July 19, 2011

Plotter-Pantser: Talking with Author Deborah Batterman

The Writer

A native New Yorker, Deborah Batterman is a fiction writer and essayist. Her stories have appeared in anthologies as well as various print and online journals. A story from her debut collection, Shoes Hair Nails, available in both print and digital editions, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She continues to seek that balance between the longer work-in-progress (i.e., the novel) and the shorter, of-the-moment posts on her blog, The Things She Thinks About. . .

You can also learn more about Deborah at the following sites: Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

The Book

The settings of these stories - 1980s New York City, 1950s Brooklyn, Las Vegas, an exurban town post-9/11 - are as diverse as the rich palette of characters drawn with heart, humor, and sensuality. With a sharp sense of the telling detail, Deborah Batterman weaves narratives around the everyday symbols in our world and their resonance in our lives.

Click the cover above to purchase Shoes Hair Nails today!

Plotter ... Pantser

Are you a plotter or pantser...and why? Talk to us about your plotter/pantser role as it relates to the experience you had in writing your latest publication.
A plotter or a pantser? Somehow, I see this an interesting variation on the question of plot-driven vs. character-driven stories, the point being you have to start somewhere.

For me it often begins with an image. The genesis of “Shoes,” for example, was seeing pairs of shoes lined up on the floor of parents’ bedroom, each with its own story, collectively a narrative about a relationship. Another story in my collection, “Hair,” began with a line – “The last time I saw my mother I was propped on a phone book in a red leather chair at Jeanie’s Hair Salon.” “Crazy Charlotte,” a title that’s as much an image as an ironic reference, is a composite character, though I do picture a woman from my childhood who was a bit offbeat, maybe troubled. This approach probably makes me a little more of a pantser—I let the image linger, see where it takes me, at least as a kind of jump-start to a story.

Where do I go from there? Writing, as I see it, is an act of discovery. With fiction – and even more so with poetry – it demands a certain willingness to get beneath the surface of consciousness, give in to the unexpected. Decisions about perspective -- e.g., first person, third person, dual perspective – need to be integral to the narration, not imposed. Finding that balance is part intuition (i.e., pantser), part skillful weaving (i.e., plotter). There are writers who insist you cannot write a story without a full bio of your main character. I’m happiest when I discover something I did not know about him or her.

All of which is to say, from the very beginning I usually have a sense of where a story is headed, but the discoveries and detours along the way are what shape it and bring it to its denouement. As I sit down to write, scenes will come to mind; one scene leads to another, a sequence unfolding around an image, a situation, an event giving rise to a short story. Maybe for its sheer magnitude, a novel demands more of charted course. That doesn’t mean I won’t start out ‘from the gut,’ so to speak. The novel I’m currently at work on is framed around the archetype of a journey, a modern-day ‘Odyssey’ of sorts, rooted in the four cardinal directions. Originally I began it in the East, with the other sections clearly spelled out, only to realize about halfway into it, that the starting point was wrong. In a way, there’s a kind of dance that goes on, ‘pantser’ and ‘plotter’ making room for each other when the time comes for a shift. In the sense that revision is, literally, “to see again,” each draft is a chance for a writer to consider whether the ‘pantser’ has flown a little too freely and lost ground or whether the ‘plotter’ has never really gotten off the ground at all.


Deb said...

Hi, Deborah,
I'm a blog book reviewer and I'd love to read and review your book! What a great concept for stories.
If you have any interest in a blog "tour" which would include a review, book cover, author bio. and "blurb" or interview, if you wish; as well as posts on several well known online spots...please email me: thebookishdame@aol.com
Thanks, Deborah/TheBookishDame

Cathy K said...

Shoes Hair Nails is a truly superb collection of short stories overflowing with wicked about-turns, richly wrought characters and a depth of meaning that will astonish you. Read these stories once and you'll be dazzled, read them again and you'll be a fan for life...

Shonell Bacon said...

Deborah, I'm passing Deb your info here, so she can contact you, :-)