Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Birth of a Pantser

This has got to be the strangest book I have ever written. Strange in the writing, not the content, I mean.

However, I am learning things as I go through. Things about me as a writer. Things about how I construct stories, what works for me and what doesn't. And this is where it gets weird. Because when I was writing even as recently as just before I sold to Harlequin, I was a plotter to a great extent. I had the story mapped in my mind pretty much, it was just a matter of connecting the dots. I did a synopsis. Sometimes a chapter breakdown, and character sheets. Now, with the exception of the character work, that doesn't work anymore.

One of the things I adore about the two editors I've worked with (Mills and Boon) is that they don't force me to write long synopses about prospective stories. My first editor there asked at one point for a cowboy story. I had an idea....and I sent her an e-mail that said simply..."an accident of birth made her a princess, but it took a cowboy to steal her heart." She wrote back and said write it. I did. It became The Rancher's Runaway Princess. All I handed in was that one line and then a finished manuscript.

See now this works for me. And here's where I get into trouble with synopses for proposals. What looks like it will work on paper most often doesn't for me. What I think will happen at the beginning inevitably changes. I think I write organically now. It's not until I get into it that I can see what conflicts don't work, what scenes will or won't happen most often because they don't propel the story or they just need cutting for pace. What I consider the core conflict isn't really because as I carry on, I dig deeper and know more.

Now for this book, I had to write a synopsis, and because it's a collaboration type project, I can't just disappear into my own little fictional world. This world is partly someone else's too, so I can't just up and make changes. I have to work within parameters, and I'm not used to that. It's DIFFERENT. (Now I'm starting to sound like some athlete that doesn't change his socks all season because it's routine, or some silly thing.) Oh yes, and I'm SPOILED. My parameters are usually....what will and won't work for the Romance line, and my basic hook. I get a lot of freedom (and don't think I don't know it). Added into that my idea of pacing is skewed as I'm writing 25-30k, not 50-55. I think the whole thing has thrown me off balance. And I think I'm focusing really hard on making this a great read for the reader, so much of the time it feels like porridge. It's a term my cp and I are using quite often these days.

Today I got to a point where I realized my heroine is really starting to trust the hero. And I have had at least three smack my head moments in rapid succession - I hope it doesn't leave a mark. Number one...she needs to tell him a truth. This is the right time. Number two...this needs to develop into something where the stakes are raised. A lot. And number three...the lead up to the black moment was kind of nebulous until I just now realized what the hero is hiding. I didn't know ANY of these things when I wrote the synopsis. The interesting thing? I planted the seed for it unwittingly in the first few chapters.
So tonight I'll open the document again and keep things moving. And I will probably be able to come in tomorrow and tell you how all this has changed again as the characters dictate to me what will happen next and it might not be at all what I planned!

In which case I'll look like THIS:

Jim's pic of a black bear, Lake Louise


  1. I am about 85% pantser, so I had to laugh at your post!

  2. The unwitting seed -- the pantster's best friend!