When writers discuss how they write, the question often comes up: “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” In other words, do you plot/plan out a book before writing it, or do you just write “by the seat of your pants” and see what happens?
In my case, the answer is: Yes. Both. Let me explain…
For the Heart of Fire series, I have a rough plot outline. I’ve known from the start how each book ends (Yes, I know how the last book ends!), and some of the major moments along the way. Then I’ve connected those dots, like “Marshal needs to travel to this spot, while Seri does this, and that will lead into this, etc.” At the same time, there is plenty of room in between plot points for subplots, character moments, and so on.
For the Dragontek Lore series, things are different. The characters drive the entire story, for the most part. I know where I want the book to end, but I don’t have a set pathway to get there. Instead, I let things happen as they will. Basically, it comes down to two questions:
- What unexpected (but logical) thing could happen here?
- How will this character react to it?
Question one comes into play when I’m not sure what should happen next. For example, in Viridia, the characters started to get complacent in their hideout. The story could be in danger of getting static, which is not allowed in these books. So what unexpected thing could happen? The bad guys find their hideout. Oops. And then how will each character react to this happening, both the heroes and the antagonist? This led to a pretty spectacular action sequence, in my humble opinion.
Now note that the “unexpected thing” wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was a logical outcome. The bad guys were looking for their hideout already. But the timing of the discovery was unexpected, at least to the heroes.
Anything can lead to new story elements. In the current book, Incarnadine, I’m writing a sequence of scenes where the heroes are exploring a new (forbidden) location. There are guards and locks keeping them from exploring areas that might be more interesting. Then they come across a locked elevator.
Logically, these particular characters, with their unique abilities, could pry open the elevator doors and climb the shaft. Now would they do it? That’s where I have to let the characters decide. Based on what I know of these particular characters, would they do this? They may debate it among themselves, because they don’t all agree. Then, based on what I know of these characters, who makes the final decision? What is it? (You’ll have to wait for the book to find out.)
Now if this character climbs the elevator shaft, what will be discovered there? I don’t entirely know yet, but I have some ideas based on this world and the people who are running this location.
This is discovery writing. I’m not so much “writing by the seat of my pants” as I am following the logical outgrowths of this world, its characters, and previous events. I didn’t KNOW the question of climbing the elevator shaft would come up until I was actually there. I discovered the situation as it happened.
If this sounds utterly bizarre to you… welcome to the mind of a writer…