The piles of post-it notes on my desk and in the front cover of my editing notebook are growing. For each new thing I discover about When Skies are Gray I must make careful notes for the other five books in the two series which sprang from it.
This is the hard part about being a pantser. Some writers plan everything before they set pen to paper. They have detailed bios of each character. They do character interviews. They have detailed outlines of each chapter, each book, and the entire series. Some writers wing it and wait to see what’s gonna happen. Those are pantsers.
I tried outlining when I first started writing back around 2001. As soon as I finish the outline I was bored with the story. Bored with the outlined story, I would think of another story, outline it, and be done. Each outline represented a finished story in my mind. There was nothing to explore. I knew exactly what was going to happen and thus the story was told. On to the next! (This also happens if I tell too many people about my new story.) I tried writing character bios and couldn’t answer half the questions. The closest I got to doing this successfully was with my handy DnD character sheets. But more often than not, I just ended up feeling like less of a writer because I couldn’t tell you what happened every day of my character’s life or what their favorite colors and foods were. Now that I have more confidence in my abilities, I realize that my inability to answer these questions stems from the fact that they are not important to the type of stories I tell. I’m often just giving a few weeks snap shot of my characters’ lives at their most brutal point. A point when color and food are not significant.
Somewhere in there, I realized that if I ever wanted to write a full story I was gonna have to stop planning. My first rough draft would have to be my outline. The story would be the Character Bio. After the first rough draft was completed, I could go back and add in more details, flesh out the characters, and fix problems in the plot. I generally start a novel with a scene in mind that has touched me for some reason and a theme. For my current WIP the scene is the moment this line is spoken, “I never once left you unguarded.” The theme is protection. These two things guide the story. They are my lamp-post lighting my way through the unknown forest of my imagination.
This worked great for me. Since becoming a pantser – and changing some other things about my writing habits – I’ve gone from zero finished stories to three manuscripts, one in progress, and two more simmering in the back burner of my mind. Score for me!
But this system does have its problems. Hence the pile of post-it notes on my desk. Just over the last two weeks alone I’ve discovered that my stories are pointing one of my main characters down a very specific career path. I’ve discovered an element in When Skies are Gray which could create a lot of character depth. It’s been sitting right under my nose for almost 4 years – and I thought this story was done. As I was driving down the street the other day I saw something that made me totally rethink the antagonist in my new novel. OMG that’s a lot of rewriting. Because I don’t plan, I have to often go back and tweak.
What I love most about being a pantser is that the story is new to me as I write it. In fact, it’s a lot like reading a good book. When you pick up a good book, you open the pages to a new world. You meet new friends and new enemies. You are wrapped up, snuggled in, totally engaged in this new experience. Writing is like that for me. Even now, I’m struggling with my multiple-personality girl, Sky my ghost hunter, and Conner my new cop. I’m sorting through with them, along with them, beside them, what they are like, what they do, who they are. At the same time, I’m going back over my original characters, my first team, my crew and making them stronger, more real, more them. It’s amazing.
So, are you a pantser or a planner? If so, what do you love about it? What is the hardest part for you about your planning style?