September 18, 2010

Wash Your Pants

My wife is inspired. This means: I don't have to cook dinner (yay!), it will most likely be delicious (yay!), you get another post (yay!).

Elizabeth Poole and I often discuss our differing writing styles. She's a plotter. I'm a pantser. Once I get a solid grip on the plot and the characters, I can often project what the forthcoming chapters will be (generally not more than 8 ahead, but I once went as far as 14). Even then, I'll often add chapters that I hadn't realized I needed as a matter of pacing or extra details that are necessary to keep the plot/character developments believable. I don't sit down and make an outline.

    Chapter 1, Jehovah gets boots from the charity drop box. Chapter 2, Jehovah talks to Sid in the hallway. Chapter 3, Old Hobbe interrogates Jehovah to make sure he wasn't joy killing. etc.

I have reached a spot in this particular wip (this particular wip being JEHOVAH'S HITLIST) where I need to take my pants off for a bit. Jehovah has finally received his hitlist (hence the name, obviously). He has five people to kill. I have always known he was going to kill five people and I always knew one of them would be a woman up above. Other than that, I knew absolutely nothing about that list. I didn't define that list until chapter five. For the first four chapters of the manuscript, the names were "xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, and xxx." I'm not making that up.

Side note! I use xxx as a quick-search indicator for something that needs to be referenced, corrected, or added. I use qqq as a marker so I can find that mark (usually the point I stopped writing when an appendix or later chapters that I just had to write make the end of the manuscript not the point of writing).

So I finally have my five names, and I know what they all do and why they are relevant to the progression of the story. This is a good thing. I pantsed my way there. Now it's time for Jehovah to find and kill them and I have to stop.

I could pants this. I could. It's not that difficult. I've pantsed three novels so far as well as the first ten chapters of this novel. The trick is, even when you pants your novel, a plotted outline can come in handy. I'm about to hunt and kill five characters. Without any forethought, I may simply repeat the chase five times (which is boring). Or I may not throw in any speedbumps (which is boring). I need to know where these people are, how Jehovah is going to find out where they are, how that pursuit is going to be different for each person, and I need to know how finding that person leads him to the next on the list.

I could pants it all, but it's harder to create the spiderweb of how these people are interconnected and how Jehovah's progressing assassinations unravels that web by the seat of your pants than it is to stop and draw some lines.

So if you're like me and plotting doesn't do you much good, don't abandon the tool all together. You can usually see a handful of chapters into your book anyway. A mid-manuscript outline can give your first draft some refined quality and save you a headache on your revisions.

(Now, the question is, can I take my own advice. I began brainstorming on Rori Schapp today and came up with a bunch of cool setting stuff on Pennsylvania Avenue, the fallen government of the Nation, the absence of Philadelphia Park, and the creation of the DMZ [dead-man's zone]. When you get exciting ideas like that, it's hard not to just sit down and start cranking them out. But eventually Jehovah is going to kill Rori Schapp and I need to know how he's going to pursue Mary Maryland or I'm just back in the same bucket I'm in now.)

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