So much ink has been spilled (or slung) over this topic that I’m not really going to waste too much of my breath trying to prove one method is better than another. When it comes to writing, I think the golden rule should be, “If it works for you, go for it.” But I want to talk about it in the context of my current work-in-progress, Willows of Fate.
Willows is in so many ways a new venture for me. First of all, it’s the first novel I’ve written where part of it takes place in the ‘real’ world, which I suppose lands it in the subgenre of urban fantasy. Secondly, it’s the first time I’ve tried to write exclusively in first person, present tense. No weaving several different POVs together and everything in the present. It’s been a little frustrating but rewarding. Thirdly, and most importantly, it’s the first time I’ve tried to do any serious plotting.
With Clara, I knew how I wanted the story to begin and to climax. I held a vague idea of the ending. Several voices representing different characters floated in my mind. Aside from that, though, I did not plot. I just sat down and wrote. I’m sure this method works for others and, to a point, it certainly worked for me. However, I can’t help but to think that the process would have gone more smoothly if I planned a little better.
This does not mean I wish to become an obsessive plotter (you know, those people who plot not only chapters but scenes) but I believe that there has to be a happy median between plotting and pantsing. (Pantsing is the term used for just going into a novel or story with no plan. A person who does this is called a pantser. It derives from the cliche ‘by the seat of your pants’.) With Willows, I’m seeking that median.
I’ve divided the novel into three ‘acts’. Act One is the set-up. Desdemona has found herself in a mystery and is sinking faster than a colander in the Atlantic. Act Two is the decision. Desdemona has decided to do something about her situation, for good or for ill. To quote Mr. Scott, “Live or die, Laddie, lets get this over with.” This act will include the story’s climax. Act Three is the wrap-up. All the consequences of the actions and the climax will have to be dealt with by Desdemona and other characters. Before entering each act, I will plan out what I want to happen.
(I have a theory that one can divide any novel or story into these three acts.)
As I write, I keep revisiting my plot and world-building, asking myself logical questions I would ask if I were reading this book. “If this happens, then what will happen to so and so? If they live this way, then how do they handle that problem?” Not all that I decide upon will enter my book but it gives me a mental frame on which to build. Doing this while writing both helps me to maintain control but also allows things to develop naturally without my forcing it.
I’m also going back to edit a little. I’m not doing anything major because it’s best to wait until the first draft is finished. However, if I work on things like consistency now, it will make life easier later. It will also help me to catch any plot threads that I am leaving hanging. Not only that, but as a member of Scribophile, I have people looking at my chapters as I write them, which both keeps me encouraged and on track.
Avoiding obsession and remaining focused on writing is difficult. Plotting when one is used to pantsing adds a whole new layer of difficulty. However, writing is an art form, and if I wish to deliver a beautiful work, I need to be constantly revising my process. I need to find something that will work to my best advantage. Therefore, instead of just sailing through the novel and hoping for the best, I’m trying a more controlled method that involves plotting. Hopefully, in December, you will all know how well it works out.