There are two ways to categorize an approach to writing a story: either you’re a plotter or a pantster.
Plotters, as you’d probably guess, are outliners, researchers, note-takers. They can’t dive into the actual story until they’ve got a firm grip on their characters, a step-by-step road map for how the story will turn out, and notes, lines, whole paragraphs of information.
Pantsters, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants. Oh sure, they may have a vague sketch of the story and the characters, and may have even done research on the finer details of the plot. But when it comes down to the actual writing, all bets are off.
I’m a pantster. My last two manuscripts I had no outline for whatsoever. Shadowdemon, by the time I reached book three, had a chapter by chapter description, but the first two books were largely done without any sort of guide.
The one and only time I bothered with an outline before I wrote a single word of the work itself was Iron Jewel. I had this great story all set out, complete with a complicated love triangle, but when I started writing it, the outline flew out the window. This sucked for one major reason: I had to keep both potential love interests in the story because they both served other, far more important purposes in both that book and any forthcoming books in the series.
I’ve since thought maybe I ought to go back and try and re-write it the way I’d intended. Except I became far too invested in the way things turned out, so I’m back to trying to find a way to make it more dynamic and exciting, while keeping the central relationship the way it is. It’s a pain in the ass, I tell you, and I’m going to put it off for as long as possible.
On the other hand, sometimes letting the story get away from you isn’t such a bad thing.
I’ve started on the second half of the first round of revisions for A Lesson in Vanishing. I anticipated I might have issues getting back into things, because I’d left it alone for so long. And I was right, on some level. Some of the entries were more difficult to edit because they were awkward to begin with, although in some way necessary. But I was plugging along, letting Frankie back into my head little by little. Then the oddest thing happened.
Frankie morphed from being a bitch to being incredibly vulnerable.
It wasn’t intentional, but as I was re-reading some of what I’d written earlier, the change makes a hell of a lot of sense. I look at it like delayed PTSD: there was an event in her past that at the time, didn’t bother her so much. Now, three years later, it’s destroying her. It’s turned the whole work into something that, to some people, will probably be far too depressing to be enjoyable. She’s nutty on the inside, barely held together by duct tape and some string. It’s wicked awesome. I love it.
If I’d stuck with the original path the story was taking (since the first draft was done, I could have) I wouldn’t have found this whole new side to Frankie. She would have remained this aloof, slightly cold and somewhat unfeeling shell of a person. Instead, she’s breaking apart and scared, yet still trying to be the person that doesn’t need to rely on anyone else. Way more interesting, in other words. The hard part I’m finding is injecting a little levity into the story. Even someone coming apart at the seams would still laugh and joke on occasion.
I’m sure, at some point in the future, I’ll end up having to plot, and research, and outline, because I’ll have a story to tell where it’s so damn important that I get everything just right (in fact, I can see the full length version of War Heroes doing that).
But I give myself permission to deviate at the fork in the road and see where it takes me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a pot of gold at the end of it.
Or maybe it’ll just be a giant mud puddle. And hey, sometimes mud puddles are fun, too.