On Plotting: Why I'm a Pantser

Alter Ego by Clio Galvez

Alter Ego by Clio Galvez

As much as I'd like to say I've been overtly active this week, I can't. The words have been coming hard, especially when it pertains to The Magician. As I've spoken of before, I'm what you call a "pantser." This means that I write my novels without plotting the whole thing out. Now that's not to say I go in completely blind, but generally I just know what's going to happen in the next few chapters. For me, this allows the characters to take hold and play a bit. The biggest troubles I've run into when writing my novels is not paying attention to the characters and saying, "No sir, you will walk this path."

There have also been moments in editing my stuff where I read a passage and know full well that a certain thought is not my character's. Specifically, in The Faithful (don't worry, I won't get too spoilery), a character is watching a scene unfold, powerless, and his only thought is hoping that the other characters don't blame him. It was such a profoundly out of place thought, so selfish and self-centered that I knew the character at that point wouldn't have fallen so far. He had a journey, sure, but at that point it was thrown out the window and a different person was on the page in front of me.

Now, all that being said, when I start a novel, I create the "bible" as they put it. My world is built, section by section (city, world, magic, etc.) as I flesh it out, then I take the characters and talk about them, including how they relate to the other characters and, finally, I write a two or three page idea of how I want the story to progress. It never goes that way, but it's always interesting to go back and read how I thought it would turn out. In the end, The Faithful's version of this document was 22 pages!

The main reason I ended up becoming a pantser is from my first novel, Between the Shadows. During writing it, I had a scene I wrote ahead of time, that I felt must occur exactly as I wrote it. However, even though I had rigorously plotted up to that point, I had a character get into a situation I hadn't planned. Logistically, the only way for him to survive it was to have another character come out of hiding and stop the creature from killing my main character. This was a problem because, as I originally wrote the later scene, these characters were separated, with the latter character waiting on my main character. This was also supposed to be a character reveal where we find out someone close to my MC is actually working for another faction.

Instead, I'm left with a scene where these two POV characters are together and they need to separate to make this scene work. So I orchestrate a reason a couple scenes later (not a great one), and it leaves my MC alone, without backup, while attempting to cross hostile territory. Once again, the story intrudes and another creature starts chasing my MC. Since I'm rolling with the punches now, I let it unravel, completely intending on getting my MC to that meeting. Instead, the meeting still happens but with a different ending, my MC still on the run, and the character he was originally with waiting impatiently for my MC to arrive. Since then, not only am I pantser and let this stuff happen "organically," but I write the novel sequentially as well.

Of course, when it comes to editing, I am all about rearranging the pieces, but I'll delve into that at a later date.


Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.