Plotting Vs. Pantsing – What Works?

imagesSitting down to the New Thing, I’ve tried to do it by the book.

I’ve got the chapter plan, the spreadsheet all laid out, chapters along the top and characters and plotlines down the sides. I know who’s doing what, to whom, and where, and exactly how Miss Scarlett got done in with the candlestick in the library.

I’m sitting smug on my little achievement, all pleased with myself.

But.

Hitting the 50k mark, I’m finding it harder and harder to adhere to the dryness of it. It affects my writing, the conversations of my characters. If I know that characters X and Y have to have a conversation in which they realise Z, it takes all my interest in that conversation away. Yes, the chapter achieves its ending – but it does do with a certain practical desiccation, like an overcooked scone.

downloadAnd yes, when I take the brakes off and just let the characters do what they want, they race away with me and have passion and enthusiasm of their own – like I’ve given them their freedom. The importance of passion was something that the Ecko series was all about.

You can read all sorts of sage wring advice about seat-of-the-pants navigation versus detailed and careful plotlines and in one sense, you do absolutely need to know where the characters are going and how the plotlines tie up – I couldn’t have finished something of Ecko’s complexity unless I know what the end was, right from the beginning (if that makes sense).

But I’ve tried to discipline myself much more harshly with this and I’m finding it difficult, slow and counterproductive. The current chapter is one of the critical turning points of the plot, and I’ve written it more than once, juggling this and rearranging that – but it’s still as dry as a sandworm’s underpants, and it’s just not happening. How can two people fall in love to order? Lay their lives at each other’s feet just because the chapter plan tells them to? They might as well be signing the Contract in Fifty Shades.

sandwormcroppedI guess the art is to be able to fit the one inside the other (so to speak) – to be able to lay out a plotline and adhere to it, but give yourself rom to manoeuvre within that structure, and not cut yourself off from your characters’ feelings or the fact that they’re not always going to do what they’re told.

Whether anyone can teach you that art, of course, is another matter.

So – Now What? Second Album Syndrome

New ThingYou finish a trilogy, have a cup of tea and get your breath back, and the question that hits you, like a slap round the back of the head, is ‘So. What’s next’?!

What’s next? After the numbing crash of farewell?

What’s next? After the inevitable vacuum of self-doubt?

What’s next? After facing the cold page and failing to write a single bloody thing?

What’s next is more tea and a long walk. And than, after that, it’s settling yourself down to start again.

By Sunila Sen Gupta

Glass

I had forgotten (no, seriously) how much work it is when you build something new. Perhaps because so much of Ecko’s past is based in old RPGs, and so much of that creativity was done in an orgy of innocence in our twenties, when we did it for love and had no idea what a big thing we’d acheived. To do the same thing in your forties, somehow sandwiched between job and child and trying to sell your house and losing your Mum… well, I think I’ve said before that it initially felt like hitting Second Album Syndrome with an almighty SMACK and sliding down it to the floor going ‘ow’.

But. Trees from acorns and all that, you’ve got to start somewhere.

By Tuomas Korpi

On the water

The ideas are the easy bit. When you start something new, its every synapse firing – you want to include this, and build that, and use the other thing. There’s probably stuff that fell out of the previous MS that’s just too much fun to leave on the cutting room floor. New characters seem to lunge at you from nothing – conversations spring into life fully-formed.

At first, it all goes off like fireworks. Great fun, but all over the shop.
It’s the structure that’s hard. The nine-tenths of the research iceberg that never actually shows in the finished manuscript. The minutiae of social and economic structures, of political history and new magic systems and who has the power and why – and exactly how MUCH farmland a city of thirty thousand people really needs to feed itself…

And, of course, you have to have a map (groans).

MetallugyAnyway, after three months of facing that blank page, I’ve finally made it past that magical 20k and have something that is growing in confidence and structure. It’s been difficult, and I fully admit it – trying to find the time to write is hard enough, trying to find the time to build is a tall order, no pun intended. It’s very different, more urban and metallurgical, a detective story with (apparently) a bit of romantic thread… but we will see.

 

The longest journey starts with you getting off your arse, after all.