Besides being an editor, I’m also a writer and I recently signed up for the Australian Literature Review Manuscript Development Program. There are three such programs being held in Australian cities: Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and the initial focus of the groups was on plotting:
A debate most novelists have is whether they’re ‘pantsers’ or ‘plotters’. Many confess to only having the beginning and end in mind and then fleshing out the middle as they go. That is, they’re pantsers. And that’s how I started – with a vague idea of the direction of the story, relying on developing the characters as I went.
But with Steve Rossiter of Australian Literature Review’s help, I’ve now realised the value of plotting. This time, with my fourth novel, I’ve written out detailed character interviews and then drawn up outlines of each chapter so that I know ahead of time which direction each scene will take.
I must admit, though, that there is a certain amount of satisfaction in discovering the characters as you go along. It’s as if some part of your mind knows the story all along and was just waiting for you to uncover it. And I’m sure this will happen, even though I’ve done such detailed planning. I fully believe I’ll discover wrinkles and nuances I had no idea existed. That’s what makes writing so much fun.
At one stage I thought plotting would obviate the need to write so many superfluous words, but that was not to be. Given the detail included in my character interviews, and the detailed plot points in each chapter, I’ve already written many thousands of words.
But the value of all this planning is that I now know my characters really well. I can see them, feel their pain, laugh at what makes them laugh, so when it comes to writing the scene, I know what they’re thinking and feeling and it’s just a case of conveying that to the reader.
It sounds easy but I’m sure it won’t be. Finding that correct phrase and just the right word will still be as much of a challenge, as will be keeping the pace going to keep my reader interested.
In the first weeks Steve had us write out the main points that would be covered in each chapter. We discussed at length the motivation for each character. He reminded us of the importance of keeping description and introspection to a minimum, to keep our characters full of action, allowing the reader to interpret the thoughts of characters through what they do and say, much as one would do watching a movie or play. All good advice and something I hope I can achieve as we progress through our novels from week to week.
I’ve set myself a 5000-word target to achieve each week and this is quite a big ask. This is when I hope all the plotting and planning will pay dividends by giving me a clear direction of where I’m heading.
Although previously I’ve I always thought of myself as a pantser, in actual fact I think this plotting might suit me very well. Only time will tell, of course, but I’m looking forward to the journey.