I’m a Pantser. I admit it. I have mentioned it before. I wish that I was a Planner, I really really do. It looks so easy, so organized that it makes me jealous. Those shiny outlines and the glittery research that has been done. All that’s left is to sit down and let the words flow out from the keyboard and cover that sturdy structural skeleton with a beautiful skin of prose and dialogue. But I can’t seem to do it. I’ve never been good at outlining. Not even in elementary school when I had to wrote a report on squirrels. One of the steps was ‘turn in your outline’ and I must have turned in something but…
The problem is that as much as I desperately want to work out all the plot twists and details, research all the little fiddly things that make up a character’s history and invent all the necessary rules of the world I’m populating, I honestly have no idea how. Because I don’t know any more about it when I start to write than you do when you start to read. I have an idea— usually a scene with a couple of characters and some (usually snarky as hell) dialogue. And that’s it. I have genuinely no idea where they’re going from there. Hell, most of the time I don’t even know where they are!
So then I sit down to get this idea out of my head. I write out the scene, cudgel names out of the ether (thank god for Scrivener’s Character Naming tool, or everyone’d be called Fred and Ethel. Seriously, my son is lucky his father is better at this than I am,) and then sit back for a minute to feel relieved that I won’t forget this neat idea I had. And then I start thinking about the Outline. Which I should absolutely, definitely do for this story, because I am a Real Writer now and I should take my work Very Seriously.
And I come up with a pretty decent feeling idea for the next scene. And I write that down because otherwise it’s going to disappear through the giant holes in my sieve shaped brainpan. And then… I get stuck. So I throw myself into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup (you all knew there was coffee, right?) and fling myself into a chair in the living room like a sullen teenager and proclaim my trouble to anyone who happens to be there.
“But why would Laura insist a total stranger stay with her and her kid? I mean I get that he was all heroic and stuff, but still.”
And my family blinks at me with absolutely no idea who either Brian or Laura are, or why anyone is asking anyone to go anywhere. There may be suggestions to dial back on the coffee. Or to have another cup because I am not making any sense. And then, still in the manner of a cranky adolescent, I explain the obvious problem that Brian and Laura are my characters and I need to get them to stay together at least long enough to get a stupid story out of it, because I already know one scene later on in the book, and I need both of them to get there.
And my family will blink at me and ask how the two met in the first place, and where are they, and you know, sweetheart, you still haven’t told us who you’re talking about and… Then I’ll launch into an explanation and about halfway through I’ll inevitably sit up and say ‘hey! I bet Laura has a creepy ex. Oh, she has to have an ex somehow if she’s a single mom so I bet…”
And I go scurrying upstairs to pound out another few scenes. Not an outline. Nope. An outline would be a few notes. My ‘notes’ are way the heck too long to even pretend. They’re full on scenes.
This inevitably ends with a Frankenstein-messy first draft, and I have to revise and edit an stitch things together and then go do that research I should have done way back at the beginning of this whole process, and then… sigh. But this is where I end up asking some really fun questions, like “when exactly did blood donation become a thing?” (According to this, the first blood transfusion was in 1667, and aren’t we all glad we’ve come so far since then!) Or “what’s the best knife (or sword) to use to slice up the shoulder of a demon strung up by his wrists?” (I went with a khopesh.) Also: this is where I wonder what the government thinks of my search history…
I mention this because I’m taking a break from all the editing and what have you that I’ve been doing lately. I’m feeling boxed in by the straight up grunt work of it all, so even though I have to finish Personal Demons, I need to take a break and create something new. Which means I’ve sat down and started a new work with only a vague idea of a few characters, and a General Premise. I already have two and a half chapters written, and well… I’m a little stuck.
I’m a Pantser, and as much as I wish I wasn’t, I don’t seem to be able to reform myself. Ah well. So what do you all know about the Army Rangers?