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.