Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing in the Mist by Kylie Brant

Confession time: I cringe when an interviewer asks me if I’m a plotter or a pantser. Invariably I restrain an impulse to check my zipper :-). I’ve been exposed! Because there was a time when I was convinced that I was somehow inferior because I am not and will never be a plotter.

When I started writing there was no Internet. I didn’t belong to any writing groups. Had never been to a conference, nor did I know anyone who was writing. What I had was a voracious appetite for books, a more than decent writing ability and a raging impatience. When my favorite authors couldn’t write books fast enough to keep me in reading material, I set out to write one myself. It wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to sell the first two manuscripts I’d written that I ventured to my first RWA conference and learned just how truly ignorant I was.

I crammed every day of that conference chock full, scurrying from workshop to workshop, taking copious notes. And leaving each one feeling more and more like a failure. What I was hearing was that I was doing things ALL WRONG. I was supposed to have plotted those two books before writing them. Who knew? What if my publisher found out that I hadn’t plotted them? Would they make me give the advances back? Would they still want an option on my next work? Probably not, I assumed. Not unless I started plotting at once.

I set out to do just that. I sat down and began writing every single thing I knew about my work in progress. Because in my mind at least, it seemed like a lot. I knew my characters very well. I had the overarching suspense plot planned along with the conflict and the black moment. But when I was done I’d only ended up filling about three pages. Even in my ignorance I knew that did not constitute outlining. So I jotted down a few more things that ‘might’ happen. At least they sounded good :-). And that process served as my synopsis writing for twenty some books.

Imagine my surprise when one of my editors ‘outed’ me at a Harlequin party one year by blithely telling all in earshot that I was a pantser. I was shocked and dismayed. How had she found out? (Perhaps her first clue was that my synopsis often bore little resemblance to the actual book I handed in each time).

But that was the moment that I finally admitted it to myself: I am not a plotter. There’s still a curious sense of relief every time I say it. I detest outlining, and not merely because I find it impossible. It bores me out of my mind. If I outlined prior to writing the book I’d feel like I’d already written it and wouldn’t be able to force myself to do it all again.

I like being surprised in the story. Those twists that even I didn’t see coming delight and excite me. That’s what keeps me writing, often furiously. I want to find out what happens next.

These days I embrace the term ‘organic writer’ because it most clearly defines my process. I start out knowing the characters and the parameters of the story (goals, conflict, suspense and motivation). I know how it’s going to begin. But a great deal of it evolves as I write. The major developments in the story aren’t known to me before I start. I like it that way. But I’d be lying if I said my process didn’t make the first half of the story challenging to write.

I call it ‘writing in the mist’. I know where I’m going but the landmarks are shadowy and sometimes difficult to make out. I’ve developed a couple techniques to assist me. My writing goal is ten pages a day and it helps to start the next scene before I quit for the day. I write a paragraph or two, or at least jot down notes for what’s going to happen next. I’ve also developed a two-column chart of boxes in which I jot down ideas for something that is going to happen at some point in the story. Sometimes they’re just reminders to myself: remember to foreshadow such and such. Other times it might be a connection that will appear with another character. These are just phrases or one-line sentences. I jot these as I write and when I fill enough boxes I run off the sheet and cut them out then spread them out on a table and establish a sort of timeline by moving them around. The sequence will change along the way. I’ll add more boxes, delete others. But this becomes my ‘road map’ for the story. It still allows new developments to pop up, because I have the flexibility to adapt as I go. It also helps to consult my little map of boxes when I get stuck in a story and am not sure where to go next.

It shouldn’t have taken me years to discover that everyone has his or her own process, and there’s no one correct way to write a book. Knowing that helps me feel ‘normal’. And being someone that holds regular if silent conversations with the imaginary characters in my head, feeling normal is always a good thing J.

Kylie Brant is the author of thirty-one romantic suspense novels for Silhouette and Berkley. She’s a three-time Rita finalist and has been nominated for five Romantic Times magazine awards, including a win for Career Achievement. She’s the recipient of two Daphne du Maurier awards for mystery and suspense. Brant’s books have been published in twenty-five countries and translated into fifteen languages.

Learn more about Kylie and her books at her website:


Heather Justesen said...

This is much like I write, both my romances and my mysteries. If I have a good grasp of my characters and of where the stories are going (I refer to them as lampposts) then I have an easy enough time reaching my ending destination without doing detailed outlining. The joy is in the journey--thus why I struggle with editing. =)

I think it's important to let new writers know there's no wrong way to go about building your plot, whether they have a detailed outline, basic outline or no outline. Whatever works for them is 'right.'

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Kylie,
What a neat idea to have two columns for boxes with thoughts, scenes, etc., that you want to include in your books. Thanks for the tip.

Laurean Brooks said...

Kylie, thank you for making me feel I'm not the "odd one out." I'm a Pantser, too and know what you mean my feeling a little embarrassed. Especially when you know of famous authors who are quick to tell you about their plotting system.

Know what? I've tried, but can't get the system to work for me. Like you, I'd lose interest if the entire outline lay before me. I mean, what's the use? It's like I've completed the book. No surprises. I thrive on surprises; outlining/plotting kills that.

I'm relieved to find out a Pantster can make it in the writing world. You've given me hope. Thank you for that.