As I write this, I kinda think I should have titled this blog, “Old dogs need to learn new tricks” but, I’m not a dog. 🙂
I have always been a pantster writer. I have an idea, I sit down and I write until I can’t write anymore. Usually, I’m discovering the story as I go. Yes, there have been occasions when I’ve planned a story before writing it (e.g. Jack Kane and the Statue of Liberty, which I co-wrote with JR Murdock), but for the most part…pantster. Definitely.
Except, I can’t do that with a series. At least, I can’t do it as much. Why? Several reasons.
Why a Series Won’t Support Pantster Writing
I learned early on when writing book two of my Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero and again in book two of my Scouts of the Apocalypse that being a pure panster writer doesn’t work great. If found several areas where planning is kind of critical when writing a series. For example:
- Characters – there are times when, in the same book, a character’s name changes somewhere from when they are introduced to when the book ends. If I can’t remember the name within the book, I have no chance over the course of multiple books. It’s also valuable to know what they’ve done and why it’s important. This is less about planning and more about keeping track. Still, planning is part of it.
- Setting – was there a theatre in town or not? Where was it? Keeping it consistent is important. Draw a map if you think it will help.
- Plot – in my Mik Murdoch series I’m trying to make each book a bit more sophisticated. Simple plots that worked in book one aren’t quite enough in book four. Multiple plot lines demand attention and that means plotting (and planning).
- Motivations – characters act the way they do because of who they are and how they are motivated. In order to make your characters three-dimensional, you must treat their motivations as important and constantly evolving. To avoid forgetting key elements you have to, yes, you guessed it – you have to plan.
Change Doesn’t Always Come Easily
I like to sit down and let the words flow. When I hit my stride the words just seem to come naturally; my fingers are merely the conduit between brain and keyboard. Planning takes an entirely different set of mental muscles. I’ve got to think in advance what I want to have happen.
It seems unnatural to plan. I think that might also be partially because I like to have instant gratification. When I simply write, the words are there. When I have to plan, it takes time away from the actual writing. I also have to come to grips with the fact that the planning takes time and brain power.
Again, it feels completely unnatural. Hopefully with practice it will get easier.
Failing to Plan = Planning to Fail
Okay. I HAD to say something silly in this post. I don’t actually believe the above statement. You CAN write as a pantster; I’ve done it many times. Thousands of other writers likely do it every day.
My main learning through all this is, planning is another tool in my writing arsenal. Not all books need to be planned to the nth degree. For example, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is famous for NOT being planned. As in, not at all. Douglas Adams has been quoted as saying he didn’t know what would happen from one episode/chapter to the next when he wrote it as a BBC radio play.
But some do (I’m looking at you George RR Martin). I cannot image any of the epic works out there that didn’t have a high degree of planning.
Plans Aren’t Set in Stone
What I also need to stress, both to you and myself, is that a plan doesn’t mean set in stone. If I have a character decide to do something completely unexpected that takes the story in a totally different direction (or even does something in a slightly different way), I have to be prepared to roll with it and adjust accordingly.
I have a very good example of that.
In my first novel, I had two protagonists – Kalten, a young peasant boy and Paena, an orphan-now-acting-as-a-warrior-type. I had their personal plot-lines well-planned. Then Kalten decided to do something very Kaltenish that would change the rest of the story.
I thought about forcing him to do it my way except…well, it didn’t feel right. I tried a couple alternatives to make him do what I wanted that more closely fit my plans and they didn’t work either. In the end, I let him have his way as a character. It forms the basis of book two (which I hadn’t even realized existed at the time).
Can I Change My Ways?
I think I can. I know I need to do more planning/plotting to achieve what I want and to stay on top of everything. Series have unique demands that single books do not and I have to adjust to those demands. That means more planning.
The question is, how long before it becomes a habit?
Welcome to the dark side my friend. Outlining has helped me write books with good structure and that made all the difference. All my trunked novels meandered all over the place and had tons of chapters that didn’t move the story forward. I know from reading your books you don’t have those problems while pantsing but man do I love outlining and planning my stories.
I hope to one day have the same love…but right now it is a bit gruelling. 🙂