The Plot Thickens

Evin turned his collar up against the misting evening rain as he left the dark hulk of the stone hall. Across the common, beaten in recent weeks by military drills, he could see two guards huddled near the faint warmth emitted from a recessed torch. He knew their eyes would trace his every step across the open expanse shrouded in its rain soaked early dark. Evin ignored them.

He kept his pace unhurried and his face downcast, losing the distinctive scar on his chin to the shadows of his coat. By the time he was half-way to the outer wall, his hands were trembling. Blood pulsed in his neck with enough force he thought it would choke him.

A turn around the stable toward the western gate blocked the view of the guardsman. Evin took three more steps before breaking out into a run. He hit the locked oak door set deep in the wall at full speed. The old hinges rattled but didn’t budge. Above his pulse, he heard a shout from behind him. Evin threw himself against the door once more, hoping this time the old cross piece would cave in. The sound of footfalls hurrying across the damp ground behind him was faintly audible over the cracking of wood. Evin put his shoulder into caving wood, pressing forward with his full body. And then . . .

I don’t know. That is why I’ve become a plotter instead of a pantser.

When I first started writing novels and short stories, I was a pantser. I was also constantly having to stop to figure out what happened next. This is part of the reason why I think my first novel, Ancient Fragments, took so long to write as I mentioned in my last post. I work 40+ hours a week and have too many activities going on outside the office. I’ve found there is nothing more discouraging for me to have run out of ideas on what happens next. The curser sits before an ocean of emptiness while I watch it.

bleep . . . bleep . . . bleep . . . .

This is not only bad for my psyche, but I also find myself turning off the computer to disappear outside and go hiking! Even with Born of Water, I started off writing it in pantser mode, heading off into the unknown with Niri, Ria, Lavinia and Ty. We all promptly got lost, bored, and stalled. Not an epic start!

This is my fuel for creative writing!

I knew with Born of Water that the four not-quite friends would end up going north when they wanted to go south, but I didn’t know what would send them there. It was when I sat down, knowing I had the makings of a good story but no idea what to do with it, and started figuring out what was going to happen that I became a plotter. I wrote an outline of events, loose enough to allow lots of fun writing but detailed enough to give me a direction. It is a method, honed slightly since then, that I still use.

It really helps me write if I know where I’m heading with my plot. I am excited and that comes through in my writing. When I sit down in front of my computer, I can pick up immediately where I left off with plenty of energy focused in moving forward – not wasted on figuring out what happens next. And seeing the pages adding up helps my motivation as well!

I’ve also found that when I’m put on the spot getting to know my character and wandering about with an open ended plot while trying to write a novel, I tend to remain in familiar fantasy territory. This is true with characters, settings, and themes. Even with the story started about, I slipped back into another theme and time started in my short story “All is Lantern Light” (well it is related to the full plot of which “All is Lantern Light” is just a piece!). It is only when I take the time to write down an outline of where the story is heading that I can question where a character is from and why they act a certain way. I find the time to build originality and separate out what needs to be pushed further. Not to mention being able to hint at and tie up sub-plots. Being a plotter makes me a more original writer. Who’d have thought an outline would have that result?

The thing is though, I am still a pantser in first developing a story. Ideas sprout in my mind and I let them grow untended, moving along with them as they develop. If I think an idea has some potential, I hit rewind and run through it again. Then again. Then I play with a few additions or variations. Eventually when I feel pretty excited about the whole theme, I write down a framework including action sequences, lines I don’t want to forget, and potential points of view. Then I take the time to flesh out info on characters and places. I have several potential novels in this state with the notes serving as a personal short hand to the daydream version in my mind.

So after having time to ponder it, what about Evin? Geee . . . I don’t think he is going to make it out without help . . . . That gets me thinking! 🙂



10 comments on “The Plot Thickens

  1. We’ve had similar experiences. I started off trying to write as a pantser. I always began with strong ideas and good intentions, but got lost along the way. I either gave up, and didn’t finish things, or the couple of short stories I did finish had weaker endings. Then I came up with “Magic University” – unintentionally, I ended up plotting it out because I needed to know what the twelve trials were going to be in the competition and the schedule for the twelve hours during which my characters would be competing and being judged. It was a very loose outline, but it simplified everything. I didn’t struggle the way I had in the past. I’ve been a plotter ever since and now, I won’t sit down to write without at least having a vague outline. It’s nice to see I’m not alone.

    • It is very nice to not be alone! How funny we had parallel experiences, which brought us both to being plotters. I keep my outlines loose too, just enough that I know where I’m heading but can create along the way. It keeps me motivated and saves a lot of editing out all the “wandering plot” later! LOL

  2. Great post, Autumn. There is nothing worse than getting to that ‘and then…’ moment and having no idea where to go. I, like you and Chantal, use the loose outline approach, ready to shift things if a better idea occurs, but knowing where I ultimately want to end up. I already know how my Icarus Fell series will end, though I don’t even know yet how many books I will take to get there.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Bruce!

      You know I think the worse thing to me when I would hit that “and then” moment with nowhere to go next is the frustration of wanting to write and being stuck, especially having limited time to write! Oh well, being a plotter fixes that problem, right? 🙂

  3. I am basically a pantser. It works for short stories, but not at all, for me, for longer pieces.
    I’m working on my first way longer piece and starting to fill in the outline.
    I’ve always thought that writing with an outline would be easier. It’s not only easier, for me, but the only thing that makes a longer piece possible.
    The writing is still challenging, but at least I have a beginning, middle and end.
    When I was writing short stories, I wrote one a week for many months. At the end of that time I believe I was writing very good stories. Solely as a matter of practice.
    ATM, my life is full of interruptions, and I’m trying to cut down on the causes, because I really enjoyed the rush of competence and good writing.
    I think whether pantser or plotter, whatever process we find works for us becomes easier with practice.
    Great blog. I’m happy for the inspiration and encouragement.

    • Hi Louise,

      I really admire you for writing a short story a week for a few months (I agree, pantsying short stories is quite fun!) What a great way to improve and practice writing (and style development).

      I’m so glad you like the blog as well. I suppose blogging is my “short story” practice. I’ve noticed that my writing is much tighter when I’m blogging. I guess all writing is practice.

      Good luck on your much longer work and best of luck on finding the space and peace to concentrate on writing.

  4. I’m an organic writer (really hate the word pantser — sounds vaguely condescending). I’ve tried outlines and can’t connect my creativity to them. I need to write the story to figure out what it is.

    • Hi Linda,
      Do you find you have a problem tying up minor plot lines or can you keep them in your head (or find them in edits, lol!)? I certainly agree a story needs to become on its own. Sometimes I think all of my notes are a form of procrastination. 🙂

      • I actually have problems even getting them into the story. I can be so goal focused on the story itself that I end up with a few sentences of subplot at the beginning, a few sentences of subplot in the middle, and a few sentences of subplot at the end. At the moment, I’m having to manually add a character arc and a subplot in revision by thinking about what I need to add to individual scenes.

  5. Pingback: Do you trust your characters to write a novel? | Guild Of Dreams

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