Ever since it dawned on me some thirty years ago that the short story I was writing had the potential to be a novel, I’ve been an enthusiastic and dedicated pantser. I’d follow some interesting characters around, taking notes, until something resembling a narrative arc bubbled up. I’d follow that thread until the story was told and then on subsequent drafts, shape it together into a plot, like a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. (And no, I did not just think about Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Okay, I did.)
Then, a year ago, I tried an experiment in plotting. I thought if I planned events out before writing, it might help me get to that lump of clay a little faster. I didn’t use a tight, scene-by-scene structure. The idea of that killed a piece of my soul. (Your actual mileage may vary and I know that for some of you, plotting is your perfect partner.) I used a loose armature called story beats, which I learned from fellow Indies Unlimited author Lynne Cantwell. I thought it would be the perfect compromise.
I used it quite happily with my last two books. It appealed to my love of puzzles and my desire to publish more than one title a year. I even used it to help plan out some stultifying complexities in my current novel-in-progress. In fact, I scribbled that entire plot, in three different colors, on the whiteboard the spouse-man gave me for my birthday.
But as much as seeing my entire project every day was motivational, it was also like a giant weight around my neck. An entire novel. Not written. And I had to see its guts. Its raw, glistening bones. Every. Single. Day.
So, dang it, persistence is my middle name. (Actually, it’s Ellen.) And I dutifully began cobbling my scenes together into the order I had devised. Then I hit the slide. Ever hit the slide? The point where you’re writing and it’s all going sideways and you’re raving to your spouse who was apparently not smart enough to leave the room before you started going off on your characters for not doing what they’re “supposed” to be doing, and there you have it.
It felt like that point in the movie when the soundtrack makes that needle-scratching sound that nearly everyone under thirty does not understand. And then everything went silent.
WHAT WAS I THINKING? Telling a character what to do? Telling the story what it was supposed to be about? No. No, no, no, no, no. I was so far out of my wheelhouse I was calling for a quarterback sneak when the catcher signaled for a fastball.
So I chucked my pretty, tri-colored plot out the window. I’m not done with this thing yet; there are still a few more scenes before I can call it a first draft, but I’m a lot happier with my writing than I’ve been in a while.
So for now, I’m putting my pants back on. You’re welcome.