While I’m an author who outlines the story first, writing can still be a confusing journey from the first line to that feeling of relief when I write my two favorite words in the whole book: The End. Plotters crave that road map that shows what’s coming next because it saves us from writing scenes we’ll only have to throw out. (Hey, I’m no fonder of murdering my darlings than the next writer.)
But not all plotters write in a linear fashion. Since my stories reveal themselves in bits and pieces out of sequence, novels develop like jigsaw puzzles. “Just tell the story without focusing on details,” friends encourage. But if we don’t have the information we need, we wait for that inspired answer. The detail-oriented among us struggle, unable to see the bigger picture of the forest when we have all those detailed trees to consider. We need time to work out the scenes in our mind before we’ll commit anything to paper. The story is in the details, and so is the devil.
This patchwork writing process makes me think of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs.” Love, or its story, doesn’t come in a minute; sometimes it doesn’t come at all. And there’s nothing silly about struggling with a meandering plot that continually wanders so far off course the story thread almost disappears.
Here’s the real problem with being a plotter: lots of time is lost waiting for scenes to present themselves. Not to sound risqué, but that lost time has turned me into a partial pantser, forcing my imagination instead of waiting for answers. Writers who have to patch together a story as it develops find it often leaves lots of holes. (Okay, now it really sounds risque.)
Both plotters and pantsers have to be aggressive rather than passive and ask themselves at some point, “What happens next?” And then they have to answer the question. The reality is that as long as the story is tightly plotted and details are consistent throughout, readers can’t tell how a story was constructed once it’s published.
Unlike the Rolling Stones’ claim (my last English rock band reference, I promise), time is not on our side. Editors assign deadlines, children need attention, and real-life jobs claim our time. So ultimately, no matter how the story gets written, the point is just that: to get it done.
So I’ll keep my inspired bits and pieces of the story puzzle, but I’ll also hang onto my cattle prod (my impatience bordering on desperation) to chase away sluggishness and move the story along. Maybe it will improve my productivity. How do you write? Plotter, pantser, or hybrid?