I don’t plot my books; they come to me in the spur of the moment from a single scene, idea, voice. Sometimes I know where I’m going, sometimes I don’t.
In the writing world this means I’m what’s commonly known as a pantser: I write by the seat of my pants. It’s a pretty accurate description, so I can’t begrudge the nickname too much. What am I doing? I don’t have a clue, and I never have. Some people lay out detailed maps of plot and character and detail; I’ve always found those get in the way of the words.
I mean, why would I bother spending all the time on something if I knew exactly what was going to happen? There are plenty of things I already know: they’re called backstory, and they get a paragraph each.
In case you couldn’t guess, there’s a bit of contention over which technique is the best, and I’m on the side that tends to get ridiculed. Typical, really.
But to me, having no idea what’s going to happen next is the entire fun of it. There’s a fight! Oh, crap, aftermath of fight. He’s going to do this…oh no, someone’s going to ambush him! Ha! I mean, if I can’t guess what’s next, the reader won’t be able to either, and that’s generally accepted as a good thing.
Which brings me to the book I’ve been beating my head against for the last few months: 2.5.
Ah, 2.5, as yet my nameless little side-book. It does have a name, actually, I’m just not ready to announce it yet. So for now it shall remain numbered.
There are three books in my main series, and two side books so far. In the case of many authors, this would mean that the side books are novelettes, shorter pieces with limited scope. And in some ways, that would be correct of my books, except for the part where mine are the length of fully-fledged novels: 54k and 63k to be precise. So why are they side novels?
Because they’re not in the main arc. The main arc of the Saint Flaherty series is the journey of Saint Flaherty himself. 1, 2, and 3 center on that journey and conclude it.
The point of books 1.5 and 2.5 is, well.
They’re really their own things. Told from a single point of view, they are background, character development, insight. They’re that little piece of the aftermath that all else hinges on.
I know, I know.
To make it more confusing, the order they should be read in is:
2.5 is set in the direct aftermath of book 2, The Mercy of Men, yet its own story entirely. It’s told through the eyes of a character who doesn’t want to be heard.
In some ways, he can’t be; he’s lost his voice. Believe it or not, that was really good fun to write, a wonderful challenge. The first fifty-thousand words went down like butter. I swear, if I could’ve spread them on crackers, I would’ve made a million. I spent two weeks in a trance of writing, fixated on the page, barely pausing to so much as put freezer food in the oven.
The last thirteen-thousand? Hoo-boy.
I thought I had a clear ending for this story. I spent two weeks understanding exactly where I was going, and this is what allowed me to write with such precision, such smoothness.
Too bad it turns out I was wrong about where it ended.
Hey, I’m a pantser; it’s a hazard of the style. We think we know what’s coming, turns out, three minutes before we write it, bam, something else should come here! Something far cooler, more interesting, something the reader will never see coming. And we do it!
And then sometimes we grind to a screeching halt, which is what happened mid-December. Alas.
A month ago, I went back to 2.5. I read through the entire thing, girded my loins, and began writing. I had decided that my book should be split into part 1 and part 2. It would be different, avant guard.
And after two weeks of dicking around with that, I realized I was completely wrong and scrapped it all. Twenty-thousand words straight down the drain as in the space of two days I wrote the ending of my book.
How did I do that? A single thought wafted into my brain while I was washing dishes. It sounded like, “What if the character lied?”
This is what writing is about for me, those moments of clarity. If it’s not going down well, it shouldn’t be going down at all, because when I have it right, I know it. Book 2.5, in all its nameless glory, is no exception.
There’s a reason pantsing takes a lot of ribbing; it’s messy, it’s unpredictable. But it’s also driven by genuine surprise, and to me that lends a quality of life that cannot be found in plotted novels.
Do you think plotting vs. pantsing makes a difference to the finished product? If you write, which style do you use? Why do you prefer it? Have you ever tried the other? Tell us in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
4 thoughts on “Finishing Yet Another Silly Manuscript”
I outline if I’m doing an essay, as it’s easier to keep track of the points I want to make. But for fiction, I’m definitely a “pantser”.
I start out with the main premise & characters, a few scenes I want to happen, and what I think the ending will be. Somewhere along the line, I start making an outline to ensure all the plot threads are resolved, but that comes after each chapter/scene is completed and is more of an edit guide than a plotting exercise.
It totally surprised me in the first book of the Donovan series that a character I completely loved died — I still cry every time I read that scene. But the end would not have been anywhere near as effective if she had lived. That’s the beauty of pantsing — things happen because they should, not because they have to follow some pre-arranged schedule.
Kind of like life, I think.
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Yeah, outlining an essay is just a matter of practicality (even if it’s been a while since I wrote one of those, wow). Your way of pantsing sounds very organized! I’m trying something like that right now with the MS I just started. Rather than diving straight in, I sort-of know the next few events to come. But it’s making me want to rush things. I dunno.
I’m a pantser through and through. Like you, I like not knowing what’s going to come next. When I’ve tried to outline, I ended up being so bored with the story and gave up on it before I even started. I feel like when you outline, you end up thinking way too much about the details and somehow talk yourself out of writing because something seems “stupid” or “unreasonable.”
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Yeah, that’s why I never say my ideas outloud. They die sad stillborn deaths that way. Besides, pantsing is exciting! What will happen? Anything!