My current work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir, is probably the most planned book I’ve ever begun. I’m moved from complete pantser to at least acknowledging that an outline isn’t a bad idea. With Heir, I did a really detailed outline. I know my themes and my subplots, and where I was introducing a new twist to support the saggy middle – all before I began to write.
I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing. Bored because I’d already done ‘young woman coming of age under challenging circumstances’ story with my protagonist’s mother – it’s what my whole first trilogy is about. Frustrated, because some of the themes and subplots meant I was stretching credulity to have my MC present for some of the conversations and action, but without them, the book would be too simplistic.
My last book, Empire’s Reckoning, also challenged me in different ways, and I found having a playlist for it helped keep me focused. Maybe that would help, I thought, and went looking for (and soliciting) ideas for songs. And I gave my playlist for Reckoning one more listen.
One of the songs on that playlist is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children, one of the anthems of my youth. I listened to it, and sang (ok, that too is stretching credulity – let’s say I vocalized) along with it, and then I went to bed.
To wake up early the next morning hearing, very clearly, the voice of my protagonist’s father, a voice I’ve never heard, although he’s been a central character in all books but one – and the solution to both my problems with the story. Switching its focus just a little, creating a two point-of-view story that contrasts Gwenna’s youth and naivete with Cillian’s wisdom and experience, adding a ‘passing of the torch’ theme – all those made the story so much more interesting. Situations central to overarching themes in the series can unfold without Gwenna directly observing them.
I should know by now that linear planning doesn’t work for me. I’m a mind-mapper on paper, a doodler, working with free-flowing thought and image, creating lateral connections – and I think that’s what ‘pantsing’ is about: letting the subconscious make those connections and drive the story. “Feed them on your dreams…” Graham Nash wrote, fifty years and more ago…and it seems it’s still the best advice for my writing.
(Lyrics to Teach Your Children here.)
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