One memory about my time as a member of the Writers’ Club in my high school sticks out to me. The English teacher who organized the club had reached out to a local writer, asking her to meet with our group at the local coffee shop in the tiny town where our school was located. My area oozes writers—probably because of some cosmic vortex that churns them out of the dry dirt, reaching hands up toward the vast, impossibly vast blue sky overhead for literally anything beyond a monotonous high plains landscape—so she could’ve been anybody. I didn’t catch her name because I was a teenager and bad with names.
I’m still bad with names but no longer a teenager. I wish I’d remembered who she was.
My friends and I met with this writer in the evening, early enough in the school year that the weather hadn’t yet changed to nasty, blustery cold. We sat outside, where we could barely hear each other every time a train rumbled past on the nearby tracks. We held our notebooks poised, ready to jot down any writing wisdom she thought to dole out.
Alright, we've discussed the concept of plotters vs. pantsers enough by now. Haven't we? I just know you, as a writer, have bumped into this question already. Probably you've read the descriptions of each to find which writing style you adhere to most. I bet you're sure which camp you belong to, aren't you?
Yet...maybe you're not so sure. Maybe you find a little of column A and a little of column B appealing? I know I do. There's just something about having some preparation to guide my way, while still leaving room for inspiration and surprise as I go.
I'm not the only one who's felt more kinship with a planning process between plotting and pantsing. In "Plotter, Pantser, Architect, Gardener," EV Emmons posits a third type: landscapers. Her description seems to indicate landscapers land closer to the pantser side of things.
So in addition to landscapers, I wish to suggest one more in-between planning style. One similar to but opposite landscapers, closer to the plotter side of this binary.
When I made a conscious choice early in my writing career to include all five senses in each short story or scene, no matter what, readers began telling me, “I really felt like I was there.” The shared experience of senses invites your readers into your narrative, drawing on memory to paint a vivid picture they can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
Readers know the swish of long grass against their shins, smoke tinging a morning red, a mouthwatering cake baking in an oven, the coppery flavor of a bitten tongue, the painful zing of an electric shock. Constant sensory input, telling them what’s going on. Nothing builds a fully three-dimensional story for your readers like filtering all five senses through your point-of-view character’s physical experiences.
However, utilizing the senses in your prose requires some finesse and some thinking outside the box. All five senses should appear in each of your scenes, but some are harder to incorporate than others. Here, I’ve outlined both the order of frequency that each sense typically appears in prose, as well as suggestions for digging deep into representing each included sense.
Writers get burned out. Maybe now more than ever. Hustle culture for writers comes with all the struggle—late nights, weekends, and maintaining an online presence squeezed in around a day job, family, and health—with very little of the reward that should come with hustling. In fact, a 2018 Author's Guild survey shows the median American author income in 2017 had dropped to an annual salary of $6,080.
Yikes on bikes, that's bad.
Heated debate rampages across the online writing community as to which dialogue tag is morally, ethically, and mechanically correct to use: 'said' or one of its many synonyms. Use all the alternatives! Never deviate from 'said!' A great way to get (angry, rageful) interaction on Twitter is to ask the writing community which to use.
We average writers get caught in the middle. We just want to know the answer so we can keep writing, not start a flame war between influencer titans. We get mixed results, however, because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In the mix of both.
Let's talk about what that means.
Writing advice often relates to the same two topics: show, don't tell and write in the active voice. So, say you're taking on these two nuggets of wisdom. You're ready to incorporate the advice you keep getting from your critique partner(s) and your writing group! You've learned everything you need to know about how to change passive voice into active voice and how to show rather than tell. Yet, even though you've made certain to use verbs that aren't being verbs and you've incorporated adjectives as descriptors, your writing still feels clunky. It's still getting dinged at your critique group meetings.
This is because oops! in trying to fix one problem, you've introduced a new problem. And that's the use of filter words and filter phrases in your writing.
When writers do follow you, why exactly should they care about your announcement? They followed you because you're a writer, not for your writing. You're selling to writers with little personal investment in your work.
Deep down, or maybe not so deep down, writers know the value of a good opening sentence. Because writers are readers and have read a multitude of first sentences that draw them straight into the story. Even if you don't know how, you know why: the hook. That magical gimmick that entices readers to keep reading, to buy the book, to read to the end, to tell their friends.
So I'm sure you know why you need The Hook. But how to create it? Structure it? Incorporate it into your story?
Do your sentences ramble with a bunch of important details attached to the the ends? Like the equivalent of remembering relevant information for the story you're telling your co-worker, but only after you've told most of it.
When you notice your sentences always or often follow this pattern, you may begin wondering how to fix this. Add more punch. Sprinkle your sentences with style, like those writers whose sentences pulse through the page like magic.
Below, check out how to mix your dull and extraneous sentences up and bring them to life!
I'm not telling you to develop a thick skin, because you may never manage that. But I am telling you to be brave. And most of all, clever.