I often get involved in online discussions (Facebook, Authonomy, UK Kindle Users Forum, wherever) about the merits of plotting a novel. Or not, as the case may be. I read posts where people detail the level at which they plan their writing – in notes, in synopses, on index cards, post-it notes, wallpaper above the desk. They outline their characters: What would Joe eat for breakfast? What sandwich does Sally prefer? If Wizard Beerbelly went to the Auld Tavern, what would he order to drink?
I am so jealous. I would love to be that organised – so in control of what I am doing. Or would I? I once wrote that one of my characters was scared. I had absolutely no idea why he was scared, but I knew it was important. So I wrote it in. Ten chapters or so later, I realised what it was he was scared of, and everything fell into place. I became aware of it when the character did. Lazy plotting or inspired genius? Maybe I won’t answer that one! But the point I am making is that I can’t actually write if I know too far in advance what is going to happen. I might have an idea of a scene coming up, or that somebody will discover something important, but generally the plot is unfolding as the characters live it. If I know what is going to happen, then the magic is gone and it all becomes a chore.
This doesn’t make life easy. I have written myself into more corners than I can remember and so I have lots of pieces of work on the go:
- Young adult contemporary fantasy – Edge of Dreams – book 1 of a trilogy. No elves, wizards, demons or vampires. It’s finished but requires a light edit. This nearly got accepted by a one of the big guys once upon a time, but got bounced at an acquisitions meeting. It was then e-published by a small press a few years ago, but I now have the rights back and want to put it up on kindle.
- Another YA fantasy – Flashpoint – book 2 of the trilogy which is nearly completed.
- An as-yet-untitled follow-on novel to my kindled thriller Hamelin’s Child. About 18,000 words in.
- Blue Flamingo – another dark thriller with a touch more of the supernatural and a touch less of the sex (so far, anyway). I’ve only written 3 chapters of this, despite some nagging by people who’ve read it, and have no idea of where it is going.
- An adult fantasy Blood Ties, which I started writing about 20 years ago, under the mentoring of an editor from Orion. Of course, she left the company, I moved up North, real life happened etc etc. It’s 70,000 words done and is pretty damn good, but I just can’t summon up any enthusiasm to finish it!
So what should I do? I have ideas for other projects, snippets of scenes and characters, but I feel compelled to tidy up some of my loose ends before I unravel some more. And yet in the rest of my life I am structured and planned to the point of OCD. I make lists of my lists, I tick things off, I finish everything I start and on deadline. Why can’t I apply this mentality to my writing? I need to be orderly, organised, finish all these outstanding bits and pieces and not leave my poor characters in a limbo lasting decades! But I don't want to lose the sheer excitement of writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, of discovering the story with my characters, having them whisper in my ear and tell me things they've just found out. So do I go with my thriller branding or go back to my fantasy roots? Both ways I can gain – either way I will lose something.
All suggestions welcome!