For many years I was an unrepentant “pantser” writer. I never did a character sketch or outline unless it was a class requirement. I began composing each of my previous three novels when I heard a voice I couldn’t ignore and let that character’s story unfold organically. I hoped I had a coherent story in the end. If not, I revised. A lot. I fear that if I unearthed any of those manuscripts now I’d find them to be little more than beautifully phrased meanderings.
When I started writing Knight of the Brush (The Oak Lovers in its nonfiction incarnation) I was forced to take a different approach. Chapter summaries are an essential component of any nonfiction book proposal, and I couldn’t write a four hundred page biography without a detailed timeline of main events of the protagonist's life set in the larger context of history.
|Carl Ahrens in 1911|
About a year ago a critique partner mentioned she worried my book may becoming rather long for a first novel and asked what my word count was. I had been too busy following my muse to check before, of course, and was horrified to discover I was on track to write a 600 page epic. Click here if you’re curious about how I clawed my way out of Word Count Hell the first time.
You might think that exercise would prove a valuable lesson to me, and that I’d impose a little direction from that point on. Sadly, I did not.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when I discovered The Oak Lovers was over 87,000 words long and I had at least 20,000 left to write.
I took a deep breath and renounced my "pantser" ways.
Why, oh why, had I not done so before? Mapping out the completed part of the book, complete with word counts per scene, instantly revealed a few unsightly bulges. Once I liposuctioned the fat away, I was left with a slimmer, more energetic novel. There’s snappy dialogue, conflict galore and (wait for it) a PLOT.
After dancing a jig, I took the plunge and outlined my way to “the end.”
Frequently asked questions I was previously unable to answer:
How much more do you have to write? 13 chapters
Can you do it in 100,000 words? Close enough.
When will it be done? I hope to type ‘The End’ in 2011. I’m a compulsive editor so the rough draft is actually draft # 503.
How about you? Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’ and how does it work for you?