- Plotters, who must have their characters and story lines fully developed before they can put pen to paper (or, in the modern era, keyboard to computer screen).
- Pantsers, who as the name implies write pretty much by the seat of their pants from the beginning.
I hereby admit to being very much a pantser. And that's because my characters often force me to take the story in directions I never dreamed of. When I started Living In Sin, I had exactly two characters in my head: the hero and the heroine. I didn't sit down and write character maps or life histories or anything like that for them, either. They just seemed to spring into my head, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus.
Because the hero is a commoner (as well as Irish) and the heroine is the daughter of a duke, I had to come up with a plot device to allow them to meet, spend a great deal of time together, and fall in love. I knew the characters internal conflicts, but the plot (or external conflict) wasn't all that clear. I had an idea of where I was going to take it, and even wrote some stuff for the end of the book that I'm now forced to throw out. And that's because these people I invented are now in my head and they have thoughts, feelings, and opinions about what they will and won't do, and they are not at all shy about letting me know when I'm trying to make them do something that's not in character. Hence, the title of this post.
I suppose non-writers often wonder where writers get their ideas from. For me, the answer is: my characters tell me. But my characters are not me. And that's what's so fascinating about the whole process to me. You see, I started with two characters, but their universe quickly populated itself with a whole bunch of subordinate characters: the tavern wench and the carpenter who loves her, the neighboring viscountess who becomes the heroine's best friend, the hero's best friend from their college days in Dublin, the villain, and the villainess. And all of them are very much like real people to me. They just happen to be real people who live in my head instead of in the world.
And my characters know where the plot should go because they tell me the story as I write it. Sometimes, it feels a little more like taking dictation than anything else.
Now, if this all seems a little weird and like maybe I am suffering from a strange form of multiple personality disorder, let me assure you:
- It is weird, and
- Many other writers suffer the same condition, or at least they tell me they do
All of this said, I finally had to force myself to sit down and write a complete, detailed synopsis for my story. It required all of my willpower, but you see, I realized if I didn't actually plot the thing out from its current point (70,000+ words and fifteen chapters) through to the end, it was going to take me another 70,000+ words and fifteen chapters to tie up all my subplots. I needed a road map and I needed it fast, because otherwise, I was going to wander around early Victorian Berkshire forever trying to find the way out. I think it's entirely possible that I could write "the middle" of any story nearly forever. And I have to say, I'm very pleased with the way the characters worked out their internal conflicts to reach their Happily Ever After (or HEA in romance novelist lingo) and the way all the subplots tie up neatly at the end. And I managed to do it in nine chapters plus an epilogue. Not bad.
There's only one problem. See, there's this leeeeetle love scene in Chapter 19 that's crucial to the plot line. I mean, crucial. And my hero doesn't think he'd do what I'm telling him he has to do.
Now you see why I ask when these people in my head are going to shut up!