Sitting 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.
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.
And 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.
I 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.