Writers all fall somewhere on the continuum between ‘plotter‘ and ‘pantster’. I’ve written a couple of posts about how screenwriters can teach authors a thing or two about plotting. How to use the three act structure. How it helps to plan out your inciting incident, your midpoint, your protagonist’s ‘dark night of the soul’. In fact my enormous corkboard has plot points pinned all over it. However I feel like a bit of a fraud in this regard, because when it comes to the crunch, I’m a pantster.
33,000 words into the new novel, and my corkboard is struggling to keep up with the unexpected directions my narrative keeps taking. I’m cheating by updating my index cards as I go, pretending that character A was always going to be a pilot, and that character B was always going to have a ten year old daughter. It’s like forging a path into the unknown, and making the map afterwards. But that’s okay, because often it’s only in the writing of the story, that its direction becomes clear. Novel writing is a mysterious and deeply organic process, and it would be boring to always know exactly what was going to happen next.
That doesn’t mean an initial planning phase is wasted, however far the evolving story may depart from its original concept. A plan sets a writer off in the right direction, with a sense of purpose. That much updated, unforgiving corkboard will still shine a glaring spotlight on any ugly plot holes. And the final narrative must still contain every element of a rip-roaring yarn. Just remember that all the possibilities of a story might not show up until you’re well into the journey. Sometimes you need to throw away the plan, and let the magic happen!
Couldn’t agree more Jennifer! I do a lot of research and write copious notes, I even have a folder devoted to timelines and plot points. But like you, I’m a panster and love the exhilaration of suddenly discovering something I’d never thought of before. For me, the plotting comes after the fact, once the story has revealed itself. That’s when I tighten things up, and slash and burn the fumbling waffle. I’ve often thought the whole writing process would go a lot faster if I outlined things first, but I know I’d lose all interest in actually writing the story if I did that.
Yep, the story needs to surprise the writer as much as the reader …
Great post Jennifer. Love your cork board. Maybe I should invest in one. Like you however, it might struggle with the number of times I change my mind… 🙂
Whatever you’re doing, don’t change! Although there is something very satisfying about pinning things up …
It’s true of me too. Try as I might to have it all sorted, I get into a panic when it goes off in a different direction, necessitating a change in the plan. But oh the wonderous things that evolve when a story is telling itself.
You too eh?