Indie Author Tips: Pantsing Vs Plotting

On the battlefield of writers and so-called experts hurling grenades of advice into cyberspace, there are two generalized camps when it comes to how to plot your novel. These two schools of thought, as best as I can simplify them, are as follows. I’m not going to go into too much detail because there are heaps of articles about this kind of thing out there already. But if you have never written a book before these may help you get started.

In the first camp there are the “Plotters”. Writers and editors who advocate sitting down and painstakingly plotting out the entire course of your novel and characters until you know exactly how the story gets from point A to point B. The depth to which Plotters plot varies. Russell Nohelty I believe structures his books in 250-word scenes. Others have a broad chapter by chapter overview of the essential action. But essentially, they know what is going to happen in their story at any given moment. The second camp is the “Pantsers” who believe in sitting down and just writing.

The first thing I want to tell you is this: there is no wrong way to write your novel.

I don’t care what someone is trying to teach you, sell you, or give you. As long as each step you take, each thing you do, gets you one step closer to that story being finished: you’re doing it right. Just like there’s no single right way to paint a picture, there’s no one right way to write a book. That said, I recommend researching the different ways to plot, and trialling them in your own work, so you can find a way that best suits you.

So, what do you need to know about Plotting? Some writers dislike the rigidity of plotting. I struggle with it, especially when you need to change something in the story and the plot suddenly takes a 90-degree turn, something that happened to me when I wrote The Horn of Gabriel. A throw away character suddenly became a major plot point and a part of the supporting cast. Others need the structure to get anything done. If you write to a schedule (for example if you’re doing NaNoWriMo or following Ella Barnard’s Done In Three Months) you’ll probably find plotting everything out before you begin is beneficial. It can help eliminate writer’s block (although I don’t know anything that will inoculate against it 100%) because at no point in the story do you not know what’s coming next. There is a logical progression of what happens from point A to point B, and you simply have to add the action, dialogue, and description. It’s one of the ways successful writers (Indie or Trad) churn out book after book on a yearly basis.

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But some people’s brains don’t work like that. They bounce from idea to idea, or just have a very vague idea of where they want to go. That’s where pantsing comes in. As a term I believe “pantsing” comes from the saying “flying by the seat of your pants”. In terms of writing a novel it means sitting down and writing whatever the hell comes out. Maybe you know your character starts their story by jogging down the street and meeting a Fallen Angel like Grace does in The Lady of Zion. When you pants you uncover the story in much the same way the reader does when they read it, although you have an idea of where the story is going. This way doesn’t work for me particularly because I find that when the inspiration disappears and writer’s block sets in, I just don’t know where to go next. It’s part of why it took me nine years to write my first book. Plotting helped me write my last book in two months.

Are you thinking, “Wait a minute! She said she isn’t a plotter and she isn’t a pantser. What the hell is she?” (Imagine a montage of horror movie monsters with someone saying “what is she?” Please.)

Well, I’m more of a Lamp Post Tarzan. Maybe you will be too. I picked this term up from an excellent article describing the different ways to plot a book, but do you think I could find it again to reference in this article? All my varied searches of “Lamp Post Tarzan” came up with were a lot of hits for Edgar Rice Burroughs and IMDB. ((Side note: If anyone comes across that article can you send me a link to it? It was fantastic))

But what does it mean? It means that you have a rough idea of how a character gets from A to B, with the major plot points between the two, but there is room for the story to grow organically between the check points.

Sometimes you can find benefits in using both approaches in conjunction like I do. Personally, I like to plot out a vague idea of my story and see what happens between the plot markers. There are a couple reasons for this. First, sometimes dialogue or scene will pop into my head and I have to write it down or I’ll lose it. This may mean that while I’m writing something in the beginning of the story, something that happens towards the end may require me to write it until I run out of steam. For example, in my first novel, The Kingston Chronicles, I knew that Anastasia needed to leave Tennesse and go to LA. I knew she would end up falling in love with Aidan, I knew who her stalker was and why, and I knew where the story would end. I didn’t know what each date would look like in great detail. I didn’t know what the magic classes would look like, or exactly how conversations would go. I just let it flow.

