Growing a Story
It’s been a month since I wrote about sorting through the story seeds I’ve collected. Life being as distressingly short and encumbered as it is, I could never hope to grow all of these into novels or even short stories, so choices must be made. I’m happy to announce that I’ve picked one to nurture as my next major project.
You sometimes hear authors talk about being ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’. Plotters carefully plan their stories, sorting out the major plot points and characters before composing any actual prose. Pantsers start with some ideas in their head and grow the story ‘by the seat of their pants’. And there are those who fall somewhere in between.
That’s not entirely BS, but it is deceptive. It’s the story that dictates the method more than the preference of the writer. A story that explores the inner feelings of a small group of characters, such as a romance novel, or a farce in which random stuff happens to some poor sap, are probably best done by pantsing. An epic fantasy or science fiction story that requires an intricate fictional setting and a sequence of interdependent events, however, needs to be plotted. At least that’s been my observation.
I’m currently working on plotting my next novel, which tells you a little bit about what kind of story I’m planning, and I think I’ve made some significant progress. I have a working title, sketches of the major characters, a few lines on some minor characters, and an eleven-page summary of the setting. This includes notes on the culture, economics, and magic system (which tells you it’s a fantasy). I also have a twenty-one page worksheet that documents my first thoughts on just about everything else. Yesterday, I completed my first draft timeline of the complete story, beginning with the first scene on the first day and continuing through to the last scene of the last day. I like how it came out. I think it has great potential. My next step in the process is to turn that timeline into a detailed chapter and scene outline. Judging from my previous experience, these can be fairly long, fifty pages at least, almost like a first draft of the novel.
I won’t say anything else about the story. It’s a work in progress. I will say, however, that I’m considering doing something I’ve not done before, which is work on a second novel at that same time as this one. That one is, in the immortal words of Monty Python, something completely different. I’ll be ‘pantsing’ that one…for the most part.