I had no idea where the novel was going. When I wrote the rough draft of The Keeper of Tales, I really had no idea what was going on. Who were the characters? What was this world? When I began, all I had was a feeling I wanted to replicate. I wanted the story to begin where I felt Return of the King ended—not the plot, but the emotions.
I introduced new characters haphazardly. I discovered the nuts and bolts of the world as I wrote. After that first draft, my wife read the words. Then we did the world-building to weave into the first revision. As we wrote the backstories for the main characters, I had an epiphany. “Lazul’s wife is dead!”
My wife looked at me like I was an idiot. “Of course she is!”
Because I had made it up as I went along, I really had no idea who most of the characters really were. Apparently my wife had a better grip of that than I did!
This process of writing is called pantsing. In other words, I made it up by the seat of my pants.
And let me tell you, while it was a lot of fun, it also made so much work for me. That novel had to be revised so, so many times. The first draft had literally no female main characters, because I was imprinting so much on Lord of the Rings. If you read the version that’s been published, you’ll see that there’s a number of female characters! We ended up cutting the first fifty pages. A number of characters ceased to exist. That’s because when you pants a novel, you’re usually not sure what the important story beats or characters are until you’ve reached the conclusion.
I changed my method in a massive way for my second published novel, Dragons of the Ashfall. You can’t read it yet (but you will be able to December 1!), but I can tell you that there was no pantsing for this one. I outlined the entire series before tackling the first scene of the first book. The outline for the novel was about five pages single-spaced. There was still plenty of room for surprises for me as I wrote, but for the most part, I followed that outline faithfully.
Two major results occurred from me plotting instead of pantsing:
First, the writing process went so, so much faster. The rough draft took just over a month. I knew where I was going and what characters were needed, so I didn’t have to sit and ponder and guess as I drafted.
Second, less revisions were needed. Everything hung together so much better, so while there were some major work to be done, it wasn’t nearly as extensive.
When I wrote the rough draft of book two of the series, I had that outline. The rough draft and revisions likewise went faster and better.
In other words, I now believe that plotting works better for me, at least for novels.
But short stories? I didn’t have to plot those, did I?
I’m currently working on a weird western short story. I knew what characters to use and the general shape of the plot.
After a week of effort, I had one scene, badly written. Not a great start, and a terrible pace for producing words.
One night, I outlined the entire thing. It’s still moving more slowly than I’d prefer, but you know what? It’s working. The characters are functioning far better, the setting works, and the plot is moving.
I think I’ve lost my pants. Maybe I can’t pants a story anymore. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s something I need to keep in mind. If I want to get writing done, time to outline first!
What about you? Pantser? Plotter? A hybrid?
I’ve found what works for me, at least for now!