Another way you can combine the two to great effect (I’ve used this technique quite a bit for The Lady of Zion Series), is to have an idea of the story, pants the first draft, then using that, build a more structured plot for the second draft where you can layer in more detail. It also allows you to clean up sub-plots and invest more time in building the character relationships, knowing that the main action has already been taken care of.

Want to find out if you’re a pantser or a plotter? There’s a few ways to tell. Sometimes your personal life will indicate what approach might work for you. Are you a schedule everything down to the minute type person or do you just take the day as it comes? If you need a game plan you might just be a plotter. Another way to tell is to just pick an approach and see how it goes. Couldn’t stick to that chapter-by-chapter outline? You might just be a pantser. The only true way I’ve learnt to be even halfway successful in finishing writing a book is to just do things by trial and error. At the end of the day the only approach that really matters is the one that gets the work done.

New Year, New… something

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t keep on top of things in the last half of 2020. I know I’m not the the only one and I’m trying not to feel guilty about it. Because sometimes, “shit happens”. 2020 sent major life changes in the latter half of the year, including a move to the city, a new day job, hospital visits for myself and three of my immediate family members, surgery for my beloved pupster, and more. Now that 2021 is here I’m reflecting on the year that was, and dreaming of the year that might be. 

In previous years I’ve posted about my New Year’s goals. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. After the way 2020 kept blindsiding me, I’m not sure that setting tangible goals is necessarily the way to go this year. I’m certain that COVID lock downs and restrictions are far from over, and while I still have goals and dreams that I’d like to achieve, it seems like setting specific goals may be difficult if we have continued interruptions like last year.

In 2020 I had a goal of publishing five of The Lady of Zion novels as well as six novellas. I didn’t even finish writing all these stories due to life. I’m proud that I did still release three of the novels (it took 11 years to publish the first two The Kingston Chronicles books so I consider that an improvement). This year my tangible goal is to release novels four and five. If things go well, I’d like to release the novellas too. But my intangible goal is simply: to get further along in my writing journey than where I am right now. I’m not sure what that will look like yet. But I’m open to opportunities.

2020 offered me a lot of opportunities with building a new life for myself in the city. It also offered me some opportunities professionally. In 2020 I joined several co-writing projects. Unfortunately these were not the right fit for me and after several months I left all of them. I made some fantastic new writer friends through these opportunities though, and I will forever be grateful for those relationships.

2020 was a year where I focused on self care. By that I don’t mean indulging in massages and facials (although I did do that too). I invested in me. I made decisions to improve me. I worked on my mental health and education, while I took a break from writing. I let go of things that brought me pain and fear. I was emotionally drained and I took the time to recharge my batteries. I spent time learning new skills to take forward with me into 2021.

In 2021 I want to continue on the path of self-improvement I started in 2020. I have health and fitness goals, education goals, and professional goals both at my day job and in my writing. Every new year is a cross roads, as is every choice. In 2021 I’m trying to make the choices that best serve my goals, that get me closer to where I want to be, and that make me happy.

I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. How about you?

IAT: Indie Authoring is Hard

Indie Authoring is incredibly rewarding. It’s also incredibly hard. I’ve written about twenty of these articles now, hoping to help other authors realise their dreams (and avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made), but the one cold, hard, truth I can give you is: quality Indie Books are hard to produce.

A lot people (especially readers) seem to have the idea that “Indie” = “easier”. Traditional publishing can be hard to crack into. I am by no means an expert on Trad publishing, but in my experience it’s hard to find an agent, a publisher, etc. If you looked at the sheer volume of books being submitted per year versus the number of books actually printed, chances are you’re going to be waiting a long time for a break (if you ever get one).

Another reason people seem to be under the impression that “Indie” = “easy”, is because anyone can upload a manuscript and a cover image to a platform such as KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or Smashwords and voila! Published Indie Book. Without the “gatekeepers” of Traditional publishing (agents, editors, and publishing houses) there is a potential for books perceived to be of lesser quality. It’s another issue I’ve written about at length, and there are some Indie books out there that desperately needed a little more love and work before they were released into the world. That is not to say that all Indie Books are lesser quality than Traditionally published books, and there are a lot of authors like myself fighting to remove the stigma that was prevalent towards Indie books.

