How an INTJ Writes a Story: Plotting vs. Pantsing

joelsnyder922_v4As my newest novella, Shadows and Nightmares (buy it on Amazon!), is now published, I thought I would talk a little about a question that many ask me. How do you write a story?

Really, this question could be better phrased as, “how do I write a story?” Every writer is different in their method. And what works for one writer will not necessarily work for another. So, what I’m going to do is give you an insight into how I approach writing. Today, I’ll talk about the first task that I do when I start to write.

The Plotting vs. Seat-of-the-Pants Spectrum

I used the word spectrum. Sounds smart, right?

Anyway, many writers land somewhere on the scale between being the person who plans every scene or who just kinda wings it. A famous plotter is James Patterson, and a famous pantser is Stephen King. Neither way is better than the other.

As an INTJ, I fall on the plotting side. I create a plan, a framework going forward. One of the things I do is write out a brief summary of every scene (chapter) in my books before I write them. In my summary, I include things like location, time of day, character development, how it moves the plot forward, etc. This allows me to keep the story moving.

However, I don’t plan the nitty-gritty things in my  outline. If I do that, I lose the ability to be flexible. Playing within the framework is important to me. I discover nuances as I write. Sometimes, I’ll change little things as I go to plug plot holes and the like.

The advantages of plotting are several. 1) I always know where I am going. I never feel lost as I write. The bones are already there. All I have to do is flesh them out. 2) I rarely have to cut a scene, because every scene has a purpose in advancing the plot. In fact, I usually add scenes in the initial editing phase. 3) I know what my characters will do before hand. This eliminates a lot of plot holes/inconsistencies.

The pantsers’ advantage is that 1) their writing can feel more organic. They are literally discovering what happens as they write. 2) They are more open to changing the plot as demanded. Nothing is set in stone. 3) Their characters can seem more dynamic.

Because plotters do much of their work upfront, they do less editing after it is written. Pantsers do less work upfront, but generally do much more editing on the back end. The work still has to be done either way.

Which approach works best for you?

(Here is a great article by Anton Vann on how to write either as a plotter or pantser. It’s longer and gives a you a lot of great ideas.)

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Shadows and Nightmares Cover Reveal and Story Synopsis!

The cover for my new novella, Shadows and Nightmares, is finished and ready to share! This is the second story in my Giftless Chronicles series. Get caught up by reading my first novel. And, if you want special sneak previews and other goodies, sign up to my email list.

My new story picks up a few months where the last story left. Everyone is still reeling from the events of the first book:

When vampires captured her family and turned her brother, Corinne did what any responsible thirteen-year-old would do: she grabbed her magic sword and went to work! Haunted by trauma and terrible loss, she and her fifteen-year-old friend Madelyn seek solace at her grandparents’ camp for Chroniclers. But dark forces, once set in motion, cannot easily be stopped. Madelyn’s nightmares terrorize her, a heartless bureaucrat threatens her grandparents, and a horrific monster from the Old World is preying on inner-city Chicago, leaving Corinne with impossible choices. Can she trust a handsome, powerful young Hunter at the camp to help her?

On Love and Politics

Every so often, friends on Facebook will post something like, “If you don’t agree with me on X political ideology, unfriend me immediately!”  And I smile to myself and think, “No.”

Now, I’m not trying to be sneaky, like some spy for the other side. I’m not being obstinate, though some might accuse me of that. I just don’t allow political, religious, or cultural divides determine who I’m friends with. At best, such an action is unprofessional; at worst, it is unloving.

When I talk about love, I do not mean that emotion fluttering around your stomach when you see that special someone, nor am I speaking of the warmth in your stomach when you hug your favorite family member or pet. I speak of an action: showing care and concern for others even when you don’t think they are being particularly lovable.

In Jesus’ day, the political and religious leaders grew angry at Him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were collaborators with Rome. They often overcharged people and kept the money for themselves. They were hated.

If they existed today, virtue signalers would attack them on social media and earn thousands of likes. Political leaders would call for boycotts of anyone even remotely associated with them. Self-righteous celebrities would denounce them.

