I’m here today to talk to the plotters out there. I want you to try something for me.
But first, full disclosure: I am by nature a discovery writer. A ‘pantser.’ As I write more, I find I do want and need the structure of the story to be clear in my head before I start writing, because I have a lot of really fantastic first chapters written, but not a lot of finished novels. I still don’t consider myself a plotter, but I’m not sure I can 100% call myself a pantser anymore. I’m never going to be a full on plotter – detailed outlines take all the joy out of the act of writing for me, but I know how it starts, I know how it ends, and I have a rough idea of how I’m going to get there.
Having said that, I’ve made a good try at outlining. And both times, my inner muse rebelled and I ended up writing something totally unplanned.
The first was when I wrote my short story Duped. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ll tell you this: The main character is a rich, spoiled, self-absorbed bitch. I had detailed out every aspect of her day, but when I wrote the scene where she arrived at the clinic, she decided all on her own that she was having an affair with her chauffeur – a not entirely consensual-on-his-part affair.
Side Note – if your characters do not just occasionally do their own thing without any conscious decision on your part, you are missing out.
I wrote an additional two scenes for that short story showing the relationship between the two. In the end, neither of those scenes made it into the final draft, but the affair remained, mostly in subtext, and the story was stronger for it.
In another story, I was embarrassed to realize that my bad guy’s minions were all male. As a champion of “rah-rah-girl-power!” I knew this needed to be fixed, so I immediately changed two of the five to women. However, when one of the newly assigned women had her first line, she abruptly decided she was the dead King’s bastard sister and the rightful heir to the throne. She pretty much picked up my plot, turned it 90 degrees, and took off in a new direction entirely.
Though I ended up taking her royalty-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-sheets away from her and turned her into just another minion, I did realize that in fact my story did need a bastard-sister, and, once again, my story ended up stronger for it.
So, back to my plotters, waiting patiently for me to make a point:
On a recent episode of the Writing Excuses Podcast, the writers challenged plotters to just try pantsing.* Just… give it a try.
And I agree – just give it a try. See what happens when you let your characters free range. See where they take you.
*Full disclosure, they also challenged discovery writers to try outlining. So, yes. I also support that. Give it a try.