I don’t write about writing, as a rule, even though I’ve broken that rule several times lately. That’s the thing about rules and writing – don’t like them, don’t use them, certainly don’t want to recommend them to anyone else. I’m a pantser, I just write, no structure, no plans… no… no way that this can possibly be true.
My previous post on this topic (again, breaking my rule about not writing about writing) was on plans hatched by my characters and the intervention of unforeseen factors, which got me to thinking about my largely subconscious planning process. Since I don’t plan my writing and things still seem to work out, it feels like there must be some sort of plan happening in the background.
It doesn’t matter so much with a short piece like this – I can write randomly, rambling on to get my thoughts together, then tidy up, give it some structure, and it looks like I planned it that way all along. That does not seem a plausible or practical way to write a novel, let alone a series of novels, but apparently that’s what I do. Unless, of course, there’s some sleight-of-mind thing going on in the background, where a vast planning organisation in the back of my head does all the design work without me really noticing.
It’s a little like driving a regular commute. How many times have you gone to work, the shops or the gym and arrived with no recollection of actually doing the driving? It’s quite amazing how much the human mind gets done without the human noticing.
Last time, I wrote about a plot that was going nowhere interesting, really, really slowly, and suddenly the panster lightbulb came on, delivered fixes, and all was well. If it was really that easy, why did it take weeks of apparently fruitless work and frustration culminating in two days of ah-ha!
When I look back at what I did, there is a catalogue of writerly grunt-work. I wrote an outline of the plot I had, an outline of how that plot ought to look, notes on which characters ought to appear where and when, and then abandoned all of that because none of it really worked. At the same time, I wrote pieces of the book, trying to fill in the gulf between what was already there and what the new outline suggested would be good, which is not a happy thing to do, because I hate outlines.
Then, out of nowhere, something in the back of my head said: that goes there, that little incident is the obvious basis for a big showdown, which fits the wider pattern of the book, and look, everything makes sense. With hindsight, it seems to me that it didn’t come out of nowhere, but out of weeks of work, letting the book, the characters and the world slosh around in my subconscious until finally an answer emerged like a surprise predatory iceberg easing casually into the path of an unsuspecting ship that it’s had its eye on. Perhaps exactly the same sort of process that a dedicated plotter might achieve with a ream of paper, unlimited PostIts and a pack of pens in fifty different colours.
My way is easier on the rain forests.
I don’t know if my grand theory is true. I have no way of testing it or proving it, but it seems a much better explanation than miraculously, out of nowhere. (Besides, in terms of plots, that’s known as a deus ex machina, which is really just Latin for miraculously, out of nowhere, and is a little bit frowned upon by writers.)
Writing books is hard work. The real miracle is that anyone is crazy enough to do it. I would like to think my explanation of how my head works is right, but that’s probably based on an unconscious need for explanations, and this one is so cool that I really want it to be right.
And here, with no plan, I’m done writing this blog. Apart from the editorial litter-picking, and giving it the gloss that makes it all look planned.
(My other half, who reads and comments on all my work, deserves a mention here. She just said so.)
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS ) – and is working on a third. He contributed a story to the One Million Project: Fantasy anthology, While We Were Sleeping.
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