But that wasn’t what Jesus did. He sat down with them. He ate with them. He spoke kindly to them. Was it because He thought it was okay to be a tax collector or sinner, like some sort of moral relativist? Matthew 9:12—But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Unfortunately, we have degenerated into a society that prides itself on being morally righteous and yet completely unloving. We’ve lost the virtue of showing care and kindness to others who don’t agree with us, especially people we don’t like. Nowhere is this more blatant than on social media. I recently saw a post on Facebook that vilified a political opponent as “pure evil.” When I think of people who are pure evil, I think of people who murdered millions, the Stalins, Hitlers, and Maos of the world, or a serial killer or something. To my knowledge, this politician had done none of that.

How have we come to this? I have many thoughts, but I’m running out of room here. Perhaps, that is a post for another time. Let me leave you with this. Feel free to disagree with others’ politics, religion, and lifestyles, but please show love to them through speech and actions. Have opinions, but show love. Be passionate, but show love.

Love, love, love, love love, love them.

Sneak Peek at My New Novella, Shadows and Nightmares!

As promised, here is the first chapter of my new story set in the Giftless Chronicles universe. If you like it, I will be sending an extended sneak peek (more chapters!) to the people who’ve signed up to my email list on Mon, Jan. 14.  Enjoy!

Prologue

“I told you we’d have to kill them,” Emilee said as she  ripped her sword out of the cowering werewolf’s leg. She pointed the sword at his chest, her blue eyes flashing with anger. “Would you care to accept our agreed-upon offer now, Ben?”
Ben yelped, then nodded. “I’m sorry, Emilee. It won’t happen again. We lost a lot of the pack trying to get this. The Knights—”
“Not my problem. You try that stupidity again, and Donovan and I kill even more of your pack.” Emilee glanced over her shoulder, her blond ponytail swishing to the side. “You see, Donovan, this is why you never make a deal with a werewolf if you can help it. They always try to rip you off in the end. Bunch of bottom-feeders.”
Donovan, a tall, dark, and muscular young man, dropped the female werewolf whose blood he’d been draining. She plopped onto the ground, her neck completely chewed through. His sleeve smeared her blood across his face in a failed attempt to clean it off. “Thanks for the lesson,” he grinned, “and the snack.” His teeth, currently two rows of razor-sharp teeth, vanished into a normal set.
Emilee smiled her beautiful white teeth back at him. “Well, if you’re finished playing around, Rybak could use your help with the artifact. It’s a little heavy. I need to pay Ben here what we owe him.”
Donovan nodded and cocked a dark eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am.”
She turned to Ben. “Shall we conclude our business? I have places to be. Walk over to my car, nice and slow. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Y-y-yes, of course.” He limped towards her car as quickly as he could, the sharp point of her blade poking in his back. Emilee always breathed easier after the shoe dropped with these deals. Werewolves might be carrion eaters, but you never knew when they might go feral, particularly during the full moon when they could transform into their powerful wolf-man hybrid forms. That’s also why she insisted they have their meeting during the crescent moon—less chance of getting overpowered. Not that the werewolves hadn’t tried. She glanced at the ten semi-hairy corpses that littered the ground.
When they arrived at her car, Emilee pushed a button on her key, and the trunk opened. “Go ahead and take the first briefcase. The money’s all there. We pay our debts.”
Ben placed the briefcase on the ground, popped the clasps, and lifted the lid. He checked the money, and nodded appreciatively. “Thanks for money. We—”
“You’re going to leave $50,000 because of that little stunt.”
Ben flinched, his stringy brown hair jerked in clumps against his head. “Yes, yes.” He picked up several thick stacks and handed them to her. He closed the case with a look of satisfaction. “Let me know if we can do anything else for you,” he said.
Emilee snorted. “I doubt we’ll need to hire you for a while. You tell that to your boss.”
He fidgeted, and held up the case against his chest. “Understood. By the way, what is that thing?” He lifted a bony finger towards a large, gray stone cube that Donovan and Rybak were lifting onto the truck.
Emilee had already turned her black-clad body away from him. “That’s definitely not something you need to know, if you want to live.” She left him standing there and walked to the truck-bed where Donovan and Rybak, a tall, thin, pale vampire, had finally placed it.
Rybak grunted. “Next time, bring more vampires. I don’t like all this heavy lifting.”
Emilee traced her hand appreciatively over a series of Anglo-Saxon runes etched into the artifact. She knew the other side had the same inscription in Latin. She’d been there when it was made.
“It’s been a while,” she said, smiling as her fingers slid into the grooves on the cold stone. “Strap this down well. I don’t want it sliding around during the long drive back.”
She was about to give them more instructions when her phone rang. She frowned as she saw who was calling, but she answered it with a sigh. “What now?”
“We have a new problem,” a gravelly male voice said with a thick Scottish accent.
“If I have to clean up another one of your messes…”
“This is not my fault, I assure you.”
Emilee sniffed. “Whatever. What’s the problem?”
“One of our residents is coming your way.”
“Really. Who and what is it?”
“I’ve emailed you a complete dossier. I wouldn’t waste any time on this if I were you. She’s very dangerous.”
“Like I was planning to?” She said sarcastically.
“She knows you from the old days.”
Emilee’s pale face turned even paler. “You mean…her?”
The gravelly voice rumbled in the affirmative.
“I’ll handle it.”
“You’d better,” he said.
Emilee finally regained her composure. “I will. I definitely will.”
She hung up and turned to Rybak and Donovan. “We have more work to do. This could wreck all our plans for The Return.”

