Joshua Palmatier — Plot: Losing Control


SHATTERING THE LEY:  Plot:  Losing Control

Welcome to my third guest post about my new novel, SHATTERING THE LEY (in stores now)!  Again, thanks to Magical Words for inviting me.

ShatteringtheLeyCoverAs you may have read in my previous post about character, I’m an organic writer, sometimes also called a pantser.  What this means is that I don’t have much of a plan when I sit down to write my novels.  Usually I have a few “guideposts”—basically a couple of plot elements that I think are going to happen (usually something about halfway through and something at the end).  But when I sit down to write, I let the characters take control.  Most of the time, the characters end up in situations close to those initial guideposts.  But sometimes . . . not so much.

That “not so much” happened with SHATTERING THE LEY.  Almost as soon as I sat down to write the book, I lost complete control of the plot.  To the point where I almost literally had NO CLUE what was going to happen next.  I remember stressing out about halfway through, when I really and truly lost control.  I’d sit back at my writing desk and worry that the book had gone wild, that the plot threads (and by this time I had SO MANY PLOT THREADS) wouldn’t coalesce into a meaningful plot or come together in the end into something realistic or manageable.  That total sense of loss of control was frightening.  But at this point, I’ve finished enough novels and written so many stories that I had the confidence to trust my hind brain.  I decided that my subconscious knew what it was doing and I just plowed ahead, letting the characters do what they wanted.

And then the magical happened.  About three quarters of the way through the book, with the plot threads seemingly everywhere, diverging even further by the moment . . . they suddenly began to weave together.  A few chapters later, I realized where each thread was headed, and where the book was going to end, and why all of these things that I’d written—but had no clue why—were important.  I literally SHIVERED when I realized what the ending of the book would be.  Not what I had originally imagined; only tangentially close to that perceived ending when I sat down to write that first word.  I was stunned.  I’m still stunned, and shiver a little bit every time I think about where the book ended up.

But that’s the thrill of writing for me.  I’m an organic writer because I want to enjoy the experience as much as the reader does, discovering the story as it develops.  And when the story can reach out and grab me as much as SHATTERING THE LEY did . . . those are the moments that a writer lives for.  I’ve only lost TOTAL control of a book once before, with THE VACANT THRONE, and that one surprised me as much as this one.  I hope that SHATTERING THE LEY surprises you as much as it surprised me.

BenTateAuthor Bio:  Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  His upcoming novel SHATTERING THE LEY (July 2014, DAW) is the first book in a new series, set in the same world as his “Throne of Amenkor” series.  He is also the founder of the new small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, which will focus on producing quality science-fiction and fantasy themed anthologies.  It’s first anthology release will be CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, currently in the production phase, to be released sometime before July 2014.  Joshua has also published numerous short stories in various anthology.  Find out more at and

Social Media Info:
Joshua Palmatier:
Twitter:  @bentateauthor
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Twitter:  @ZNBLLC


4 comments to Joshua Palmatier — Plot: Losing Control

  • princejvstin

    Thanks Joshua,

    I’m not much of a fiction writer, but I’m very much on the plot side. But pantsers fascinate me–I can’t quite grok them. I can if I look at it as if someone “else” in their head is running away with the plot and the writer is the GM (You do remember I do a lot of roleplaying). but that’s a lot of inaccurate metaphors and lenses to study the phenomenon.

  • princejvstin: I’ve tried to do the whole outline thing and it just doesn’t work for me. I can keep everything straight in my head, and the plot threads do seem to come together without me trying, so I assume my backbrain is doing all of the work and only letting me in on the secret on a “need to know” basis only. I need to enjoy the story as much as the reader.

  • Razziecat

    I understand this perfectly! That’s the way I generally go at it. There are things I need to know before I start (who, where, why, for ex.) I have an idea of where things are going to end up, and certain things that have to happen to get there, but I don’t plan out every scene beforehand or I lose interest. The spark is gone. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than letting the characters loose and seeing where they go. Sometimes there can be problems with this, but then I go back to see where I went off the rails. I do have to keep in mind what the goal is, and what the characters’ motivations are. The more I write, the more I’m able to figure those things out in my head, without a lot of advance plotting.

  • I am the same way. Part of the reasons I enjoy writing is to see where the plot beginnings end up at the end. Sometimes I try to fully plot and outline beforehand but I usually end up tossing that out in favor of the plot developing in my story as I write. It usually ends up being a better book because of it.