Writers often define themselves as plotters or pantsers.
- Plotters prefer to plot out their stories — beginning, middle, end — scene by scene. We know what’s going to happen to our imaginary characters in our detailed imaginary worlds.
- Pantsers advocate a write-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to stories, following the lead of their imaginary characters or their muses, writing a middle scene or two, then jumping to the end — back and forth where the inspiration is sparking.
I prefer to plot my novels, to have a firm grasp of both my story’s flow –beginning, middle, end — as well as knowing who my main characters are and why they act they way they do. After all, I’m in charge of the story, right?
For all my plotting aspirations, I’ve learned my characters have minds of their own. More than once, I’ve sat down to write a scene and been surprised by something my hero or heroine have said or done.
- In my debut novel, Wish You Were Here, I was writing a scene where my hero, Daniel, comes back to find out what the heroine, Allison, meant when she sent him a postcard with a cryptic “Wish you were here” message. When she invites him into her apartment . . . it’s filled with packing boxes because she’s moving.
I had no idea that was going to happen until Daniel walked through the door into Allison’s living room. But I kept typing, and it all made perfect sense.
- In Catch a Falling Star, my characters suprised me over and over again. I didn’t know my hero, Griffin, had a tattoo until his adopted brother “announced” it as I wrote the rough draft of the story. In another scene, my heroine, Kendall, slaps another character. When that happened, I actually stopped typing, sat back in my chair, and said, “I can’t believe you just did that!”
But I left the scene in the novel because it fit who Kendall was and how she would react to what happened to her.
- In my most recent release, Somebody Like You, my characters seemed determined to take control of the story. I had fun messaging my mentor saying, “Guess what happened now?!” There were a couple of scenes that challenged me as a writer. Even though they rang true to the story, to the characters, I wondered if my editor at Howard Books would veto some of them. Only one was changed — shortened — but everything else remained as the characters planned it . . . I mean, as I wrote it.
I spend a lot of time getting to know my imaginary characters before I write a single word of a manuscript. But I have to admit that their habit of interrpting me and telling me how they think the story should go or saying, “I bet you didn’t expect this!” makes them all the more real. They’re not misbehaving . . . not really. They’re pushing back the boundaries of my plot — and often pushing me to be a better writer.