Thanks for reading! Again if you want the extended sneak peek, please sign up. If you haven’t read my first novel yet, here it is!

The INTJ Musician’s Top 7 Nonfiction Books from 2018

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while, so I thought I’d let you know about some great books that I’ve read this past year. This year was a first for me. I don’t usually read nonfiction, but I decided I needed more skills and knowledge. To help matters, one of my jobs allows me to read during lulls. I’ve squeezed in a lot more reading this year than usual, and you are the beneficiaries!

Disclaimer: 1) Some of these books can be directly applied to life as a working musician. Some will not. They’ve all helped my understanding of the world, though. 2) I have linked to their Amazon pages, but you could do what I did, which was order them from the library. I don’t get any money from sharing these links.

Without further ado, here are my top 7 books of 2018:

your creative career

7. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino

This was an excellent book with a more philosophical take on being a creative. I would recommend it for those who need to get into the mindset of being an artist and a businessperson. It’s very pithy. It’s got great aphorisms that you can take to heart.

war_of_art

6. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This short book will inspire those of us who want to create but are too afraid of taking the plunge. I don’t agree with all the language in it or even all the ideas. However, it has helped me focus, and I read it every so often in order to reorient myself.

hillbilly_elegy

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I descend from hillbilly stock on both sides of my family, so this book was eye-opening for me. I even grew up in a place nicknamed “Hazeltucky” (that wasn’t a compliment, either). Even though I’m a few more generations removed than Mr. Vance, I still could see some of the same mindset struggles in my own life.

ren soul

4. The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine

Those of us with multiple interests and skill-sets often struggle. We don’t know how to use our skills to create an income and a life we actually want to live. Thankfully, Ms. Lobenstine specializes in helping people with multiple skills/interests find careers. I highly recommend this book if you are of this mind and are looking to change your life.

intellectuals and society

3. Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This was the first book that I’ve read by the great thinker, Thomas Sowell. To be honest, it was a bit dense. I struggled to read some of it. What kept me going was the fact that the material was so great. Having spent  a lot of time in academia, I’ve met people with the bias Mr. Sowell is attacking. All too often, people with degrees look down on people who don’t. We should value people’s opinions based on the merits of their argument, instead of judging them based on how wittily they express their opinions or how many letters they put after their name.

ethnic america

2. Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell

I know, two books by the same guy? This was much more readable than the other book I read, and it was a fascinating read. Learning about the struggles of the major ethnic groups (at least, up to the 1980s—seriously, it needs updated) in America gave me a lot of context. Highly recommended!

the money book

1. The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-timers, and the Self-employed by Joseph D’Agnese

The Money Book has changed my life more than any other book this past year. It contains a ton of helpful information on how to deal with personal finances when you have irregular income. Because of this book, I have saved more than I ever have! If you are a working creative, you need to get this book!!!!!!!

