Guest Post: Amanda Pavlov
Not a Plotter, Not Quite a Planner
First drafts excite me. It’s all possibilities, no plot holes. When the muse visits me, I’m so energized by the idea—usually a scene so fully fleshed out that I can see the blades of grass moving— I can write the first two or three chapters over a weekend. I love writing this way, without pausing to wonder whether my shiny new characters are following a boring old story arc. I wrote this way for most of my creative career, churning out lots of beginnings to books.
Then, I would get past the first 50-100 pages and lose steam. Which of the hints that I had sprinkled in the first chapters were foreshadowing and which ones were red herrings? Did my characters have room for growth? Pausing to consider these things invariably murdered my momentum and I would find myself flirting with a new idea, chasing the flow I had experienced while writing the beginning pages.
For longer than I care to admit, I wrote a lot of beginnings, muddled through a few middles, and couldn’t find the motivation to finish anything. On the rare occasion I did complete a book, the pacing was such a nightmare that even I couldn’t decide which scenes were dragging things down and which ones were so fast they felt unexpected.
My critique partners touted the benefits of beat sheets and the beauty of color-coded tabs poking out of plotting notebooks. I would listen politely, yet I still resisted planning.
I could complete character profiles all day long, exploring the depths of a fictional person has always intrigued me. But deciding how the story would play out sounded monotonous to me. What was the point of writing if I already knew everything that would happen? If there were no surprises in the story, would I even enjoy the process?
MIND LIKE A DIAMOND took me three years and a frightening number of drafts to complete. I would comb through the pages, identifying places where my interest waned, and laboring over the little details that would make it interesting enough to read over and over again. When I finally finished, I swore I would find a way to draft faster without sacrificing quality.
I caved, and considered those beat sheets everyone I trusted had championed. What I discovered delighted me: they were vague. So vague, in fact, I decided I could use one to plot effectively without boring myself by parsing out every single detail.
I wrote the first and second drafts of my next book in about six months. When I sent it to two of my trusted critique partners, I thought they would find endless issues with it. How could they not? Creating it had been virtually painless, the revision would have to hurt. I was so shocked when they loved it, suggesting only minor tweaks, that I knew I had finally found my method for fast drafting without sacrificing quality.
I suppose the moral of the story is twofold: don’t be afraid to attempt a new technique AND don’t be afraid to make it your own. And if you are truly terrified to try something new? Write about that emotion. You might start the sparks of an amazing horror story.