I’ve written in several of these articles about the pros and cons of the process of Indie Publishing such as having to do everything yourself or pay qualified individuals to outsource some of your tasks. I’ve written about these from a professional point of view (how hard it is when you have little to no income to produce your books, finding quality outside sources within a budget etc) and I’ve even mentioned the emotional toll and stress related to finding time to get all the work done (or how stressful it is when things go wrong, or get on top of you, trying to fit things in around paid gigs). What I haven’t mentioned is another side of how hard Indie Authoring is: the toll it takes on relationships.

There are only so many hours in a day and most authors (Indie or otherwise) have to consistently schedule in time to write if they want to make their dreams come true. That may mean turning down social invitations, taking “holidays” from your regular job to stay home and write, or otherwise “missing out” on things. This takes a toll not only on the writer but on the writer’s friends and family. Some writer’s are surrounded with people who emotionally support them, cheer them on, and are their biggest advocates. Not everyone is so lucky, and not everyone in your life will understand how important writing is to you.

It’s incredibly hard emotionally when you don’t get the support you need. Even well meaning friends or family can make unintentionally cutting remarks when they think they’re being helpful. I know so many people who’ve had comments made to them from relatives asking when they’re going to give up their unrealistic dreams. It can be hard to believe in yourself when it seems no one else does either.

There’s no easy/right way to deal with this kind of issue either. Every person is different so every situation is different. The best advice I can give you is to establish whether or not YOU think your dream is worth it. Are you willing to put in the hours? Are you willing to invest financially in yourself and your author business until you are successful? Success doesn’t happen over night. Success takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s hard work and it can take a long time to pay off.

So if you’re looking to make your publishing journey they “easy” way through Indie Publishing, think again. If you do the “easy”, bare minimum, it’s unlikely you’ll see the success you want.

Book Review: Solstice Festival (The Dreamsong Saga #1)

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Book Review: Solstice Festival (The Dreamsong Saga #1)
Author: Jean DiFalco
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
$$$: $0.91 AUD for Kindle,
       (at 3/8/2020)
Publisher: Services LLC (18 May 2017) ASIN: B072BZKHDB

I give it: 5 stars

Partial Blurb from Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Solé Covari has no real reason to believe her father, disappeared into Alterra’s Fog nearly a decade ago, is somewhere out there alive. There’s been no sign of him. And everyone knows, those lost in the mists rarely return.

Worse still, Maman suffers a strange malady that makes her eyes glow with yellow light. And as much as Solé hates keeping secrets, she knows no one must find out about Maman’s condition—just like the forbidden gift her daughters were born with, some things must be kept under wraps.

For her family, there’s not much Solé wouldn’t do–even if it means facing the Fog alone, and finally embracing the magick she’s hidden her entire life. Could a power that’s never brought her anything but grief truly be her saving grace?”

I don’t read a lot of YA (Young Adult) fiction anymore but I really enjoyed this book, and it’s sequel. I think I picked this book up as a freebie somewhere, but I bought the sequel: that’s how much I enjoyed this series. In the interest of transparency, I am not getting paid for this, and the book wasn’t a freebie in return for a review. I just really enjoyed it and thought you might too.

So, about the book. Solé and her family are Romani-style travellers, with psychic abilities in an alternate steampunk style universe called Alterra. There’s a lot of mystery in Solé’s world. There are things in the fog (The Old Ones: think like the Fae) and people who disappear into it are never seen again. The society is reminiscent of the Victorian Era or perhaps slightly earlier, with little in the way of technology. When the story starts Solé has taken her mother’s place in the family business, reading fortunes as they travel across Alterra. But when her little sister is taken into the fog by the Old Ones Solé must brave her own fears, and the chance that she will never see her family again, to save Dora.

