As I explained here, I’m a pantser. That means I don’t plot my stories before I write them. I start with a first sentence and go—without knowing characters, conflict, or anything else. I absolutely love writing like this. It feels like magic when characters start popping up out of nowhere, saying all kinds of crazy things that I would never say myself. I wrote the first draft of A Duchess is Always Right like that, scene after scene after scene of beautiful, amazing discovery. The fact that many of those scenes had nothing whatsoever to do with each other didn’t bother me a bit, until I realized I’d written 50,000 words that went nowhere. My solution to that was a painful one: print the whole thing, cut out each scene, and cobble together a plot from a whole stack of random strips of paper.
As you can imagine, there were holes in the plot, scenes that hadn’t been written. There were also scenes that had been written (scenes I loved) that wouldn’t fit the plot, no matter how hard I tried to shove them in there. Draft #1 was a disaster.
Draft #2: filling in the gaps.
Draft #3: working on transitions between scenes.
Draft #4: Fleshing out, smoothing out, and figuring out random bits that still needed to be worked on.
Draft #5: That’s the one I’m on now. Responding to Laine’s comments. Upping the emotion. Really working on the relationships between the characters.
Draft #6 and Draft #7 still to come. See that? I have at least 2 more drafts to go before I can get this book out there to readers. Ugghh.
While there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and I’m really enjoying crafting a better book, I’m also thinking this is no way to write a novel.
But Book #2 is calling to me. Flashes of my main character are starting to appear in my mind, kind of like when you see something out of the corner of your eye. Snippets of dialog on scraps of paper are starting to litter my bedside table. I even bought a book about corvids (crows, ravens, and rooks) because my main character has a pet rook.
I think I’m becoming a plotter.
And maybe breathing a serious sigh of relief. Maybe. I’m not quite sure yet whether this is a good thing.
I feel a bulleted list coming on.
The downside to pantsing:
- Slow. Trust me, I’ve been working on Duchess for something like 7 years now, not always with the intention of writing a novel, or even the intention of finishing it, but still, I should’ve knocked this one out a long time ago.
- Too many drafts. The fresher things are for you, the easier it is to see the work. I think one of the reasons this book has taken so long is because I’ve had to take breaks from it just to be able to see what the heck was going on.
- Too easy to procrastinate. Without a plot, if it doesn’t “feel” right, it’s very easy to walk away from the computer and wait for the muse to want to hang out with you again.
The upside to plotting:
- Faster. No, you don’t dive right in, but the work you put in up front seems to save you a whole lot of time and heartache.
- Fewer drafts. FEWER DRAFTS! Just the thought makes me giddy.
- Focus. If you know where you’re going, you can focus better and hopefully create the kind of discipline you need to get the book written. Plot out your book. Plot out your life. Here’s where I’m headed today kind of thing.
You can tell I’m trying to talk myself into this, can’t you? Or maybe trying to justify changing the way I write.
Like I need permission. Hah!
This coming week, I’ll be thinking about what plotting means to me. Will I know who my characters are? Will I know what happens to them and why? How much planning do I need to do, etc. What tools will I use to create my next book? I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, if anybody wants to share their plotting tips, I’d love to hear them.