I’ve always been a pantser, sometimes called a discovery-writer, which means I get some kernel of an idea and then I just write my way forward from there. It’s like reading a book, only I happen to be writing it as I go along! Although, sometimes I don’t even write it chronologically…
Recently, though, I have become a bit disenchanted with pantsing, and for one simple reason–it takes too bloody long to finish a book. Not the first draft, granted–I can get that done in a few months given my current schedule (day job etc.). Unfortunately, the first draft doesn’t tend to be a complete book per se. It can be riddled with contradictions as I changed my mind about characters, or I might have dropped plotlines that weren’t interesting. Sometimes, I’ll have several different versions of a scene, and I like parts of all of them, but they’re not compatible with each other.
Fixing all this stuff, while at the same time preserving what I like about the book, is like solving an immense jigsaw puzzle. It can take me six months just to work out a plan that I think has a chance of solving everything. Then, when implementing the plan (i.e. writing the second draft), I invariably discover other problems. And by that time, I’ll have been working on the book for, oh, a couple of years maybe? Other ideas are nagging at me by then, other books wanting to be written.
So, I’ve come to the point where I’m going to give planning, or plotting, a real chance. In principle, it’s not so different from what I usually do, only this time I’m doing it before the first draft rather than after. Granted, I’ve already written a bunch of experimental scenes–35 K or so–and I suspect I’ll always need to do that first, to get a feel for the characters, their goals and their voices. (I never could get any of the “character questionnaires” to work for me.) So I’m not sitting down to invent this book from nothing, I’m happy to say, as that would probably scare the pants off me (Har har 😉 ).
During the last couple of weeks, I’ve honed down the idea to a sharp, shining little gem. The setting is coming alive, the characters, the stakes, the basic plot, all of it coming together. I think I know what I want to accomplish with this book, and it’s a great feeling!
Now the question is, how much further should I take it? I know I won’t plan the ending–I’ve realized I need that suspense for the actual writing. I do know the character arcs, the main conflict, and the final stakes, so I know what I’m working towards, even if I don’t know how it’ll all work out. What about the intervening steps though? How much should I plan it out? Key turning points only? Scene-by-scene outline? I always did love my notecards for the revision process… Hmm….
If there are any other once-die-hard pantsers out there who have moved towards plotting, I would love to hear how you went about it. How much plotting did you discover was the right amount for you?