I really enjoyed the blending of fantasy, Romani, and other elements. The hand painted tarot cards and braided hair ribbon were nice touches. DiFalco has a real talent for world building and creating colourful characters. I’ve always been obsessed with stories about this kind of society and Solstice Festival was an extremely satisfying read. Definitely recommend this book for lovers of fantasy, steampunk, and more.

Interested in this book? Here’s a link to it’s Amazon page 🙂

Poem: Save The Last Dance For Me

So, I feel like I’m super late to the party but in May, I discovered the band The Tea Party. Considering my taste in music and the fact that I love middle eastern things I can’t believe I didn’t find them earlier. Naturally I immediately fell in love with their lyrical and musical style and have been listening to them a lot ever since. I’ve been finding the band inspiring in my own writing and I think Jeff Martin is going to knock Tuomas Holopainen and Jim Steinman off their perch as my favourite songwriter’s ever. 

The poem I’m sharing today was inspired by the song The Last Dance off Jeff Martin’s solo album Stars in the Sand, which came out last year (2019). Songs and stories about long lost love are always going to pull on my heartstrings and I really enjoy The Last Dance. I was going to save this post until next week but I enjoyed making the graphic for it so much I just couldn’t. 

Unboxing: Hekate Devotional Box

Today my Hekate Devotional Box arrived from Muses of Mystery in Melbourne! *happy dance*

When they posted this box on social media a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t help myself and splurged. There was one item in particular I’d been eyeing off on Amazon which is currently almost $70 on one seller. The box of stuff was $80 so that was just the tipping point for me. I thought “What a great valued box!” and clicked “add to cart”.

As soon as I opened the postage bag my senses were ensnared. The package came with it’s own scent which wafted out at me as I pulled the packaging open. Not entirely sure what the scent was mixed with but there was something wintergreen-y in it. Just from the scent alone it felt like magic was pouring out of the tough bag.

In the top of the package were two rolled scrolls, one with information as to what the box contained, and one on the goddess herself. These will go into one of my Book of Shadows for reference. I have several BoSs due to the nature of my studies and the fact that sometimes it’s just easier to print stuff off than hand write into your books. Also, it becomes handy for one of your Book of Shadows to be a ring binder when you buy one off or subscription boxes like this. I mean, I love the aesthetic of leather bound, calligraphied text and hand inked illustrations, but they aren’t always practical, achievable, or worth the hassle. I liked that the scrolls came tied with red ribbons, not only for their colour connection to Hekate but because I can save them and use them for spell work later. I’m a big believer in saving things like that for Craft projects, craft projects, and just cause they’re handy. 

Once I skim read the scrolls I looked inside the box goodies. First off I pulled out the Key necklace which is to “wear to unlock power & receive Her wisdom”, at least, according to the White Scroll. Honestly, I have a large key I already wear and this key is charm bracelet sized so I’m not likely to wear it. However, I’ve been wanting to make a statue of the goddess and it’s likely I’ll save it for that. The charm came on a cord of neoprene which I’ll probably toss if I don’t use it on the statue. Neoprene tends to “bleed” on me and leave a dirty mark on my neck (or I’m having a reaction to it like I do to copper) and I learnt in my teen years it’s just not worth it to wear neoprene. Nothing I do gets the colour out until the dead skin cells disappear. I always keep keys now whenever I find them, so I’m sure I’ll find a magical use for it eventually. 

There was an anointed black taper candle, which according to the info sheet is to be anointed with the Hekate Oil (also in the box) to be burned during ritual. I think I might save this for Hekate’s Night on August 13th. There’s a few rituals I want to do then to the goddess, and I think it would be the perfect time to use this candle. In fact I might save a number of these goodies for the 13th. My candle stash is getting low so it’s nice to have a new one, especially one already dedicated to Hekate. 

The Candle has herbs stuck to it with wax so I’m wondering if they will give off scent while burning. My Beltane Candle this year was rolled in herbs but didn’t burn a scent like I’d hoped it would. My witchcraft is a journey, learning as I go, so I’ll figure out how to have the best of both worlds eventually. 

