I’ve wrapped up the character development phase for this book (except for characters who come up as I plot or write) and have moved on toward plotting. When it comes to the plotting (planning the book before writing it) vs. “pantsing” (writing by the seat of the pants, making it up as you go) debate, I generally end up being both, the worst of both worlds.

I have to have a general sense of the plot before I can write. I at least need to know the major turning points. But most of the time, I don’t really know what the book is actually about until I’ve written it, and once I get close to the ending, I realize I have no idea where it’s actually going because what I thought was an outline was way too vague. Then I have to do extensive revisions to mold the resulting mess into something resembling a story.

I’m trying to do something different with this book and do some extensive outlining. One thing I’ve realized might be my problem is that my outline is more about ideas than scenes, which means there’s nothing concrete or specific. The final confrontation is usually just “final confrontation” in my outline. I may have a sense of what’s going on emotionally with the characters in this scene and what choices they’ll have to make, but I don’t know where it happens, exactly how it happens, how they get there, what it looks like. The farther I am from the beginning, the worse it is. I usually have about the first three or four chapters planned in detail. I have scenes worked out, even bits of dialogue. Then once I’m really into the actual story, beyond the setup, I have a few events. Closer to the end, it’s more vague concepts.

When I started the plotting process on this book, it was exactly like that. I thought I had a lot of detail, but all I really had in any concrete form was the setup. It went vague at the first turning point. So, I started with the ending—what does the final confrontation look like? I worked that out, and then went to the previous scene, to see how we were getting to that final confrontation. I’ve also worked out how the midpoint scene will go. I’ve still got gaps, but it helps to have those big scenes planned. When I’m writing and hit a big point without knowing what will happen, I often go with the first thing that comes to mind, so I get something obvious or trite. Thinking about it ahead of time is giving me a chance to go deeper. It also means I know what I’m going to need to set up earlier in the story.

I’m spending this week doing heavy-duty plot brainstorming, then I’ll put my outline aside over the weekend and come back to it next week to see if I can add to it or improve it. I’m getting really close to the actual writing part, but I’m forcing myself not to get too impatient.

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