Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Finding the Right Balance

For me, writing is about finding the right tension between planning and pantsing, between the willpower to write no matter how much I don't want to and the burning desire to tell a story, between knowing enough about my characters that I can render them accurately from the beginning, and leaving enough to be discovered so they surprise me.

For instance, take planning vs. pantsing. If I plan everything, it has the effect of a wet blanket on a fire. Sizzle, and not in a good way. On the other hand, the idea of pantsing a NOVEL scares the crap out of me. With my (much neglected) current WIP, I discovered halfway through the first draft that I really needed to plan every beat of the story because it was a bit of a thriller/mystery, with betrayals, twists, and reveals coming right and left in the last act. I needed to know everything I was going to do so I could set things in motion early on and have them pay off at the end. But when I sat down and made myself a thorough outline, the desire to write the thing tapered off.

This, naturally, ties into the second point. Willpower vs. desire. I can't write a good story when I literally force myself to write every step of the way. They always turn out flat and stale. There's something about my own eagerness for the story that breathes spark into the words. But I am fully aware that few books are written on burning desire alone. Everyone has days (many many days) when they don't feel like writing and they must sit down, grit their teeth, and do it anyway. So the balance for me is finding that spark and then nurturing it and yes, sometimes going on without it. But I need it somewhere.

And with the third point--characters that have no mystery to them are boring. Boring kills the spark. It's a vicious cycle.

Anyway, I made a discovery with this WIP. I think I can have my ice cream cake cake and eat it too.

Here's what I did. I planned out the entire story and journey for my main character, Shana. There's lots of mystery and intrigue, and I needed to know who was the villain and who betrayed whom and all the major twists and hints dropped beforehand and all my red herrings. BUT then I compromised with my creative self and added the viewpoint of a second character, who previously didn't have a POV in the narrative. His story is largely unknown to me, and I still don't understand him fully as a character. Suddenly, the story is breathing again. I feel the itch to write it, to explore it. But I still have my outline and IT STILL WORKS.


I am PRAYING this plan is successful.

So what about you? Do you ever have to play games with your brain? Is your creative self a needy, demanding diva like mine?


  1. I'm much more of a planner. I think having the mystery is less important for me, but I can understand where you're coming from.

    I think that's a good idea, having one character's PoV plotted out and another to cause a little chaos. Good idea!

  2. I'm a pantser. Half the fun of writing for me is discovering the story as I write--the mystery of it. But that's not to say, I don't do some planning, I do. But frequently where I think I'm going isn't where I end up.

  3. @Connie To some degree I really enjoy that part of writing myself. I almost always write short stories that way, because I can afford to ... but with this particular novel, I have to plan. I wrote almost 50k without doing so and I had to throw it all out and start over, grr. But it IS way more fun if you explore versus plan ahead, I think.

  4. Hey, it sounds like you are definitely learning to work with your creative self! Gah--I can't write with a tight outline either. But I have to have the outline, because like you, I like to add the twists and turns that (hopefully) keep the reader reading. And I have to plan them generally before starting writing. :)

  5. I went by my pants for the current WIP, but then had to tear it apart in revisions...so I think I'm going to start with a little more planning next time. I had problems with keeping my motivation up too, but I found that by setting a daily word count goal, I could force myself to write every day, and after the first painful paragraph or two, it wasn't too bad.

  6. @Rachel

    I agree about the daily word count goal. That actually works REALLY WELL for me in short bursts ... but if I do it for longer than a few weeks straight, I get a bit burned out. Then I have to switch to a different tactic.

    I have to play some weird mind games with myself sometimes.


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