Believe it or not, I’m a hardcore plotter. I’m one of the most disorganized people alive, but I write a mean outline. I tried pantsing once. It was a disaster. I wrote 80k words, and yet nothing happened in the story. I wrote huge mess of details, gave a minute by minute synopsis of the first few days. Then I got stuck and had no idea what to do.
So what I do is this: I don’t start with an outline. I write down how I want the story to begin and end. Then I write a description of how I plan to get to the end. Then I make my outline.
But I may not stick to it. Sometimes when I write an outline, I gloss over the details, and when I write, I have to image how exactly the scene happens. These two characters need to argue, but why? What do they say to each other that makes a casual conversation turn into a fight? And as I write, I may discover something about the character’s I didn’t notice before.
My biggest discovery recently should have been an obvious one right away. For some reason, I didn’t notice it until I was a good bit into the story. My main character is a mage. He gets nervous and uncomfortable around “ordinaries” aka people who aren’t mages. I wasn’t quite sure why he got so nervous. Most of the scenes, he’s surrounded by other mages or his family, who is ordinary, but they are used to him. I couldn’t come up with a good reason for him to be so nervous.
I wrote my first scene with him meeting a group of ordinaries for the first time. I wondered how they’d react to him. Then it hit me. Throughout the story, I’ve mentioned that he’s a pyromancer. He has an aura of flame, embers and smoke that constantly surrounds him. It’s only an illusion, but his body just naturally does this. It’s usually a low smoldering fire, but he’s still burning all the time.
And all of the sudden I thought, gads! No wonder he gets nervous. Even if most mages don’t walk around on fire, they are used to him. When he leaves the Mage district, these people aren’t used to seeing someone on fire. They lurch out of the way and may cry out. They cough and splutter and choke even though his smoke isn’t real.
Even when they know it’s not real, they still get nervous when he’s around. They probably wouldn’t want to touch him or get close to him. Mages might tease him about it, but they don’t think twice about being next to him, brushing up against him.
And that’s why he gets nervous! I felt like an idiot when I realized that it was so simple. Once I discovered that, any scene where he’s in the general public it’s a potential disaster. He can’t ride the train unless there’s an empty compartment he can hide in. He can’t just walk into a restaurant or cafe. He needs to make sure there is a private dining room to hide in. The managers don’t let him in because he’ll scare other guests. And because mages are poor, but his family is rich, he’d probably get stopped by the police frequently, wondering what a mage is doing on the wrong side of town.
It also made me realize that in the second draft, I’ll have to tweak his romantic relationship. Right now, the boyfriend with an ordinary who isn’t too fazed with his flames. I need to ramp that up. This guy should be really nervous about getting intimate with someone who looks like he’s burning or smoking all the time. I will make things a bit more rocky when they start out. Maybe they will assume it can’t work out between them for a bit loner before anything happens.
I don’t go back and edit! This would kill my pace. I go back and write notes about the changes I’ll make when I write it next. I have tried back editing. It’s a BAD idea, folks. I have met people who says it works for them, but when I ask them how long it takes for them to finish a draft — they almost always say they haven’t finished their first draft yet. For some odd reason, they will insist this is still what they want to do. I say. Don’t look back! Press on!
I hope everyone is having a good go at the challenge!