Apr 26, 2012

going organic (plot-wise)

In the writing world, we have terms that define the way a writer plots things. For example.

Outliner (n): a writer who keeps detailed notes and synopsis of their projects. They rarely deviate from their roadmapped plots. One such writer is J.K. Rowling, who apparently had all 7 books of Harry Potter outlined before she started writing the first one.

Pantser (n): a writer who "flies by the seat of their pants" plotwise. They write as the words take them and do not make outlines or keep notes.

A writer who does a bit of both is known as a "pantyliner" (hehe.)

I'm a natural Pantser. I've tried outlining, believe me. But then my manuscript automatically rebels and says, "Hey, guess what, I'm going this way now. Have fun rewriting your outline, sucker!" People often ask me if I know what will happen story-wise when I start writing a book. The answer is: kind of. I usually have a vague (and sometimes not vague) idea of where the story will go. But this always manages to change as soon as I actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were). And I have yet to know what the ending will be for any first draft I start.

But, honestly, Pantsing a novel is scary. There are so many possible ways a plot could go that you can often take wrong turns and go a ways down a false trail. I've grown to find that these false trails are necessary to the development of my novel. Sometimes I have to write useless scenes or silly side-plots to get to the heart of the novel. And while this means I have to throw away thousands of words, they weren't written in vain. Every sentence gets me closer to the end goal of a great and hopefully functioning first draft.

Every one of my books starts off with a seed of an idea. Some tiny wisp: a picture or a first line that sticks in my head and won't leave until I write it down.

When I do write it down, more comes. The seed starting poking out feeler roots: the character, their voice, the setting. What happens next. And what happens after that.

The first few scenes are always rough and exploratory. They almost never end up in the final draft (and if they do, they look very different!). These feeler scenes help me realize who the character is and what their story is (both past and future). Usually in these scenes there will be sentences or instances that will automatically compel me into the "what next." And I go from there.

The what next scenes break out of the ground and pile together on top of each other, growing and growing until the core of the story appears. Sometimes it takes a good deal of time for this core to appear. Such as with Cutthroat Novel. What I thought was the core conflict was actually.... not. Well, not fully.  And I just realized this when I decided to add more vantage points.

But for me, writing organically doesn't mean going completely wild. Just like a tree, novels need to be pruned and cared for in order to grow well. Those wonky side-plots can be hemmed and trimmed to provide good tension and rich subtext. Characters who were hidden in the woodwork can be coaxed out and formed into intense, beautiful voices.

So, I guess I'm more of a "Pantsing with care" kind of writer.

What about you guys? Are you outliners or pantsers?

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