Next there was a Black Poppet. I’ve never worked with poppets before but there’s some scant instructions in the White Scroll that came in the box. I’ll probably use this as inspiration to write my own ritual for the poppet when I’m ready to use it. I know quite a bit of theory behind the use of poppets, but I’ve never found a reason to make one before. Predominantly I see them used in “darker” magics, ie. magics against a person or force, and that’s something I don’t really focus on. I like to focus on self improvement. 

There was also a small unlabelled bag containing Star Anise, what appears to be saffron, and other herbs. I’m guessing this is the Soteria Blend the White Scroll says has been included for use in the poppet. I believe the intention is to stuff the poppet with stuffing and the herb mix, and then to sew the pieces together and cast your spells. 

In the box was also a Hekate Oil blend, presumably the one for anointing the candle. Like the incense it doesn’t say what the ingredients are but I can detect notes of mint and patchouli when I sniffed it. There’s also instructions on the bottle to use it on your pulse points and forehead to promote your connection to the goddess. 

I’m pretty excited about this oil because I’ve just tried making my own. It’s a completely different scent to mine and I’d love to know which essential oils they used. I’ll probably keep this as an annointing oil rather than use it in my wax/oil burner like I often do with my oils (or I use them in the bathtub). Either way it’s going to go into my special box of magical things, ready for whenever it is my subconscious bought it for. 

There was a small (maybe 20gm?) sachet of Hekate of The Crossroads Incense. There’s information on the back of the tag explaining what to use the incense for but nothing on what the incense contains. My usual Hekate Blend is the Keeping Her Keys basic incense blend of Bay, Sage, and Mugwort. I’m expecting it to be similar but I won’t know until I try it. There was also a single bagged charcoal disc to burn the incense on.


There was a mojo bag which I didn’t realise already contained the ingredients for it. Sorry the picture is a little blurry. It looked okay on my phone. I thought it was going to come as a DIY kit, so when I opened it to see what the Hematite, Moonstone, and Yew looked like I spilled Graveyard dirt everywhere. Oops. I managed to get most of it back in the bag though and I’m taking it as the goddess anointing me in the dirt (please don’t burst my bubble). 

I’m a little disappointed it’s a pre-made bag actually. I was looking forward to making the mojo bag with the supplied ingredients. I quite enjoy making mojo bags. I know it’s a predominately Voodoo type of magic but they are really handy and super versatile. 

Getting towards the bottom of the box was one of the items I was most eager to look at: Hekate: A Devotional by Vivienne Moss. I’m looking forward to reading that later. The book is slightly damaged but nothing that will hinder my reading it. I’ll probably write a review of it and if I don’t post it here you’ll be able to find it on Goodreads or Amazon (where I post most of my reviews). I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book so it’s going towards the top of my To Be Read pile. Hekate as a Goddess is really having a moment right now which is great, because historically there’s been little written about her. I’ve been relying a lot on academic journals and scholarly debate for information (one of the perks of being Alumni of the university I went to means I still have access to some of their database subscriptions).

Another item I was intrigued with when I saw the list on the Muses of Mystery online store, was Hekate’s Labyrinth. It’s a round disc, (feels like it might be made of plasterboard or similar), with a maze etched into the face. It’s a meditational tool, you use your finger to follow the winding path, to achieve the same result as physically walking a labyrinth. I’d love to have a stonework labyrinth in my backyard but for now this will have to do. The picture makes it look huge but it’s probably about 20cm across. Small enough that it can sit on my desk for when I’m stressed out from work or sizeable enough that I can put it on my altar for ritual purposes at other times. 

Also included in the box was Hekate Mist, an alcohol based spray. It smells lovely. Kind of perfume-y. Not sure what I’ll use it for yet but I’ll probably use it to bless the altar cloth that was also in the box. My website host won’t let me post a picture of the cloth because they think it’s too big (don’t know why because it’s the same size as all these other photos). The Altar cloth is a black cloth (maybe linen?) with a silver strophalos embroidered at the centre. I don’t usually use altar cloths because of fire risk but I might save this to use on Hekate’s night or use it as a base for a Hekate Cleromancy kit. I’m very inspired by Cyndi Brannen’s cleromancy chart and have been wanting to learn this divination technique.

