Confessions of a plotter: why I'm "pants-ing" my novel
I KNOW, RIGHT.
RAPID RECAP: You may or may not remember my post from back in July when I documented my decision to embrace the insanity that is early morning writing.
I then did the 777 Challenge and shared a 7-line blurb from my current novel-in-progress hail the pumpkin king, which is sitting at a lovely 85,000 words right now and on the downward slope (please, God). I don't usually do blog challenges, but then, I also don't usually write first drafts that are shorter than 100K, so there's a first for everything.
THE POINT: this novel has had me doing a lot of things that I don't usually do while writing, including but not limited to:
- Not outline
- Write in the early mornings
- Sketch my characters
- Not outline
- Post videos of myself live-writing part of a chapter
- Create a "story bible" to help myself remember all the character names and world-building details I've totally pulled out of my... brain
- Not outline
Most writers have heard that there are two kinds of writers in the world: the plotters and the pantsers. Respectively, these are writers who follow outlines and writers who fly by the seat of their pants and somehow emerge on the other side. We are generally expected to be one or the other, and not cross over to the dark side, because they do not have cookies.
I like my outlines. As in, I never write anything without one. This is likely due to the fact that my past two completed novels have been historical fiction (if you can write HF without an outline... you're impossible and I loathe you).
HtPK has been my first stab at novel-length fantasy since a book I wrote early in high school about a princess who finds a magical baby destined to grow up and kill everyone.
(You read that right. A magical. Baby. If you're getting serious Willow vibes, you are correct, sir.)
And yeah, I outlined that book. I outlined it good. And I did it longhand, in a green spiral-bound notebook that I kept in my closet because I didn't want anyone to know I was writing a book about magical, homicidal babies (I mean, would you?).
i have not outlined the first draft of htpk.
This could be potentially concerning for a few reasons. One, it is mostly high fantasy. Meaning it is partially set in an alternate world. Meaning I am preeeeetty much making everything up as I go.
Also a potential concern: I do not yet know exactly how this book ends.
I started HtPK almost exactly a year ago as an atmospheric short story with a plot that had zero conflict. Turns out, it's hard to tell a story with no conflict, so I put the project on hold after about 10K meandering words. A few months later, I found the conflict but still didn't have the characters to drive it, so I put off picking it up again. Then in June of this year, the voice of Winifred Cole, my main character, popped into my head.
It's hard to explain. But I guess you could say that this book has always been something that just sort of happened to me.
And when I say I'm not outlining it, I mean my "process" looks like me sitting down at my dining room table in the morning, opening my laptop, rereading the last sentence I wrote the day before, and deciding, I feel like writing such-and-such scene with so-and-so today. I think I shall.
At the beginning, I kind of hated not following a masterplan. But the longer I've spent with this story, the more pants-ing has become kind of... liberating?
I still don't think I could do it with any other novel but this one. Pants-ing has caused this draft to become something that is just as wild and unpredictable as the characters themselves. I'm sure when I reach the end of it, I will find myself with a tangled, confusing mess of a draft on my hands and potentially regret all of my choices.
but i will have spent my first draft season really, truly enjoying it.
Writing this first draft has been so fun. Genuinely fun. This might sound sad, but I can't honestly remember the last time I was having this much fun writing a first draft. Privateer of course had its super fun moments, but I also was dealing with the added pressure of 100+ Figment.com beta-readers waiting for me to post new chapters, and while that was an amazing thing, it also did a number on my first draft psyche.
Plotting is another kind of pressure, I think. For me, over the years, my outlines have slowly gone from being mere guidelines to evil freaking drill sergeants that make me feel this need to write the thing right the first time.
But shouldn't first drafts be fun?
Shouldn't first drafts be wild, tangled, ridiculous messes with scenes that don't make any sense beyond that they were super fun to write in the moment?
I'm not saying that every plotter out there feels this same pressure, but for me, going from plotting to pants-ing has been like remembering what it was like to write stories when I was eleven and furiously scribbling ideas onto hundreds of sheets of loose-leaf paper I crammed into a single folder. And I really needed that.
After going through this draft, I would submit to you that there might actually be three camps of writers in the world: the plotters, the pantsers, and the largely confused.
this draft has me hella confused. but also happy.
And THAT is why I'm okay with not knowing the end of my novel. I am in the midst of a months-long exercise of relearning to trust my writing brain to know where to go.
Besides... I know the general feel of the ending. Just like the rest of this book, the details will probably come eventually.
Check out the HtPK storyboard: