November 3 Slice of Life Story Challenge: Lessons from NaNoWriMo: Planners & Pantsers

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Join us every Tuesday at Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I’m on my way with NaNoWriMo!  My personal goal is to write 500 words a day, and so far I’m at 2242 words.

I’ve already learned so much!

Did you know that there are two kinds of writers? Planners and pantsers?

Someone who is a planner is just what you would think: someone who plans out her writing with outlines or timelines, even charts or diagrams. Someone who is a planner might spend some time organizing characters, or even using apps and technology to create files for different characters or settings.

Someone who is a pantser flies by the seat of their pants, I suppose. A pantser has a general idea for the story, or a character and just starts writing. A pantser isn’t afraid to freewrite and see where the story takes her.

I am a planner — or at least I thought I was!

During the last week of October I spent a little time each day making timelines and tables of contents. I wrote out a list of characters, and drafted a few little scenes to experiment with character personalities and relationships. I revised my plan quite a bit over the week — I originally was going to have the main character go on a trip with her dad, and make a new friend along the way. My most recent plan has the main character and her sister going on a trip with their somewhat mysterious grandpa.

But now that I’m starting to draft, my plan is shifting and changing from minute to minute. At first I kept going back to my document that contained all my notes and changing everything to match the drafting I had done. Now I’ve given up on that, and I’ve left most of my plans in the dust.

I’m still using my table of contents. I have a story arc in mind. But all the character names have changed. Twice.

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Here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 1. I would LOVE feedback! I have very little experience writing fiction!

Here is what Jane was wearing on her first day of fifth grade at her new school: Black jeans, black T-shirt, black hoodie, and black high top sneakers. She had sculpted her short black hair so that it was sticking out in all directions, on purpose. She wore three stud earrings in one ear, and five in the other. She had added the fifth piercing herself, the night before.

Jane stood in the narrow doorway of Ms. Shah’s classroom, searching the room for an empty seat near the back of the room. The problem was, in Ms. Shah’s room, there weren’t any desks. Only circle-shaped tables, and a big brightly colored carpet surrounded by bookshelves. With a huff, Jane pulled the straps of her backpack a little bit tighter and stepped in the room, but didn’t go further. A few other kids brushed past her and joined the rest of the class, sitting at the carpet.

“Oh hello, Jane!” Ms. Shah’s voice broke Jane’s concentration. Ms. Shah was so small that Jane hadn’t noticed her sitting in the circle at the carpet with the kids. She blended right in with the fifth graders. Ms. Shah’s voice was cheerful, almost musical. “Choose any cubby you like for your backpack, and then join us at the carpet!”  

“Cubbies? At the carpet?” Jane didn’t mean for her voice to sound so grouchy. It just came out that way sometimes. But, really, cubbies? This was fifth grade, not kindergarten.

Ms. Shah’s smile wavered, but only for a millisecond. “Come over the meeting area and we’re going to start our day with a few songs!”

Jane huffed again and shuffled first to the coat hooks, and then sat on a milk crate on the edge of the carpet and rolled her eyes. This is so lame she muttered, but nobody heard her.

They were all too busy singing.

Sugar pie, honey bunch

You know that I love you

I can’t help myself

I love you and nobody else

Jane pinched the skin on her knuckles and suddenly felt that she was sitting way too close to the girl with the pink dress on. She scooted her milk crate back a few more inches, but then was too close to the bookshelves. There was nowhere to go, so she put her face in her hands and closed her eyes.

Jane kept her head down for the rest of the song. After the singing stopped, the teacher spoke a for a few minutes, and Jane kept her head down. When Jane finally looked up, the other kids were standing up and moving to the tables. There was a basket of notebooks at each table, and everybody seemed to know what to do. Jane wandered to her spot.

“Jane! Here’s a fresh brand new notebook for you!” Ms. Shah’s announced in a sing-songy voice. “So exciting! Your first day! You must have so much to write about!”

Jane looked at the fresh new notebook and fought back the urge to smile. “I don’t have anything to write about,” she stammered. She fixed her face into a frown.  

“Well, in this class, you can write anything you want.” And with that, Ms. Shah left Jane, sitting at a table with three other kids, who were all busily scribbling in their notebooks.

Jane opened the notebook to the first page and stared at it, pen in hand. Finally, instead of writing, she stood up and walked toward the door.

“The sign-out is on a clipboard next to the cubbies,” Ms. Shah called out sweetly.

Jane scribbled her name on the sign out sheet and walked out of the room.

The hallways were dark and windowless. Bulletin board cluttered with kids’ drawings and paintings lined the walls. She stopped to look at one kid’s drawing of a boat sinking. A whole school of sharks with open mouths swam in the murky blue water, just waiting for the people on the boat to fall in. Jane smiled for the first time that day, but then forced it away and kept on walking when she saw another kid walking her way.

Jane took a left, and another left and found herself outside her sister, Ava’s, classroom. She peeked in the doorway and saw that the classroom was empty. They must be at gym or something.

This room also had tables instead of desks, but they were smaller, for little kids. Jane walked in and sat down in one of the little-kid-sized chairs.  It felt good to be little. She looked around the classroom for evidence of Ava. Seeing none, Jane stood to leave.

But before she left, Jane picked up a Sharpie from the teacher’s table. For the second time that day, Jane’s lips stretched into a small smile. She walked up to the completely empty white board, and without a second thought, wrote in big, wobbly, gigantic capital letters.

THIS PLACE SUCKZ!

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