Pantsing, Plotting, and My First Novel

I’m a bit superstitious when it comes to discussing my works in progress, almost as if voicing my ideas aloud will solidify them prematurely, or send my inspiration scurrying back into the shadows. That being said, I do want to discuss the process of writing my first novel, so for the purposes of this entry, please accept my rather vague and tight-lipped summary… 

My first novel is a story about family and the transformative power of loss. It’s about change and sacrifice and that precious, relentless human emotion that drives us to push beyond the limits of emotional and physical endurance: love. 

It’s a love story. 

With teeth. 

This novel started as a short story, one which raised more questions than I could answer in 6,000 words or less. But how to tackle the daunting prospect of a full-length novel? 

I’ll be honest. I pantsed the hell out of it my first time through. For those new to this term, it refers to writing without plotting the story out beforehand. It’s how I write my short stories. I’ll begin with an idea, an image, or a first line that I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while, and then I start and the story flies or it falls flat. The characters deserve most of the credit. I’m just the creep following them around, writing things down. There are always surprises along the way, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of writing, that lack of control when the story takes over and just…flies. 

So, I pantsed. I completed a first draft. I let it sit for a handful of months, and then I read it. 

That was the easy part. 

Then came the research. Because this book takes place in Minnesota, and I live in California, and pantsing will only take you so far with blizzards and frostbite. 

The organizing. All those important objects and little details to keep track of. 

And fleshing out the characters.

Which brings me to plotting. Yes, I actually sat down and typed up a detailed outline. I am (as you’ve likely deduced from my author bio) “currently hard at work” on the second draft of my first novel. The second draft relies heavily on the outline, because the outline is accomplishing what I could not slow down to focus on while I was flying through the pantsing stage: characterization. I wasn’t satisfied with the way the first draft only focused on the perspective of one character. To fully explore the family dynamic from all angles, I needed different perspectives. So, I split the chapters up, switching between characters with each new chapter. I’m incorporating sections from the first draft, but more often than not I find myself completely rewriting from scratch. 

I must be doing something right, because this time through I’m falling in love with my characters. I’m learning to understand their thoughts, their actions, their motives. I think about them long after I’ve finished writing for the day, and look forward to picking up again the next morning. They are no longer cardboard cutouts. They’re gaining substance. 

I can’t wait for you to meet them. 

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