Historical romance author Jo Beverly wrote a very interesting article for RWA’s national magazine, the Romance Writer’s Report, about a topic guaranteed to provoke discussion: plotting vs. pantsing. She calls pantsing “flying into the mist”, and she’s a confirmed, open believer in that technique. All of the books or stories I’ve written, up until this one, have been mist stories. I had a vague idea of the plot/HEA, a much stronger idea of the characters and their struggles, and a desire to write. So I sat down and wrote the books without thinking much about goals, motivations, conflicts, structure, hooks, etc. This was more…fun…in some ways than preplotting a book, the method with which I’m experimenting for the current novel. This time I created charts to track the plot and build tension, wrote character back story, identified turning points, etc. I’m now writing a fast draft, which is to say I’m writing forward to the tune of about 1500 words a day until I’ve reached The End.
In the past I’ve discovered if I don’t Just Do It, I get hung up on things like research. My current hero works on the oil rigs. I have never worked on an oil rig. No one I know has worked on an oil rig. I know nothing about oil rigs, or the oil industry, so when I get to points in dialogue when he’s supposed to say something about working on an oil rig, I simply type in DO MORE RESEARCH HERE and keep on moving forward.
This amuses my editor no end. I had several rounds of edits sent back with a note saying, “Want to finish that research?” The funny thing is, by the time I’ve sent the book to my editor, I often don’t need whatever detail I felt I was missing when I was writing or revising the book.
The planning writers can do before writing a work definitely smooths out the process. I now have a list of about 40 scenes, including turning points, plot points, and emotional reactions that drive the story forward. I know what motivates the heroine and the hero. I know their end goals, I know what they give each other they can’t get from anyone else. That’s my stick in the sand: I’m writing what I’ve got…until someone does something surprising that takes the story in a different direction. When I was revising and expanding LIBERATING LACEY I got so confident in the writing I forgot to look at my scene outline until after the book was PUBLISHED. Needless to say, I’d deviated from that document…but the end result was better than what I planned.
So far knowing all this stuff hasn’t prevented me from writing the fast draft. For some authors, it does. My friend Julie Miller says if she knows what’s happening she can’t write the story. The characters’ surprises keep her coming back to the keyboard. Most writers I know well don’t do a really detailed outline – they get an idea, do some planning, then go for it.
Finding that balance between knowing enough to make sure the story’s workable and not knowing so much you get bored with the writing isn’t easy to do. If you’re hung up in the planning, try writing a scene or two, a key scene. If you’re stuck in the middle of a draft, try taking a step back and doing a synopsis or an outline and see if that helps. Most of all, keep writing!