One of my best friends just gifted me a handmade cleromancy kit so I’ll probably play around with that for a while, while I learn how to use it properly. I apologise for my use of the word “play” divination techniques aren’t something you should “play” with, but they do take a while to find a rhythm within. 

The second last item in the Devotional box was a Skull Spoon. I already have one of these that I use to scoop my loose incense blends onto charcoal with. I guess this will be a back up or used in potion brewing. I will definitely use it though.

All in all, I’m really happy with the quality and contents of this devotional box. It came from the other side of the country in just over a week (pretty quick for Australia Post) and I’m confident I’ll use everything that was included in the box. I’d definitely recommend purchasing a box in the future if your chosen deity comes up or if you’re a new witch growing your collection of ritual goodies. It takes time and money to start a “witch kit” and boxes like these can help. I find I use less tools and things in my practise as I get further along my path but every witch is different. Thanks Muses of Mystery!

Story: Vampire Fangs

I decided as an extra bonus this week to share this flash fiction I wrote about an altercation between a Vampire and a Tooth Fairy. It was just a silly little piece that came to me a couple of years back and I thought it was time to share it. 

     The smell of bacon woke him up. His head thumped heavy with a hangover. He kept his eyes closed hoping to sleep it off. His arm was hot, fiery even. That’s when he realised where the smell was coming from. Instinctively he pulled away from the sunlight but found he couldn’t move. He opened his eyes.
    This was not his coffin.
    There was no time to wonder where he was. All his attention was focused on freeing his arm from the sunlight.
    He heard a giggling sort of chirrup and the sound of a curtain being drawn. Relief swept through him as the fiery pain was replaced with a dull throbbing sensation.
    ‘Dear me I’m sorry about that. I didn’t think to close that last night.’
    The voice was annoying. It was old and grandmotherly yet high pitched and irritating.
    ‘Dear, dear. How do I go about this?
    The voice was still behind him, unseen. He looked around the room, frantically trying to figure out what was going on. The room was large and airy with pebble-like bricks making up the walls. His eyes focused on the pearly white stones and realised that they weren’t pebbles. They were teeth. Children’s teeth.
    A small figure flew into his line of sight about a foot in front of his face. She was portly and approximately the size of his fist.
    ‘You’re the tooth fairy!’ His eyebrows raised almost to his hairline as he started putting the information together.
    ‘I am,’ She chirruped again.
    ‘What the Hell is going on?’ He demanded, jerking against his restraints. He tore his eyes away from the elderly fairy to look at his wrists. ‘Why am I tied to a dental chair?’
    ‘It’s time for your appointment.’ The fairy responded, quirking her eyebrows.
    ‘What appointment? Why the Hell am I tied to a chair?’
    ‘Dear me you have some cavities,’ She babbled on, sticking her fingers into his mouth and poking around.
    ‘I don’t have cavities I’m dead!’ 
    ‘Yes. These are definitely going to have to come out.’ She tapped a fang with her wand as she thoroughly ignored his protestations.
    ‘You can’t take my fangs I’ll die!’ The Vampire spluttered.
    ‘But don’t you see? You’re already dead. And once I have your fangs I’ll incinerate your body and they’ll never know.’ A maniacal glee radiated from the Tooth Fairy’s eyes.
    ‘Who won’t know?’ He asked, fighting through his disbelief to process what was going on.
    ‘The Faerie council.’ The matron replied with a huff. ‘It is illegal to pull Vampire fangs you know. Problem is, every time one of you suckers die you turn to dust. Fangs and all!’
    ‘You’re mad!’ The Vampire wanted to back away from the deranged fae, but as it was, all he could do was stare at her in abject horror.
    ‘Maybe, but I’m getting those teeth.’ The fairy smirked. She advanced on him with maniacal giggling.
    ‘Help!’ The Vampire screamed. 
    The tooth fairy smiled as she magically extracted each fang slowly, the vampire screaming in pain.
    ‘My, my, what a racket you’re making over a couple of teeth.’ She held up the fangs in her hand, admiring them.
    ‘Right. Now to deal with you.’ She said to the pile of dust on the floor.

© B. Forrester 23/07/2018