Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Pantser's Guide to Revision 5 - Immerse your reader

It is a wonderful thing to get lost in a story. And it's a rude awakening to be thrust out of it. Pantsers seem to turn over control to muses more often than plotters, and so they naturally create drafts that have scenes and chapters that engage readers deeply, while also making mistakes that drive readers away.

Let's look at the positives for the pantser:

Each time the write sits down to work, the story is organic and likely to come out in a rush. Unexpected details and surprises emerge without deliberation. The sense of telling the story -- which is what the reader comes for -- is always ahead of conscious design and architecture. With all of these, the flow the writer is likely to experience is transferred to the reader. While a plotter needs to repeatedly let go of what is planned and give in to the experience of the moment, the pantser relies almost entirely on living through the scene in real time.

This sounds great, but there are downsides to pantsing:
  • Too much. Sometimes the muse can be too generous, providing details the reader doesn't need and slowing the pace of the story. Don't be afraid to cut.
  • Too little. This happens most often when the characters start talking and the non-verbal elements of the scene are neglected.
  • Changes in tone. I think, at times, different muses show up. (For me, it is often a comic muse in a serious piece or the reverse.) The effect is almost as if the scene comes from a different book. Very disconcerting.
  • Inconsistencies. The muse doesn't always remember details from day to day. Eye color can change. Locations get switched. How names are spelled gets transformed. But the reader remembers.
  • Problems of logic. The muse can hypnotize Sometimes she makes it seem as if things fit together when they don't. 
  • Errors. The muse is a lousy researcher. She doesn't always get it right. While a plotter often builds from facts, a pantser drops details in as they are remembered and imagined. Don't assume anything. Fact-check.
  • Darlings. The experience of pantsing can transport the writer, and it is difficult to let go of the emotions connected with the creation of some sections. Sorry. If they don't belong in the story, they have to go. Save them for the next book. 
Any of these can stop a reader cold. And once a reader is distracted, the immersive experience ends. Some of these problems may get picked up using approaches spelled out in earlier sections of this Guide. If so, good. But it might be helpful at this stage of revision to keep this section on hand as a checklist. You might also ask beta readers and editors to be alert for these problems, since they may be invisible to you.

Beyond problems, it's important for pantsers to invite the reader into the story. Like dreams, pantsed stories often seem obvious and enticing to writers who have special information, and the writer is already participating without an invitation. This means special attention needs to be paid to beats, hooks, and cliffhangers. And, as stated above, leaving enough out so there is room for the readers imagination will provide a way for readers to engage.

Once this (along other work from this series) is done, read your story aloud one more time. Make fixes. Then hand your story off to beta readers and editors. Make sure they know you want to be alerted to anything that stopped them from reading or took them out of the story.

For the rest of the Pantser's Guide, see:

A Pantser's Guide to Revision 1 - The problems
A Pantser's Guide to Revision 2 - Listen to your story
A Pantser's Guide to Revision 3 - The rest of the story
A Pantser's Guide to Revision 4 - Fixing your plot

For more on immersion, check out:

Lost in the Story – How to create immersive experiences in fiction 1
Lost in the Story 2 – Creating immersive experiences in fiction

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