The Witchstone Amulet by Mason Thomas
Publication: August 27th 2019
Cover Artist: Tiferet Design
Plotter vs. Pantser: That is (not) the question
Summer is what I like to call “con” season. During these months I go to several different conventions (not least of which is San Diego Comic Con) and my focus, not surprisingly, are the panels with authors and/or about writing. Regardless of who is on the panel or what the intended topic of the conversation is, the discussion invariably centers on process. And every established author has their own distinct, trademarked, approach to writing a novel. Like snowflakes, no two authors tackle the monumental task of novel writing the exact same way.
I love listening to each author discuss their process for that very reason. Every answer is so different. There are commonalities, certainly, but there is clearly not one formulaic approach. Although there are books that provide a structure to novel writing, there really isn’t a one size fits all approach. Every author “eats that elephant” in their own way. And I find great comfort in that.
During these panel discussions, the question “are you a pantser or plotter?” always seems to come from someone in the audience. For those who might not be familiar with these terms, a pantser is the type of writer that flies from the seat of their pants. They let the story unveil itself organically, one scene leading to the next, the author discovering the arc of the story as they write. A plotter is just the opposite. They map out the entire story arc ahead of time and only when they know the beginning middle and end, do they begin to pound out the words.
George R. R. Martin described it similarly as writers come as either gardeners or architects. Perhaps a more artful way of describing the two approaches, but it essentially says the same thing.
The problem with that question is the answer isn’t a binary one. From my experience, it is very rare that an author is either fully one or the other. It is far more likely that an author falls somewhere between the two. The vast majority of authors when pressed will say that they are a hybrid of both. And I fall into that group as well.
Years ago, when asked, I would always hang my hat on the pantser hook. But even then I wasn’t a pure pantser. I had elements of being a plotter as well. Today, the needle is pointing straight up in the middle. I am sitting at the top of the bell curve. I am a panter, or a plotser.
So, I hear you ask, what is my process? What does it look like and how is different from other authors?
It always begins with a nugget of an idea. I can’t tell you where it comes from honestly, but it bubbles up from some corner of my brain and demands my notice, not as a “EUREKA” but a quiet little “huh.” I’ll poke at the idea first, see if it’s worth a closer look, and if it wiggles a bit and giggles back at me, I’ll give it more attention. From there, the idea gets sticky and other ideas start to cling to it, and it expands and expands until I start to envision an arc of a story.
Then, I am compelled to start writing. I let the dog off the leash and let it run. I will pick a scene, something that feels like where the story might start and I’ll just type. Maybe I’ll bite off a chapter, maybe three. But during this time, I’m feeling out who these people are that find themselves on my page, and what the world they inhabit might look like. I allow my subconscious to take over and I’m along for the ride.
But as I settle deeper into the story, I need to make some solid decisions before I can continue. I can’t have characters making life choices if I don’t know the circumstances of their past. And to know those circumstances, I need to know all the various facets of the world that shaped them. So, now I go through the process of world-building and shaping my characters. The world they inhabit is a force that drives their decisions in life, so I need to make sure I understand all the political, economic, and social components. I map out all the character traits, both positive and negative (especially the negatives) and I like to find one dark secret that each character harbors that no one else knows.
I start to envision their journey and begin to map out where I see them going and where they will end up at the end of it all.
Now, it’s a game of leapfrog. When I write scenes, furthering the story, their actions and interactions unveil more of the big picture that I didn’t—or couldn’t—predict. There are nuances and happy discoveries that only come to light when you are immersed in a scene. I always say if I’m surprised my readers will be too, so I embrace this part of it. But along with the wild reveal of the plot, it requires going back and adding these unearthed details to the character backstories and to the world, because those new discoveries will affect the further trajectory of the story. This then dictates what future scenes are necessary to continue to propel the story forward. Each of these feeds the other.
By the end, my first draft, surprisingly, has about the same word count that the final revised version will have. This is after I’ve deleted the chaff and added more scenes that flesh out and round out the plot.
There it is: my process. It’s not pretty, and it’s not refined. It’s a mad, chaotic scramble that often feels more like a frantic excavation than writing a novel. Michelangelo is quoted as saying that he was only revealing the work that was trapped in the stone, and in a strange way I understand that thinking. The true nature of the story reveals itself to me and I am on some level powerless against it.
One important point to add regarding my process, however. I need to know how the story is going to end—at least generally. I may not know the route, but at least I need to know the destination.
In my view, the reason the question of plotter vs. Pantser is so frequently asked is people are looking for guidance as to how to best tackle that monumental task of writing a novel. But the important take-away in all this is there is no singular approach, no right way and no wrong way. Every writer approaches it differently. The only way to know what is right for you is sit down and discover it for yourself.
Blurb for THE WITCHSTONE AMULET
Protect it at all costs.
That’s what rugby player Hunter Best’s mother told him before she died. But when Hunter surprises an intruder in his Chicago apartment, he discovers her amulet stolen. Hunter pursues the thief—all the way through a strange vortex. He wakes in a bizarre and violent world, a benighted realm on the threshold of civil war.
The queen has become a ruthless tyrant, punishing any who oppose her, weakening the kingdom’s defenses against the brutal Henerans. To survive, Hunter must depend on the man who robbed him, a handsome former spy named Dax, now a leader of the resistance that believes the queen is an imposter–a Heneran disguised by magic… who also looks identical to Hunter’s mother.
There’s no love lost between Hunter and Dax, and even if Hunter grudgingly agrees with the resistance, he just wants to reclaim his property and go home. But he might be the only one who can oppose the queen and end her reign of terror.
Mason Thomas Bio
Mason Thomas began his writing journey at the age of thirteen when his personal hero, Isaac Asimov, took the time to respond to a letter he wrote him. He’s been writing stories every since. Today, he is ecstatic and grateful that there is a place at the speculative table for stories with strong gay protagonists. Mason, by all accounts, is still a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and waistline indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding furiously at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress up, whether through cosplay, Halloween or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by daring middle school students to actually like school and encouraging them to make a mess in his science classroom. He lives in Chicago with his endlessly patient husband, who has tolerated his geeky nonsense for two decades, and their two unruly cats who graciously allow Mason and his husband to share the same space with them.