpful!  The first tip was to find locations and times when you could be most successful.  The ML passed out a spreadsheet to fill in Date, time of day, words/hr, location, background noise, people present, music, food/drink, and WiFi?  If you do this repeatedly, you can find out where and when you are most productive.  Genius!  Some short tips:

  • Don’t write in order, jump around to where you want to write
  • Don’t delete anything (it all counts, just use strike-out)
  • Only edit spellings, nothing else!
  • Back -up often and to multiple places
  • It’s okay to fall behind, weekends are a great time to catch up.
  • Try writing for 20 minutes, watching a movie for 20 minutes repeatedly
  • Tell everyone so they will ask you about it and keep you accountable
  • Stop with something left to say so you have momentum when you next start up again
  • Do not use contractions (more words)
  • Use a font with straight quotes, not smart (curved) quotes.  Smart quotes count funny in the validator.
  • Validate on the 25th when it becomes available to see how far off the NaNo word count is from what you think you have
  • Open Office is good for word count consistence, Word is usually a couple hundred higher than the validator.
  • Pad the 50K by a few thousand for comfort
  • Remember that Thanksgiving is the last weekend of November!  Prepare in advance.
  • Turn your spell-checker off so you aren’t tempted to edit by squiggly lines.

Helpful Links:

Write or Die: $10 download.  Punishes you for not writing to a certain timed goal by deleting what you had written, playing bad music or annoying sounds.

Writing Prompts on Tumblr: Or WordPress or wherever you can find them.  Great things to keep you thinking if your brain is shutting down.

Written? Kitten!: In opposition of Write or Die, Written? Kitten will show you pictures of cats for every set number of words you write.  It didn’t work for me, but several people said it’s a good reward-based approach.

I hope these are helpful to you!  Let me know of your own tips and tricks.

10,000 Words into Pantsing

14 Oct

As of writing, I am 10,505 words into my second WIP. I’m really excited about this because I’m ‘pantsing’ my way through this novel, something I’m very nervous about. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a way of saying I’m ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ through this book, I didn’t outline it. I’m a big proponent for outlining. I feel it’s the only way I got through my first WIP. For this reason, I have an outline for NaNo and I feel confident about getting the 50,000 words in because I know if I get stuck, I can move on to my next plot point and pick up, avoiding the ‘dead end’ feeling. I was scared that with this pantsing exercise I would trap myself in corners and end up crying at my desk over my lost path to a coherent ending.

However, I feel confident saying ‘so far, so good’ about WIP2. I’ve introduced my main characters, given them a voice, and am following a coherent timeline.  I’ve even started introducing major plot points and developing the mindset of my world (it’s slightly Sci-Fi).  I see the end of my exposition in sight and my inciting incident is planned for soon in the future.

Readers, I’m curious about your technique.  Are you a pantser or a planner?  Have you tried both?  If so, which works best for you?

Have a great day!