Life Update December 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so please bear with me. Life has been quite busy, and December is a musician’s money-making season. I will have done 10 different performances between Dec. 1-22! Add that to a novella in my Giftless Chronicles that I’m editing, and I’m keeping busy! So, without further ado, here is my life update.

*Inhales Deeply*

Vessel for the Arts presents The Story (Dec. 7-16)

While I have participated in theater productions as a singer, this was the first time I have ever conducted a musical. It certainly has been a growing experience for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Learning words such as “vamping” and “striking,” working with an orchestrator, voice coaching, conducting actor/singers and orchestra—it’s all been a blast. All the people involved have been wonderful. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

You all need to see this production. It’s pretty cool. And you’ll even get to watch the back of my head for the entire performance! We have four more performances this weekend in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Check out this link to find performance times & locations.

A Celebris Christmas (Dec. 22 @ 7 pm)

I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride with the Celebris Ensemble, and I’m excited to say that we’re performing our first Christmas concert! Come to the Celebris Ensemble’s first Christmas concert! We’ve got some wonderful music lined up for my concert next week. The singers are all top-notch and the repertoire is not too shabby, if I do say so myself. We’ll be singing Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, some Praetorius, some Whitacre, and more! Finish off your season of attending Christmas concerts by coming to ours at Oshtemo United Methodist Church.

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

My kids will be singing tonight! They have done great work, and I’m excited to announce that we will be participating in the Michigan School Vocal Music Association’s Choral Festival (MSVMA) this year! It’ll be fun taking on the public schoolers!

Branch United Youth Choir

We finished the first half of our season by singing with the Branch County Community Chorus on Dec. 1. The kids did a great job. I’m very proud. Now, I need to prepare for the second half starting on Jan. 22…

Miscellaneous

It is always thrilling to see my students grow as singers and artists! To that end, I’m still teaching voice lessons. I also am performing with different ensembles here in MI! I think that about wraps it up. Have a Merry Christmas!

The Unforgivable Sin in Music

As musicians, we are always pursuing the perfect performance. We spend years honing our craft. We practice incessantly, sometimes for hours every day. We pay experienced teachers lots of money, hoping that they give us the skills to play that one scale perfectly or sing that beautifully placed high note.

I’m here to tell you that all of that will only take you so far. There are lots of people who can play technically proficient music that I don’t want to listen to, and there are lots of people with significant flaws in technique that I do want to listen to. For crying out loud, computers can play things more accurately than a human ever could. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna go to a concert played by computers.

So what do I look for in a performance or a composition? I want to feel something. Make me feel the thrill of love or the despair of abandonment, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the sheer power of Niagara. Draw me in. Give me no chance to look away. Do this, and I promise you I will pay attention.

The ability to express these powerful emotions engages the listener. This is what separates a good artist from a great one.  Ultimately, audiences will forgive a musician who plays wrong notes; they won’t forgive a musician who consistently fails to move them.

This is what I strove to do when I recorded the ballad that I wrote, The Hunter and His Love (SpotifyAmazon, and itunes). Did the musicians and I perform it 100% correctly? Nope. There will always be mistakes even if others don’t notice them. That’s not the most important question. Did you feel the darkness of a world where even the heroes can die? Did you feel the dark, personal tole paid by the heroes? That was what I was going for.

A good musician plays the right notes; a great musician feels the right notes. Sadly, students often miss this in their pursuit of musical mastery. Technique is not the end in-and-of-itself. Technique is what frees us to express ourselves exactly as we want, without the distractions of wrong notes and sloppy playing. And it is when we express ourselves clearly, honestly, and beautifully that people will stop to listen.