Failure to Plan

My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.

My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.  

A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.

I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer.  Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….

Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.

However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…

At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok.  I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.

Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront  before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is  vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end.  See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…

So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…

6 thoughts on “Failure to Plan”

  • This is so interesting, Rosie. I’m a past pantser, trying to evolve into a planner, but I agree that having too rigid a structure can make your characters suffocate a bit… Not sure what the ideal balance is but I’m trying to find it, a pantsplotter, a plotpantser? It’s all a WIP 🙂

  • Great post! I outlined my 3rd book and it was a much more time efficient process. The other two I wrote and rewrote, with major changes to point of view and other stuff I should totally have worked out in advance. I’ve had exactly the problem you mention with the weather. Summer one chapter, winter the next. Im also terrible at spelling my characters names or changing them half way through but missing some – because of the spelling problem! Oh the joys of writing 😂😂😂

    • Rosie Travers says:

      I can certainly see the benefits of planning especially as this particularly WIP progresses. I suspect I am about to become a lot more organised.

  • You are so like me… Or I am so like you! But as you say, it’s fun in a way, because you are discovering things about your characters (which start out for me as cardboard cut-outs) and the plot is gradually revealing itself, as you go along. This approach involves a great deal of to-ing a fro-ing, and flexibility, but all the while you’re deepening the story, adding texture and motivation. And for me, flashes of inspiration can usually resolve most plot problems, but sometimes I have to bite the bullet and reimagine and rewrite. It can make the whole better, and sometimes opens up other plot possibilities. I’m sure you will find an answer to the summer winter thing. Could you make it an Indian summer, and the winter a cold autumn? I’m sure you’ve thought of that!
    I don’t usually know how my story is going to resolve or only in a vague fog shrouded way, and can only write a synopsis, or talk eloquently about the themes and (supposed) ideas underlying the surface, once it’s finished! I recall talking to Julie Cohen about this. It’s only when I get to the end that I understand – “Oh! That’s what this book is about!”

    • Rosie Travers says:

      Thank you for your comment. It’s good to know I am not alone, and you are right, summer has already trangressed into autumn and in doing that has opened up another set of seasonally related possibilitie – the domino effect! At the moment I am really enjoying my writing which is the most important thing.

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