On Monday, Vicki Tremper posted a link to an article by LibbaBray that I really, really needed to read this week. If a rock star like Libba Bray can struggle so much with a book – and a sequel, at that – and if she finds outlining strategies and worksheets as unhelpful as I do … well, it restores my faith in my own creative process.
I’m going to revisit this picture from SharkNado, because as many bloggers commented last week, it really embodies the heart of writing by pantsing – or even writing with an outline, as far as I’m concerned.
I thought Scrivener might help me plot out the third book in my series. So far it’s been helpful for keeping all my random notes, bad ideas, and research information in one place. It also gave me an excuse to comb the internet for photos that look like my characters and paste them into character charts. Wasted two whole evenings on that!
But I know in my heart that my process is to discover the story as I go. Scrivener can’t help. The Snowflake Method can’t help. Only writing will help.
I did have an outline for the first book. Well, plot points, anyway. I recently read back over that “outline” and laughed. The big plot points are all still there, but ALL the details have been changed – even the names of most of the characters.
I had an outline (list of plot points) for the second book, too. And again, those events are still in the current draft. But I realized, right before I hit SEND and zapped the manuscript to my editor yesterday, that my favorite parts of Book 2 were never in the outline at all.
I had a new character sharing POV with my MC, but I didn’t know anything about his personality or motivation when I started writing. I didn’t discover it until halfway through the first draft, and the revelation, when it came, required the addition of a new subplot.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is an episode that was never planned. I remember the idea hitting me in the middle of the school day. I spent my lunch break researching two specific things that would allow a pair of adolescent boys to secretly get down from the fifth story of a city apartment building without the use of the stairs or the elevator.
Then of course there was the climactic action scene. That was plotted out right before I needed to write it – at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains during a ski trip. “Listen everybody,” I said, commandeering all the forks and knives and a few condiments to make a diagram on the table. “I need to know how these people can fight this creature in this confined space. And since there’s an exit right over here, why don’t they just run away instead?” My husband and daughters were nonplussed by this demand. My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer/mom was a nutjob.
A brainstorming session, complete with the best Italian food in the Poconos, ensued. (Papa Santo's in Blakeslee, if you're wondering.) We talked about who was trapped and needed rescuing, how smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and cattle prods and broken steel beams played a role, how magic was used, and how not to accidentally knock the whole building down on their heads. (Thank heavens my husband is an engineer.)
So, am I ready to jump into the shark on Book 3 yet? No, but I have re-affirmed to myself that all I need is a few more plot points to get started. As long as I take my chainsaw with me, I won’t worry about how to get myself from point to point.