I started this writing game as a resolute pantser. I knew where the story was going, but instead of outlining it all, I let it grow as the words hit the page. Sometimes being a pantser means I have to go back and rework sections I’ve already written, but that’s okay by me. When I was in high school, and research papers were assigned, my poor mother couldn’t bear to watch me work. You see, I was a pantser back then, too. The teacher would ask for an outline along with the paper, and I would oblige, writing my outline only after the paper was done. Drove my mama crazy, but I just couldn’t fathom how one might know exactly what one planned to write before it was written.
Secretly I’ve envied plotters, and slowly I think I’m coming to understand how they think. Working out the details ahead of time does seem to make the process smoother and quicker. It’s also much simpler to make the organic changes that pop up from time to time when I’m working within an outline instead of a narrative. My mother and five or six English teachers were right, I guess. (Please don’t call my mama, because she already gets to say “I told you so” enough now that I’m a parent.)
A few days ago, I was busily working on a scene in which my character (let’s call him Sebastien) was sneaking through a frontier town, following a bad guy to his lair. Suddenly I realized I had no idea where they were. It was a dark street, but was it behind the saloon? Near the railroad tracks? And what if I placed it in one part of town and then forgot five chapters later? Readers notice those things, even if the editor somehow misses my mistake. I needed a map.
Some fantasy writers have maps published in their books. I always wondered who draws those things. I couldn’t – I can barely draw a line without a straight edge and my reading glasses. But whether or not my book features a map in its pages, I had to have one. My husband’s oversized whiteboard happened to be standing in the corner, so I grabbed it and the pen, and started drawing. The streets were too wide, and the buildings weren’t to scale at all. I ended up erasing and starting over twice, and I moved the jail, the church and one person’s home several times before everything was where I wanted it to be. It was not at all an artistic masterpiece, but as soon as I was finished doodling, I knew exactly where Sebastien was. I knew what he could see, what he could hear, and how he was going to get into the bad guy’s house without being seen. I knew a whole bunch of the town’s inhabitants, people who won’t make an appearance in the story but live there nonetheless. I knew where the railroad tracks were, and the best route for Sebastien to take out of town. It was all so simple with a map to follow.
Oh dear…my inner plotter is laughing right now.