Hello, SEers! Mae here today with an overdue confession. Perhaps I should explain how it came about…
Even writers who carefully plot, plan, and meticulously outline their novels have the unexpected happen. For authors who routinely pants their books, it’s common to have twists pop out of the blue. But what about characters? I’ve found that when a character appears unexpectedly, an earthquake usually occurs with fault lines splintering everywhere.
As an example, while working on my last novel, End of Day, this popped from the keyboard:
Jillian had no intention of taking him fishing, or of getting involved and becoming friends with his mother. Getting involved was how people got hurt. How Madison ended up with a shattered mind and a life spent staring at four walls.
Who knew Madison had a shattered mind and spent life staring at four walls? Certainly, not the author (a favorite phrase of mine). Up until two pages earlier, I didn’t even know Madison was Jillian’s sister, but it sounded good, so I went with the flow. I’d pantsed characters before. As a writer, every book I’ve written (except for one) was pantsed from start to finish. No worries then, right?
It took a while to figure out Madison’s story, a twisted thread which developed over the course of the novel. She ended up introducing me to three additional characters, all of whom became central to the plot. That meant more threads to work and rework. Her story grew from footnote to key element. Good, but bad. I had fault lines splintering everywhere.
As a panster, this is where it’s easy to get into trouble. The more Madison’s story developed, the more I had to change. Pantsers are used to mopping up after themselves, but the work usually requires a tremendous amount of backtracking and rewriting—not to mention making repeated apologies to critique partners for constantly shifting things around. The two ladies who work with me are saints. I can’t begin to count the many times I started a segment for critique with:
I changed this . . .
I had to rewrite the ending of chapter one because . . .
I added an extra scene to explain why . . .
I can honestly say End of Day wore on my last nerve and made me envious of authors who plot. I know I will never outline my books in minute detail, but I now see the benefit of having a story line in place. I went into End of Day blind, knowing who my lead characters were and that I wanted the tale to revolve around archaic legends involving church grims and folk memories. Other than that—dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum—I figured something would pop up.
There’s nothing wrong with creating under pressure. A part of me must thrive on it (or used to). When you have a deadline looming and a book to deliver, there is no I’ll-think-about-it-tomorrow phase. Every waking moment is devoted to scrutinizing your WIP, whether visibly or mentally.
There is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And then a brief span of blissful relief—before the whole cycle starts over again.
I’m going to do things differently this time. I’d like to have a map, even if only sketchy, to avoid quake zones and far-flung fault lines. I will never give up pantsing completely, but moving forward I’m going to make a concentrated effort to plot.
Confession signed and delivered. Hopefully, I can stand by it.
I know plotting vs. pantsing is a discussion that has been hashed around ad infinitum, but I believe there’s always something new to learn. If you’re a pantser, how do you handle reworking plot threads? If you’re a plotter, have you ever had an unexpected character hijack your work and spin it in a new direction? Plotter or panster, does the grass ever look greener on the other side? Have you thought about switching camps?
There is a lot to chat about, so let’s hear your thoughts in the comments. Ready, set, go!