That is the question novel writers ask each other. Are you a plotter or a pantser? A plotter is someone who has to outline every detail of their book before they start writing. Then they actually follow that outline to the letter. On the other hand there is the pantser. Pantsters write by the seat-of-their-pants. They just start writing and see where it leads them, worry about the details or questions later. That’s what revisions are for, right?
Me, I fall somewhere in between. I need to know the bare bones of where my story is going or I have trouble finishing it. As for the details of the journey, I discover those on the way. That’s part of the fun. I like to let my characters introduce themselves and lead me as we go along. Sometimes they even argue with me when I try to do otherwise. I use the revision process to then go back and change the details that no longer fit, or add details that I now know are missing. That’s what I’m currently in the process of doing, and some of that will take some advance outlining.
Take for example my current novel, “Mary Bishop”. It’s a romance, but I didn’t know that when I started writing. Mary insisted on dictating that first chapter to me and I went with it. It opens on a cold November day in 1880 with the funeral of her husband Earl who has committed suicide. I didn’t know why Earl committed suicide other than something happened with the townspeople that was the final straw in his spiraling depression. I knew Mary was a fighter and she was going to do something about it, not let them bring her down, too, but I didn’t know what she had in mind. I didn’t know how it was going to end. I don’t think Mary knew how it was going to end.
Then something shocking happened. My characters took over. Mary arrives at the Christmas Eve church service last minute to find the only empty seat is in the front pew. With her head held high she walks past the townspeople, their whispers following her all the way up the aisle. Once seated, the man sitting next to her takes her hand and wishes her a Merry Christmas. She looks up, surprised to see it is a friend, Oliver Polk, and surprised at her own reaction to his touch. It is only a month since her husband’s death and I, too, disapprove of Oliver’s boldness. I try repeatedly to rewrite that part, telling Oliver that such familiarity is inappropriate. He won’t let me delete the touch. I ask him, but what would your wife think of such a thing? He asks me in return, what wife? I reply, the wife sitting right next to you. And he informs me, my wife died five years ago and I have been in love with Mary Bishop for a long time now. I’m stunned! My novel suddenly turned from a dark tale of revenge to a romance about a second chance at love.