I never thought I would be a seat of the pants writer. Not me. I outlined everything. I had to be in control, needing to know what came next in the story. In as much detail as possible. No rabbit trails for me. Sometimes, I think we obsessive-compulsive people (and we know who we are) are the most creative in the world. We’re always coming up with new ideas to keep ourselves organized, to ward off threats to our existence. And I make lists of them, so outlining comes naturally to me.
For one novel, I spent over three weeks outlining. It was one of the most detailed I ever did. For my current work, I spent two weeks outlining, then another two weeks developing characters. And I’m planning a research field trip with my questions and topics outlined by category. I’m thinking I need to add more days to it.
But then I got itchy. I had all this material, all these ideas. I wanted to start writing the story. Let me correct that. My characters wanted to start writing the story. Like a box of toy soldiers, they clamored to be let out, to start living their lives. Think of a dozen new golf balls winging around a tile bathroom.
So out they came. In the beginning, we followed the outline and the story progressed smoothly. But, little-by-little, things began to happen which weren’t in the outline. A minor character showed up and provoked the heroine into showing more of her personality, more of her story knot, more of her values.
A secondary character dropped hints of a history of conflict with the heroine but won’t tell me what it is. And the heroine tells me she has no idea what the other character is talking about and changes the subject.
What I had planned and outlined to be a nice romantic subplot has turned nasty. The conflict is great but totally unexpected. However, reading what came before now shows me it was inevitable.
So I’ve turned into a seat of the pantser, sort of. It feels very uncomfortable. Must be that whole control thing I can’t let go of. At least the characters are nice enough to let me look at the outline every once in a while. With the understanding I can change the outline to match the story, not the other way around.