Monday, April 1, 2019

Plotters, Pantsers and Bossy Characters

lavnatalia via Pixabay
Novelists often refer to themselves as plotters or pantsers. Plotters plan out their work using synopses and scene cards and all sorts of tools that make my head spin. Pantsers like me "fly by the seat of their pants," making things up as we go along. 

No matter which camp we land in, most of us seem to be wedded to the approach we take. Though I have tremendous respect for those who can methodically lay out a book piece by piece, I can't imagine doing it. For me, it would suck the joy right out of the writing experience.

I've tried being a planner -- crafting a synopsis before I write -- but I always end up frustrated. My characters are far too opinionated (go figure) and, synopsis or not, they lead the way. 

Sometimes, this is a good thing. On Saturday, for example, I sat down to work on the final Marita/Angel/Charli book and ended up writing a scene that popped up completely of its own accord. Not only did it drive the story forward, it offered an opportunity to link back as well and to allow my characters to grow in ways I hadn't even considered. 

Take that, synopsis. 

Mind you, I'm not flying completely blind (clearly it's cliché day in my neighborhood). Before I write a word, I figure out who my characters are and how they connect to each other at the start of the story. I have a basic storyline and some ideas about how the players will connect as the story moves forward, but sometimes they surprise me. I also have some idea of a resolution, but often it's not firm enough to qualify as "the end."

I used to think I knew everything about my characters before I started, but, over time, I've discovered that they're as dynamic as real people. And, if I don't allow them to grow and change, my story goes nowhere.

This final book has been a long time coming and my characters have dished on the porch swing quite a few times between Chasing a Second Chance and my still-untitled book three (I'm getting closer, I promise!) Each conversation I have with them, each adventure they take and each bit (or chunk) of dialogue in which they participate propels them forward, changing them just a bit, defying a prewritten synopsis in which change is scripted instead of organic.

johnhain via Pixabay
I once attended a workshop wherein a novelist who's written close to 100 books told us that if we were pantsers, we were doing it wrong. I was insulted then, but now, I just shrug off "advice" like that. Like life, my stories are so much richer when I collaborate with others. Sure, the "others" I'm collaborating with begin as figments of my imagination but, if I'm doing this writing thing right, by the end of the story, they're so much more. I get better, they get more interesting and the fabric of the story is richer as a result. 

Sometimes, we all need a little room in which to spread our wings.

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