Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 3: The Plot Wars

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

I used to write plots so detailed that I’d just fill in dialogue and description, and I had a full novel.  And then… it changed.  I could write all the plots I wanted, but the story would refuse to conform.  Or the story blasted through so fast, I had no time to plot.

This is very unnerving and requires a great deal of self-confidence, which few writers have.  So you might find yourself spending an unconscionable amount of time doubting your novel's course, what you're doing, and even your sanity.

It’s okay if this happens to you.  No, really.  It’s disconcerting and worrying, and it makes you feel like you lost your mind -- or at least it made me feel like I lost my mind -- but it is not unusual and it is not in any way wrong.

Lots of bestselling authors wrote and write that way at least part of the time.  The ones that come to mind are Agatha Christie (who wrote that way sometimes, and who likened writing that way to driving down a road at night, seeing only a car length ahead of you at any time), and Terry Pratchett, who writes that way all the time, and whose works are some of the more intricately plotted fantasies ever written.

So, first, stop being scared.  Take a deep breath and start.  Trust your instinct and your voice.  Remember these magical words: you can always fix it in edit.  The reader will never know.

Second, if you get irrevocably stuck, try deciding if you might have painted yourself into a corner or if you're afraid of what you have to write next.  If neither of these circumstances apply, take a couple of days off.  Go for a walk.  Read a couple of books.  Watch a movie.  Usually in the middle of other activities, something will click and suddenly you'll know how to go on.  However, even if that doesn't happen, come back to the book and try again.

The risk of pantsing is, of course, that you’ll need to do extensive edits, as the novel doesn’t go where you intended and/or has iterative chapters in the middle where the characters are stuck in a purposeless action loop. The good thing is that you CAN edit.

But at least you’ll have all the material right there, in front of you, which might suit your mind better than plotting it all in advance.  And, hey, you can always publish a "blooper reel" for the book on your blog and amuse your fans.