POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE
Tips From a Pantser
I am most definitely a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. I usually have an idea for a story, and idea for a character, and an idea of a twist when I start. But planning much more than that before beginning to write seems to take all the fun out of it, sort of like having a fill-in-the-blank test. I rely on the television inside my head to fill it in as I write.
There have been times when I’ve had to plan a little more deeply because I get to a place where the character looks at me and shrugs his shoulders about what he’s supposed to do next. That’s when I get out a piece of paper and write what I know, where I know it’s supposed to go, where it’s been, and what have I not done. A lot of times this happens when I’ve just finished a very thrilling and revealing scene and I know we need a slow down breathing moment. But I don’t want my reader to get bored.
Sometimes I’m the one whose stuck and I have to rely on my character to tell me what happens next. For example: my current WIP. I have three characters, each one has to face a task designed just for them. Which means I have to know that character well enough to know what would be a good task for them. The first character was easy. She was an expendable character and was destined to fail. So her character didn’t have to be extremely deep. She had to be deep enough to connect with the reader, but still could be pretty shallow. I knew the third character inside out. He’s been in my head for years, his passion, his motivation, his fears, and what he is willing to pay to accomplish his goal. He’s a deep character, very solid. The problem I had was my middle character. I didn’t know him very well and wasn’t particularly fond of him. So I took what I did know and just began writing that. Then there came a moment when he had to face what he didn’t want to ever face. And the inside of his head came tumbling out on the page. It was exhilarating!
Another place I was stuck and looked to the character was in a past work. I knew the story, knew all my characters, knew the conflict and the twist. What I didn’t know was who the villain was (it was a paranormal story, so the villain was not clearly visible). So I continued to write what I did know. As I’ve said before, writing a story is, for me, like watching a movie in my head. So I had the characters in one room and one of them got on the floor to check under the bed for the boogie man. As he began to stand up, he turned to face me and wink. And I knew he was the villain! Another exhilarating experience.
So pay attention to your characters. A lot of the time, they know exactly what they’re doing and what comes next—it’s their story, after all. And if they don’t know what’s next, look at what you have and remember, your job is to make the reader love your character, then torture them with any and everything you can think of. So what have you not done to them? That’s what comes next.