E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’ve always loved that quote on writing because it’s so vivid and atmospheric, but for me, at the beginning of my writing career, it wasn’t especially true. In the age-old plotter vs. pantser debate, I would have said that I was a plotter all the way. I loved outlines. L-o-v-e-d them. I would not only outline the book in detail, I would outline each chapter before I wrote it, and then each scene of each chapter, too. I don’t think that effort was at all wasted; it helped me write my first books and land my first publishing contracts, and even more importantly, I think it gave me a deeply ingrained sense of story structure and plot. After writing several books, though, I noticed something: no matter how much I outlined and plotted and planned in advance, a certain percentage of my outlined plot points never made it into the book, because when it came to actually write them, they either just didn’t work– or else more often in the course of the writing process, I would come up with something that actually worked better than what I had originally planned.
Because I like outlines, like I say, and because I also love learning more about story craft, I tried stepping up the plotter game, using things like beat sheets and pinch points and all-is-lost moments. And to be clear, I’m not criticizing any of those things, I think they can be vitally important story elements, I think that using them to structure your novel in advance might work great for some authors. It just . . . didn’t work for me. At all. When I tried to outline my story with that level of structure and detail in mind, all I ended up with was a giant, unworkable mess that I eventually scrapped. I really did love the basic story idea, so maybe I’ll go back to it . . . someday. For now, though, I’ve come to realize that my writing process actually works better if I let go of a little of the control and allow a bit of the pantsing side of things to creep in.
For me, personally, writing is all about knowing the emotional journey that my characters take over the course of the book. So before I start writing, I have three key emotional points in mind: [Read more…]