Mistake or Learning Experience?

There are two kinds of writers.  Plotters and Pantsers.  Plotters tend to outline their stories and follow the outline faithfully.  Pantsers on the other hand, write by the seat of their pants or in a much more freewheeling spontaneous style.  I slowly evolved from a dyed-in-the-wool plotter to a hybrid with characteristics of both styles.  That I needed to be more of a pantser (read that my characters needed me to be) was brought home like a proverbial 2x4 up side the head during the writing of the fourth book in my Honour series.  Honour’s Redemption took an eternity to write.  Well, not an eternity but it seemed that long since I ended up writing the first half twice.  How did that happen?  Was it a mistake?

I had always outlined my stories and was accustomed to my characters occasionally going their own way.  It usually wasn’t a big detour and the story followed the outline more rather than less.  Forgive a small aside here: I’ve never been able to understand or explain how the characters I create act like my children in that they do their own thing no matter how I feel about it.  I worried for my sanity until other writers mentioned having similar problems.  The end result is the same--if I don’t let my characters have their way the story will stall out and go nowhere.  When it came to Honour’s Redemption the characters evidently decided I need a writing life lesson.

After outlining Redemption I started writing.  Somewhere around Chapter Four my hero and a couple of my minor characters started objecting to the direction of the story.  I put my foot down or rather my finders to the keyboard, and wrote on ignoring their protests.  By Chapter Seven I was getting uneasy about the tone of the story.  It was dark to a degree anyway but it was taking on a more sinister rather than redemptive quality.  I still refused to listen to what my characters were whispering in my head.  This was MY story I was going to write it \MY way.  The outline or the highway.

Then in Chapter Eleven a minor character was raped.  This scene was not in my outline.  “How could this happen?” I asked in stunned horror.  I, after all, was writing the story.  The incident had nothing to do with my image of my main characters’ journeys-- physical, emotional or otherwise and I did not want this incident in my story.  And the story was dead on the monitor or perhaps more realistically completely, totally stalled in my mind.  I tried rewriting the chapter to take it another direction.  That went nowhere.  I put it aside for a week and when I came back to it I struggled until I admitted that I didn’t have a glimmer of an idea about how to fix it.  I put it aside again.

Two months later, and over 200 pages into the book, I came to the conclusion that the only way the book would get written was to throw out what I had and start over.  I bit the bullet, reread the outline, and began again.  But this time I let the characters lead the story.  I steeled my nerves and re-outlined when they got too far off the Roman numeral track.  At the mid-point of the story I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  While the tale wasn’t following MY outline it did have the tone I wanted.  Evidently the characters also decided I had learned my lesson.  I wrote the last third of that book, 130 plus pages, in less than a week.  I usually write faster when I near the end of writing a book, just like I read faster when reading a book.  I can’t wait to find out how it ends in either case.  I mean, we all know boy gets girl or vice versa but HOW?  That is what I must know.  This time the words, the scenes just flowed from my fingers like magic.  Gives me a chill just to recall it.

I still plot but I learned from my experience with Honour’s Redemption and never stand in the way of my characters for long.  Are your characters as independent as mine?  Or am I a few keys short of a keyboard?


Reese Mobley said...

I am a pantser but I'm trying to be a plotter. It makes things easier if I have a road map instead of getting to the end of a chapter and wondering what to write next.

Did you keep the rape scene in your book? I'm not sure I could write something so serious so I applaud anyone who can.

Joan Vincent said...

No, I did not. I found it repellent and that it did nothing to advance the story as it was a minor character. I never have figured out where it "came from" so to speak. My brother-in-law, after reading the second Honour manuscript, said he was surprised I could write "dark" scenes. I've always been surprised that I could write books!:)

Melissa Robbins said...

I'm a big plotter (saves time in the long run), but my characters have been known to do crazy things not in my plan. Sometimes I let them (they known better than me) and sometimes I have to curb their behavior. Once Fran whined about one of my naughty pilots and I felt I had to sit him down and give him a firm lecture on the behavior of a gentleman like he was real!

Penny Rader said...

On those days when I am a writer, I think I'm somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. If I don't have an idea of what I'm writing toward I stall...and stop, when then results in periods of time where I'm not a writer. So hard to get back into writing once I've stopped. ("Stuff" is almost always swirling around my brain...it just isn't making its way onto paper.)