by Autumn Birt
A while back, each of the Guild members wrote about their plot development style as a plotter or pantser (or somewhere in-between).
I’m pretty much a plotter. I keep small journals on hand to scribble down notes and ideas as they come to me, usually at amazingly inconvenient times like while making dinner. I outline the entire story arc, make notes on the minor plot threads that need to be tied up (especially now writing book 3 of my epic fantasy series. Two books of prior plot threads, ack!), and when I’m ready to really write, I outline the chapters by POV with brief notes on what is going on.
It sounds hugely time consuming, but since this is usually taking place when I could never actually be on my laptop writing (remember, ideas while making dinner. My husband has become acquainted with late and slightly overdone meals), it actually helps me write faster. When I finally DO get the time to write, I know exactly where I’m headed.
But that isn’t entirely true anymore.
You see, I have one character that I can never create an outline for. He is the anti-hero of the series. He never, EVER does what I want him to. Or what I expect. Actually, I think he is smarter than me, just don’t tell him that!
Seriously, when I sketched out my chapter outlines for book 2, Rule of Fire (not to interrupt this thought, but did you see the cover reveal last week??? Release of the book is next week. I’m so excited! Okay, back to the blog post.) and I wrote down his name, Sinika, as the POV. The rest was left blank. No notes on chapter content, action, place, nada. It drove me crazy.
But, I learned to accept that when the time came, he’d tell me what he was doing (maybe not planning, but doing sure). I had to trust him. Well, trust him with the plot. I wouldn’t trust him alone with a house plant I liked. His actions in the novel sometimes made no sense to me until later when he ever-so-nicely tied up a scheme I never saw coming. He is a chess master. I’m not even sure how pawns move.
I had never experienced that before, having a character who outwits me while I’m writing the darn novel! Which makes working on book 3 so much more interesting. I think I know what is going to happen and how it is going to end. But…with Sinika around, I’m just not sure. He is devious. I’m afraid he may just surprise me (again).
One character having a mind of their own as I wrote book 2 wasn’t a problem. But, it started to spread.
Never as bad as Sinika, thank goodness. I usually at least knew where the characters were and what they were up to (I sound like a parent, don’t I? sigh). But they took over dialog exchanges so well I had a hard time keeping up – and I type fast!
And then towards the end of the novel, I realized I’d completely flubbed up. I’d set up a situation that was bound to fail according to the rules of the world I’d created. It really needed to succeed or everyone would die or be captured. Crap.
Then one character jumped up and solved the problem while I was only just realizing it existed.
What the heck?
I’m not a pantser, but apparently my cast of characters have nooo problem with improv. It was a perfect solution. It added drama. And another chapter of my novel that I had to write. But I can’t grumble too much about that, as it ended up being an awesome and pivotal chapter. It is like thinking you’d screwed up only to realize you just designed the Eiffel Tower. Why complain?
So what does this mean about my plotter ways?
Well…I still outlined the chapters with POV along with brief ideas of the action. I have to make sure the pacing is okay and no one gets too far off target. This is supposed to be a trilogy for goodness sakes (ahem – I hope they are listening). I made notes on the story arc too. But when I had problems on tying up those plot threads…well I asked them what they thought (well, not Sinika. He wouldn’t tell me anyway. Just smirks, darn him.). It has worked out beautifully. I’ve abandoned some rough ideas that weren’t as true to the characters as they should have been (which they pointed out) and some points will be wrapped up so beautifully I only wish I could say I’d planned it from the beginning.
I’ve barely written three chapters so far to Spirit of Life, book 3 in the series. But I’m really excited to see where the characters take the story. They are in control. This is as close as I get as the author to a reader’s experience of being led through a novel. I just have to trust my group of characters know where they are headed…even Sinika (oh dear).
– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water and its Novel Companion and, most recently, the compilation of adventure travel stories Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels. Her next novel, Rule of Fire, will be available JUNE 21. You can also find her online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page and on Goodreads.