So they say there are two ways to write a book. One is to plot it within an inch of its life in advance, so the writer knows exactly what’s going to happen from start to finish and everything in between. Another way is what a lot of people call the Panster method, or writing by the seat of one’s pants, where the writer doesn’t know what’s going to happen.
I used to be a plotter. I knew from start to finish what was going to happen in my story, and I knew the ins and outs of every character before I ever wrote one word of the story. To this day and to some extent and only by necessity I still am a plotter. In order to sell a book I often have to provide my publisher with a synopsis of what that book is going to be about. But I have to admit over the past couple years those synopses have been very…loose. They’re ideas and concepts of storyline, not a blow by blow in depth of the story.
But I don’t know the story all that well when I sit down and write it, because somewhere along the way the way I wrote changed. I didn’t want to know the whole storyline when I sat down to start the book, and frankly, even when I did plot the book in advance I deviated like hell from my own plotline, so I figured what was the point of figuring it all out ahead of time?
Though I have to admit some days I have mixed emotions about doing it the way I do it. Because there are days I sit with my fingers poised on the laptop and say self? what comes next? (Yes, I do talk to myself). And self answers: hell if I know. And then self stares at me and I stare at self and we realize neither of us has a freakin’ clue what happens next in the book. And those are the days I’d wish like crazy I had a solid outline of the entire story so I knew what the hell came next. (Note: These aren’t good days. You want to steer clear of me on these kinds of days because I’m all kinds of cranky).
Fortunately, I don’t have a lot of those days. What usually happens is that I really don’t know a damn thing about my characters until I sit down and start writing the book. That’s when I learn who they are, what they’re about, when they become fully formed to me. And that’s when the story begins to flow. Because honestly, until you really know your characters your story can’t come alive.
And then as I’m writing, the story will take twists and turns I could never have imagined if I’d plotted it out in advance. Because I honestly don’t know where the story is going until I write it. Because I don’t know who these people are in the story until I start writing them. And this is where the magic happens for me, when my characters do something or say something that I don’t expect, when the story takes a turn down a road I hadn’t anticipated. And my heart swells and my fingers race across the keyboard so I can get it all down, so I can find out what happens next.
And those are the days I really love my job.