I’ve started work on my mystery. I have 120 pages written so far. And if you’ve read this blog very long, you know that I need plot points to hold my hand before I can cross a street. I was feeling a little bit frisky this time, though. I’m changing genres again. I’ve written mysteries before. If I wrote down the basic directions, the important clues and suspects, I should be fine, right? I should have known better.
I plotted the heck out of romances. They were new to me. I always felt that I wouldn’t have enough to make it to the end and worried about soggy middles. Romances, for me, are just as hard to write as urban fantasy or mysteries. I’ve heard “important” writers bash romances. I went to a writers’ conference years ago where one of the workshop leaders announced that anyone who wrote genre fiction was a hack writer. Bull pucky. That kind of snobbery only works if you’ve never tried to write genre.
Mysteries? They sort of have a built-in plot, right? Someone trips over a body. There are clues, suspects, witnesses, and red herrings, but not on every page. I was hitting my points pretty well and feeling good about it until I hit page 110 in the manuscript and realized I’d burned through half of my plot points. I’d already reached the halway turning point for the book. I was telling too much, too fast, too soon. And that’s what happens to me when I don’t outline.
My pantser friends can write forty pages for one chapter and have to go back and cut to tighten things up. They concentrate on description, feelings, and internal dialogue. It comes naturally to them. And that’s the difference between us. Me? I can fly through ten plot points in five chapters. Then I have to go back and ADD the description, the thoughts and feelings. I’m a plot driven person.
The reality came to me when my writers’ group went out after our last meeting. I love our group. We have a little bit of everything, and we all approach writing from different angles. But then it occured to me, we approach LIFE differently, too. I realized just how much I like structure when I was telling them that I have a “schedule” for cooking because it gives me a frame to hang my creativity on. My schedule? Saturdays, I cook beef/hamburger. Sundays, pork. Mondays, ethnic. Tuesdays, chicken. Wednesdays, soup/salads/or sandwiches. Thursdays, fish/seafood. And Friday? NO COOKING. Now on Sundays, I might make pulled pork, smothered pork chops, ham, brats and sauerkraut, butterflied pork loin with a dried cranberry and chopped walnut filling. ANY kind of pork, but I make pork. I bring the same approach to my writing.
I have plot points, but those points can be written any way I come up with. I just need enough of them. SO, I stopped work at page 110 of my mystery, and I sat down and wrote out 40 plot points, like I should have in the beginning, that included EVERYTHING that I wanted in my book–like character development, setting, and a romance subplot, along with a couple of other subplots. Sigh. There are writers who don’t need to do this. I’m not one of them. And then I went through my beginning pages again, and they’re much more balanced now. I’m happy with them.
And what have I learned? (Again). There are pantsers who write wonderful books. I’m not one of them. I need structure to release my creativity. And that’s okay. That’s what works for me. And if I rush or feel frisky and think I can skip that step? Well…I can always do it later when I’ve hit a wall.
4 thoughts on “I really do have trouble with surprises”
If I don’t have a brief outline, such as a one or two sentence breakdown of each chapter, it a mess to deal with later.
Mine just ran out of momentum. I didn’t have enough to shore it up.
Loved your post. I’m a planner, too, and like to know where I’m going. I’ve sometimes wondered if that doesn’t mean I’m too left-brained, so I like your statement that planning helps your creativity.
Planning really does free me up. I don’t have to worry about the plot. I can concentrate on characters and bringing the story to life.