Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trying a New Process

When the question “pantser or plotter” comes up, I always say “hybrid.” For the uninitiated “pantser” means flying by the seat of your pants. In other words, the writer starts writing and goes along for the ride, letting the plot unfold on the page. Plotters plot. Some of them make general notes on the direction of the story they want to tell and others write detailed outlines. I’ve heard of writers putting together forty page outlines.

Pantsers say they would be bored to tears if they already knew what was going to happen. Plotters say they will get lost in the weeds if they don’t know what is going to happen.

My hybrid process in my Samuel Craddock series is to start out with a general idea of what precipitated events, and a knowledge of who did the crime. Then I start writing to discover how the story will unfold. At about 20-30,000 words I usually grind to a halt, not sure what will happen next. At that point I write a loose outline of how to get from that point to the end. It isn’t a detailed outline, and things can change, but it gives me a direction.

In the book I’m working on now, that has changed. I’m writing a thriller, and for some reason the mere idea of an outline makes me feel constrained. I want to discover the action as if I am reading the book. I know the end, know who the bad guys are, and know the plot. What I don’t know is how everybody behaves as we move through the book.

Doing this I find meeting my daily goal of 2,000 words really, really hard. Why? Because I have no idea what direction the characters will take. I am discovering who they are as I go along, and in the process am discovering what they are likely to do. I have had a few great surprises, but mostly I find myself slogging along, watching over their shoulder as they show me what they are up to. I find myself favoring some characters over others. I’m doing multiple points of view, and I have to balance whose “turn” it is to be on stage. I have to balance the timeline, making sure I don’t have someone move forward faster than the main action.

The result is that I have chunks of prose that I know will have to go. In some places I mark time, waiting for someone to make a move. At the end of some days I feel like I don’t have any idea what I wrote. Other times I feel pretty good about things—someone explodes onto the scene and shows me what they’ve got.

At close to 60,000 words, I suddenly realized that I have the arc of the book set. Suddenly the converging story lines are all at a critical moment and I know that from here on out, they will start moving together to work toward the end. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but it’s an adventure I’m willing to go with.


Donnell Ann Bell said...

Oh, Terry, this makes me feel so better. I just looked in my scrap file and I have 11,200 words that I have abandoned from my current WIP. And the 20,000 mark is the hardest. It's like a jet propulsion engine that either revs or fizzles out of orbit. Great blog.

Mary Barton said...

Thanks for sharing your process! Love your writing!