In the universe of authors there are really only two forms of intelligent life: “plotters” and “pantsers”. I admit it—I’m a “pantser”. I open my Surface, fire up Scrivener, and let the words fly without a single thought about the plot. Sure, I have an overarching whisper of a hint of a possible idea, but I rarely know the whole picture going in. In fact, a novel I have been working on for years is mired in writer’s block hell because the whole story is already in my head, and I can’t put it on paper well enough to do it justice.
“Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”—Stephen King
I usually start in the middle of the action, pulling a character out of thin air, place him/her on the page, and watch the fun. No matter how detailed I make my character sketch, though, the damn buggers always seem to have a mind of their own. Sometimes a new character will just barge into a scene without even asking, mucking up the grand schemes of my protagonist. I often don’t know what will come out of their mouths until I read the page.
What happens, though, when pantsing isn’t enough?
I recently began writing a serialized novel for the website Channillo, and I’ve come to the painful conclusion that I have to at least plan better. I like to write a chapter in a single shot, then go back and revise, sometimes not reconciling plot holes with earlier and later chapters until the first full revision. Sometimes whole scenes have to be moved around, or new characters added.
That simply can’t happen when you’re posting individual chapters online as soon as they’re finished.
Sure, I can make cosmetic corrections such as spelling, grammar, or some minor word choices. What I can’t do is change the story after the fact, since doing so makes everything your audience has read wasted effort. That’s a great recipe for losing readers.
I remember a certain television show based on a bestseller setting up a major character, with a major storyline that should have had an arc that lasted at least to the climax—only to see it all wiped out in a single scene. Worse, it made every scene leading up to that completely pointless.
I nearly threw a book at the screen.
Don’t be that guy. Those writers make me see red.
So now I’m stuck with the realization I have to plan, if not plot. And now my writing has ground to a halt while I figure out “where this thing is going.”