Friday, July 15, 2011

Back To Pantsing It

Lately, I’ve been finding myself in a bit of a pickle. I used to be a 100% pantser. I wrote what came to mind, what felt right should happen next in my story, having no idea where the story was headed and often not even with any specific world building or character background in mind. That all just seemed to come out of the woodwork and mostly fit together perfectly as the story progressed.

I wrote my first book like that and was surprised when in the end everything did actually fit together and several of the major plotlines turned out to be connected. It was basically as much a surprise to me as it was to my characters. :-)

But this process also took two years. Two years for just under 100.000 words. Of course, the original count was far higher; too many side plots, too many insignificant characters that didn’t move the story along or enrich it in any way. Taking them out and rewriting things to fit again was what took the longest.

So I decided to do a little plotting before starting my next story, to eliminate the time and energy spent on unnecessary story development. I had an exciting new idea and started jotting down notes for world building, character backgrounds and vague plot possibilities before starting on the actual story.

I’m about ¾ done with that story. It was a lot of fun to write. I say ‘was’ because I’ve stopped. I already know how it ends and that’s taken all the fun out of it for me. It’s like at Christmas, when you know exactly what’s in the big present. It’s what you wished for and wanted for months, and you still love it when you’ve unpacked it, but that initial moment of thrilling excitement - your true squee - when unpacking something you really want and weren’t expecting, isn’t there. It has been taken from you.

Knowing the end of my story has taken that initial thrill from me. Without it, writing is an effort, one where I sit down in front of the computer with this feeling of ‘I could be doing something better with my time’, and that’s not how I used to feel. I used to hardly be able to wait to sit down and write again. Basically, it became a chore instead of fun.

I’ve started other stories, all of them with a good idea of world building and what I wanted my characters to go through.

I broke them off, too, most after only two or three chapters. I bog myself down with too many certainties to actually enjoy the sensation of creating something while writing. My characters' motives and events used to be a mystery even to me. As a pantser, I was living in my characters’ here and now. I knew what they knew, or often even less. The possibilities started out endless and remained open. As a plotter, I have the feeling I eliminate all possibilities. With the rules I set for my world and characters, there’s only one course the story can take. Or at least that’s how it seems.

And that’s capital-b Boring.

So, I’ve decided to go back to being a pantser. It may take longer to finish a story, but who cares? I have only myself to please.

I’ll probably finish that ¾-story at some point - it’s too cool not to. But I will try to continue it with fresh eyes, picking up right where I left off without thinking about the ending I had in mind. Hopefully I’ll be able to surprise and thrill myself again that way.

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