I’ve never been much of a plotter, or forward planner, either with my writing, or in life. I’m a bit of a drifter, always trusting that the answer will make itself apparent sooner or later.
I guess I live on trust. Or hope. Or some naïve notion of universal balance.
But it’s not always sensible to be so flippant about forward planning. My lifetime’s worth of unfinished novels will tell you that.
I’ve always been a staunch discovery writer (or pantser if you prefer. It’s not a phrase I like, but that’s a discussion for another day.) I’d like to say it’s an attitude that’s served me well, but that would be a lie. It’s served me, well, okishly. It certainly works for short stories. I can happily jump into a 7,000 word piece with little more than a vague idea of a possible ending. Longer pieces? Like I already said, I have a lifetime’s worth of unfinished ones, so I guess that’s your answer.
So, I became a plotter. A loose plotter, but a plotter nonetheless. And now? Well, you can grab either Cutting the Bloodline or The Bottle Stopper from Amazon, and my next book is just a few chapters off the end of its first draft. So, I’m guessing it works.
But, still, the first draft is not entirely my own. I start it, that’s for sure: I create the characters, dress them, give them existing relationships, and drop them into their world. I nudge them around the plotline, gently leading them back onto track when they need it. But I give them their freedom. They usually start asking for some leeway at around 15k-20k words. They know their own minds at that point, and aren’t so keen about the constant prodding.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about writing, it’s that my characters are far cleverer than me.
My current work in progress, the 2nd book in The Paper Duchess Series, hit that point a couple of days ago. One of my main characters dropped one heck of a clanger, and changed not only her own mind about something, but also forced a completely new ending to the book, and, in turn, the requirement for a new title. It was kind of earth-shattering. But, you know, this ending is so much better, it’s improved character dynamics, and brought this character up from a passive wimp to a fully engaging, proactive superhero.
So, yeah, I still let my characters wander. And if I have to cross out items on my plot, if I have to go back and add extra foreshadowing, even if I have to spend another few weeks agonising over finding a new title, I’m happy to do that.
The first draft belongs to my characters. The second draft, that’s when I get to wield my power through a big red pen.