Monday, January 02, 2006

Writing Without a Net

I finally finished chapter nine. I'm more or less halfway through the book, but at this point I have no idea how long the book will end up being. There are a lot of things I don't know about this book (such as the title).

One thing you're fairly sure to hear when you're in a group of writers is the plotter vs. pantser discussion. A plotter is a writer who plots books before writing. She outlines character arcs and turning points, stages of the heroic journey, the three-act screenplay structure, or whatever way she uses to organize her work. Some go so far as to plan what will be in each chapter. This kind of writer almost can't start writing the book without knowing what the ending is. A "pantser" writes by the seat of her pants. She may start a book knowing little more than an image, a line of dialogue or a character. Everything else unfolds as she writes. This kind of writer hates to have to write a synopsis before the book is finished because she doesn't know what will happen or how it will end until she writes that part of the book (and quite often, if she does figure this out while writing the synopsis, she's no longer interested in the book).

I usually fall somewhere between the two extremes, but leaning toward plotting. I almost never start writing a book until I know how it will end, and I have to have my outlines of at least the major turning points and the character arcs. But then a lot of the book comes to me as I write it. Even if I know what the event will be, the way it happens may be something I dreamed up during the writing process. I don't have a problem writing synopses and would write them even if they weren't required, just as a way of organizing my thoughts. The finished book generally sticks pretty closely to the synopsis (though my synopses tend to be fairly short and high-level, so there's not a lot of detail to stick to).

But in this book, I'm afraid I'm veering closer to the "pantser" end of the scale than I've ever gone before, and it's scary. I feel like I'm working without a net. I normally have seen a movie version of the book in my head before I try to write a synopsis -- like those really annoying movie trailers that are essentially a condensed version of the entire movie so that unless what you saw in the trailer was so captivating that you want more, you don't have to bother seeing the movie to find out what happens. This time around, I threw in a bunch of stuff to give me enough story to sell the book, but I hadn't seen anything other than a few of the major scenes. As I write, I'm moving further and further away from the synopsis. While some of the same events are happening, they're happening in different places and in different ways than I planned. Meanwhile, random new stuff keeps popping up.

For instance, last night I dreamed up two entirely new characters I never planned on. They just appeared in my head and took over my dreams, and now I think they've insinuated themselves into the story in a big way (like I needed more supporting characters!). And now I'm starting to seriously doubt the viability of one of the major plot points in the story. The more I think about it, the less it fits, and the less I can think of how it might work in light of the "rules" I've established for this universe. The problem is, it was a major, major turning point that sets up the run to the big finish, and I have no idea how to replace it or modify it.

I suppose I'll worry about that when I get there. Right now, writing is like driving at night. I can only see as far in front of me as my headlights reach. I can only see maybe a scene or two ahead of where I am, so there's no telling what will be going on by the time I get to that part of the book.

I don't think my editor will mind me straying from the synopsis as long as the main story elements and themes remain the same (they are -- so far) and as long as the finished book is good (I have no idea yet).

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