Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Evolution of a Novel, My Way

My style of writing is what has been described as "pantser" as I normally write by the seat of my pants rather than make use of extensive and detailed plotting before I start. However, when I sometimes come up with a bare idea for a story, maybe just a single scene, and have no idea where it might lead, I follow a pattern of making random notes until the tale becomes fleshed out and I can run with it. For example, let’s take a rather silly idea, the image of a boy and a girl on an iceberg, and see where that could possibly lead us.

Two obvious questions first come to mind. Who are these characters, and how did they get there? The ages of the characters will have an impact on the story, but I might leave that until I have worked through some of the other details, such as: Did they know each other before they wound up on the iceberg? How did they get there? Lots of scope here: shipwreck, plane crash, lost while hiking, or something far more bizarre like aliens or a more fantastical element.

Which brings me to the question of what kind of story am I going to tell? Could be a horror tale if I subject them to the terrors of the situation, surround them with polar bears or killer whales or add a third individual with murderous intent. (Chain saws anyone?) Science fiction would fit. Are we even on Earth, or somewhere else? Did their space ship break down? Crash on return to Earth? An experimental flight gone wrong? How about fantasy? A couple expelled by her father the King for some crime or sin? Did the young man try to steal the princess or did they just run off and an evil magician imprisoned them on the iceberg? Is there going to be romance? The larger percentage of readers are of the female persuasion, so perhaps we shouldn’t make them brother and sister. We could even put a historical spin to our tale. Were they marooned by pirates or very nasty whalers? How about stowaways on a Viking trading vessel lost in the Arctic? What serious crime did they commit to suffer such a fate? How about her wealthy uncle caught her romancing with a common sailor far beneath her station in life (is she pregnant?) and he abandons them to their fate and sails away. (Let’s hope he sinks in the next serious storm!)

Once I have chosen the path that the tale is going to take, I might next write down a few sentences, perhaps one for each of the opening chapters, giving me a guideline as to how this epic might begin. It might be something as simple as: Two (students, strangers, married couple) on a small tourist vessel navigating the North West Passage are marooned in a rubber raft when their ship sinks and take shelter on an iceberg when the raft springs a leak. That would give me enough information to start writing chapter one. There is a caveat to pantsing though. Once you get started you must keep detailed notes as you create so that you know how to spell their names, what they look like, and the background.

As you can see, there is no end to what you can do with a very simple idea. It can run in any direction your wild imagination may come up with. I’m not going to use the example above myself, I already have too many scenarios running madly across my desk now that I will never get the time to use. So this is a free one on me. You have my permission to take it and write your great novel, short story, or just have fun. No charge.


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013  
House on Hollow Hill - Sept 2013
Hounds of Basalt Ville - Nov 2013


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I'm a seat of the pants starter. Then I have to decide all those things I should have thought of first.

I like your "Adam and Eve on a raft," as long as we have to "wreck 'em." We're still slinging hash.

Unknown said...

I'm a planner and have collaborated on three books with pansters. Book do the different tides clash but the end result was amazing. Even the reviews luv'd the result with 5 star ratings so I guess butting of the heads works.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Unknown said...

I'm a pantser, too. I run through the questions much like you do, and by the time I sit down and write I have a notion of what kind of story I'm writing, what the tone will be and a kinda fuzzy idea of what's going to happen, though not exactly. I let it play out as I go along and often, it surprises me with unexpected turns. I love those!

Ron hore said...

One of the reasons I write is to find out how the stories ends.

Part of the fun of being a pantser!

Liz Fountain said...

I'm a pantser and that's why I love first drafts the best. Nothing like the rush of following wherever the story and characters lead!

Then it's time to go back and provide structure. That's fun, too. Third drafts, reconciling all the pieces and parts and dead ends I created in draft one, that's my least favorite. I try keeping notes as you mention, Ron, but often blow them off for the fun of continuing to chase those plot bunnies.