Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seat of the Pants Writing--Elisabeth Rose

I’m not a planner or a plotter. I start with an idea or maybe a character and head off into the mist. Sometimes it’s a concept that interests me, a ‘what if that happened?’ or a ‘how would you cope if?’.

This method of working terrifies some writers and is an oft raised topic at writing group meetings and of 'how to write' articles. Beginner writers always want to know which way is the best. The answer is of course, “Your way,” with the proviso that you’re getting results using your way. If not, try something different.

The problem with the ‘pantser’ method ( mine) is that there come moments of nothingness in the brain. The ‘what happens now?’ moments. These moments can stretch into days but having finished a lot of books I know my process and it doesn’t worry me. Plus the fact I don’t have deadlines looming helps a lot. Even though I’m not actually putting words on the page ideas are churning in my head. Possible conversations or scenarios, perhaps a new character or an event to move things along. Sometimes the plot needs something dramatic like an accident, or a character needs to take decisive action. Rereading the entire manuscript puts the dramatic arc into perspective and I can see where things start to go flat, where a character needs a kick up the bum, so to speak. If necessary I go back a way and change a reaction, sometimes the point of view, or cut stuff out and take another turning.

Because my romances are character driven, I also discover that my characters can talk their way into a conflict and tension emerges where there wasn’t any because I allow them to be themselves. I let them talk rather than force them to conform to a preconceived plan. Of course they already need to have fundamentally opposing views or it isn’t conflict but contrived, petty squabbling.

For example in my current story the heroine and hero are having lunch together in his house. She’s his gardener, a thunderstorm starts and he invites her inside. They don’t know each very well yet but have an unacknowledged attraction. He’s an over protective single father, she’s from a messy, loving, rough and tumble extended family including her niece and nephew, but is the one responsible for running the whole show, holding everything together. I wanted them to talk to each other alone for the first time. They already know they have completely different ideas about parenting and the children don’t get on with each other. He’s artistic and sophisticated, a professional, French trained Russsian classical musician, she’s an outdoors girl, a manual worker albeit with a degree in Horticulture.

Things are going along nicely, both acutely conscious of how attractive they find the other but convinced it’s one sided and hopeless because their lives are so different. It’s all very polite and rather awkward until, responding to a remark of hers about how she’s worried about her father’s health, he says he thinks she perhaps has too many responsibilities—running the gardening business, a father with heart problems who should retire, acting mother of her niece and nephew, running the house. ( And he doesn’t even know about the stroppy old grandmother who phones all the time to complain about stuff.)

My fiercely independent heroine who is constantly worried about all those things becomes very defensive saying, “What do you suggest I do? Walk out on them all?” He has no ready solutions and suddenly up goes the tension between them and the gulf widens.

Part way through that scene I was wondering if he was going to succumb to temptation and kiss her. So did he. And she was wondering what he’d do if she put her arms around him. They both resisted for very different but valid reasons.

Now kisses are highly unlikely and I can’t wait to see where they go from here, let alone how they’re going to end up together.


Sandy Cody said...

Ooooh, I really want to read this book.

As for my process, I have to have some kind of an outline so I know where I'm going, perhaps because I write a mystery series and I have to keep clues/suspects/on-going characters straight. But, in the actual writing, things change. My characters go their own way in spite of me - and I love it when that happens.

Carol Hutchens said...

I love it so far...hurry finish the book.

Enjoyed reading about your process. I guess you'd say I'm more of a plotter.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Sandy and Carol--yes lots of writers plot, some meticulously. I quite honestly couldn't be bothered :) But then I'm not very good at following recipes either because I usually go with the idea and improvise, and I always took short cuts when I sewed clothes for the kids too.

I understand plotting for mysteries adn thrillers. I imagine it would be a necessity to keep everything straight but with character driven stories which don't have much plot it takes all the fun away.

Carol Hutchens said...

The thing about plotting is that after I get things down on paper, the idea loses excitement.

But out of curiosity...how do you work the character arc if you don't plan?

Beate Boeker said...

Lis, do you prefer to improvise when making music too? I would think so because I think it's deep inside a character if you're a plotter or a pantser. I used to write just like you - and had a hard time with the sagging middle of each story. Every time I finished the magic total word count, it was a huge relief that I had made it again.

For my new mystery series, I've started for the very first time with the plot . . . it turned out to be fun. I added more and more things into the plot, and then, oops, suddenly I was writing the story, so I had to haul myself back.

Now that I've finished the outline, I'm writing the novel like someone walking a cliff with a rope next to her, holding tight onto my line. It feels great and boy, do I gather speed when I know where I'm going. And it's still fun because of course I digress wherever I can (after all, I still have to manage those magical 80K, rather daunting).

I loved your post - and look forward to reading that book!

Elisabeth Rose said...

Carol, re character arc-- I don't know!! Maybe it's instinctive. I just start with a person who grapples with some issues and emerges changed at the other end. Actually, I think my two charcters do that to and for each other. They show up each others failings and end up complementing each other.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Beate, I can't improvise at all musically. I'm an interpreter. My son pointed out that writing is where my creative improvisation manifests itself. Rather astute I thought (proud mum speaking :))