Morning Coffee: Plotter or Pantser II

Healing HeartWhen I wrote my first novel, Mary Bishop, I was very much a “pantser”. I sat down one day and just started writing, the story coming to me “by the seat of my pants”, so to speak. This worked for me because my heroine was telling me her story and insisting I get it down as fast as I could. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the end of my first draft this had become a problem. You see, while I wrote, questions came to mind; and as I answered those questions, I had to keep going back and making changes. Then when my critique group read my first draft they called me out for being lazy, leaving out long sections of time because it was easier than trying to answer some of the tougher questions about my heroine’s back story. They were right. This meant I had to go back and revise my existing chapters as well as add many new ones. I even added an entirely new character that had to now be accounted for throughout the book. By the time I was done, my manuscript had almost doubled in length and was, I admit, much improved. But it was accomplished over a longer period of time than necessary.

So, as I prepare to begin writing my second novel, The Healing Heart, I’m trying a new approach. I’m going to become a “plotter”. Some plotters map out their manuscript down to the last detail and then stick to that outline until the last word. Not me, I can’t go quite that far. I recognize my characters are going to insist on going their own way from time to time and I will want to follow them. But at the same time, if at all possible, I don’t want to find myself back in the position of having to do some of those same major rewrites I experienced the first time around.

I started with my characters. My friend Danielle shared with me her “character profile” form, two pages of questions meant to fully define each character’s past and present. This tool has proven to be invaluable. In order to answer each question I have to consider everything about them that makes them who they are, and it’s raised additional questions that are adding to my plot. I won’t use every little detail of their back stories, but they are more real to me now and will act according to the life experiences they’ve had in their past.

I’m currently researching my plotting questions. The Healing Heart takes place against a backdrop of WWI, the Spanish Flu epidemic, and early nursing. As a history major, I love research. With all this information at hand I’ll be able to craft a general outline of my plot and then, only then, will I be ready to start writing. Hopefully, even though all this pre-planning delays the start of my writing, it will make that part of the process go much smoother with fewer major revisions.

So, as the days grow shorter and the nights longer and colder, as the trees begin to show a hint of the bright colors to come, and I try to patiently await word from publishers regarding my first novel, join me as I happily delve into the world of my second novel.

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