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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Best Laid Plans

As a writer, I am by nature an organic writer--or a "pantser," if you will, meaning that I prefer to feel my was forward one page, one sentence at a time, with plenty of backtracking for course corrections.

By practice, however, I'm forced to be more of a plotter, to organize my ideas for the book long before it's actually written. This allows me to work out kinks in the plot, avoid writing down 150-page blind allies, and sell books on proposal (since I'm an experienced novelist). It's a huge time-saver, allowing me to figure out which ideas have a shot at selling before I've invested the six months to a year it generally takes me to write a book.

But sometimes, it flat-out doesn't work, and I find myself second-guessing all my well-laid plans, reinventing everything beyond the bare bones of the story, and panicking that my pantser-plotter hybrid--a Frankenstein's monster of an amalgamation--will never come to life. This is stressful enough under any circumstances, but when I'm already on a tight deadline and facing the holidays as well, it gets even harder.

Right now is such a time, and only one thing keeps me going, the knowledge that if I keep blundering through the forest, chopping at the bad prose and weak motivations with my blunt-edges hand axe, eventually, I'll find my way into the light. Here's hoping I can manage it before my deadline!

Do you plot ahead, or are you an organic writer? For those of you who work from a synopsis, how often do you find yourself changing your mind as you go along?

7 comments:

Kay Hudson said...

Hey, Colleen! I've been a pantser for years--and a slow writer. In order to enter my WIP in the Golden Pen this summer, I had to come up with a synopsis for a half-written book. So when I decided to go for the Golden Heart, I had the road map and got to the end (way too rushed) by the deadline. Wrote faster than I ever have with that outline in front of me, but whether I can write one before half the book is written remains to be seen. I did have to rewrite the last few paragraphs of the synopsis--a few things shifted as I wrote--but that wasn't radical. Maybe I'll open up that Snowflake program and try plotting the next one from the beginning. Not holding my breath, though.

Colleen Thompson said...

One of these days, I'm going to figure out my process, Kay. As well as how to write a story with a simple, linear plot instead of some convoluted nightmare that takes years off my life to figure out.

Kathryn Paterson said...

Ha ha ha ha, this is so funny. I taught a class this summer on plotting, for those who wanted to try plotting. Ultimately, I think it's the best way to go, to have at least a plan, that then you can deviate from, BUT--my process is ANYTHING but linear. For instance, a month or so ago, I was terrifed, thinking, here I go, the book is ready; I need to start the query process. But there were three things I was still really unhappy with:

1) I was still unhappy with the overall structure of the very first part of the novel, mostly in terms of scene sequence.
2) I felt like there were a couple of gaps in the plot, now that I've tightened and deleted chapters.
3) I felt like the word count was too short. This bothered me a lot.

So I decided just to see what would happen if I started filling in the plot holes. And well, the good news is that I FINALLY feel confident about the novel. The bad news? This process has begotten FIVE brand new chapters. FIVE!

At least I'm not worried about word count any more . . .

Kathryn Paterson said...

And no, I'm not doing it to procrastinate submitting the novel to dream agent! Really! I'm DYING to work with an agent, and hopefully my dream agent. It's driving me crazy that I'm not done already. Gargh. Blargh.

By the end of January . . . hopefully.

Lark Howard said...

Hi, Colleen. As much as I want to be a plotter, my best ideas come when I'm going for a twist or hook that take my characters in an unexpected direction. What I now realize is I need that initial all-over-the-damn-place draft so I can find the most compelling elements/threads in the story, build on them and delete all the stuff that doesn't go anywhere. It's not the most efficient way to write, but I'm getting REALLY good at re-writing.

Colleen Thompson said...

Lark,
I know I do my best work while rewriting, with the whole story laid out before me. I know there are more efficient ways to work, but those ways aren't my ways and I just have to make peace with that fact.

Kathryn,
I'm so glad you're in touch with your process, but I really want to see you submitting and succeeding in 2012! Good luck!

Cai-Jo said...

Well, I've only written one novel, and several small beginnings and a couple real attempts at a second book. However... I don't plan ahead at all. It doesn't work very well, and I am a very slow writer as well.