By Narelle Atkins
A few weeks ago I independently published my eighth book, a contemporary Christian romance novella that I wrote for Love Blossoms, a multi-author indie box set. I’ve always been a plotter, and I’ve written detailed outlines for my seven previously published books.
For my latest book, The Bridesmaid’s Hero, I decided to try something different. The time frame for the novella project was tight. I agreed to write the book in mid-October, and I needed to indie publish it on Amazon Kindle in January.
The three month time frame included the Christian Writers Conference in Victoria where I presented a workshop, a One-Day workshop I presented in Sydney for the Australian Christian Writers Fellowship, an additional interstate weekend away for my son’s golf tournament, the end of school year in December, and the busy lead up to Christmas.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo but I didn’t have time to put together a detailed outline with index cards (my usual process) before the end of October.
In November I became a pantser for this story. I enjoyed the freedom of writing and discovering more about the characters as the story progressed. I had a basic story outline developing in my mind that included the main turning points, climax, dark moment and resolution. Without preconceived ideas from the outline on what should be happening in each scene, I was able to explore different directions that naturally evolved from the story. I gained a new perspective on character-driven plotting. It was fun and exciting.
There was also a downside. I discovered the perils of pantsing when I was used to plotting. My basic story structure was robust and I didn’t need to add or delete scenes. But there were other issues that needed to be addressed.
I didn’t have time to rest the story before I sent it to my critique partners and beta readers. On December 26 I finished writing and editing the first version of the story. I had a copy editing deadline of January 10 and a box set deadline of January 15.
My lovely critique partners and beta readers read the early version of the story during the Christmas and New Year break. They found a number of problems that I didn’t usually encounter when I outlined my stories in advance.
The first third of the story was messy. Many of the character motivations were unclear because I’d unknowingly changed my mind about the details as I wrote. This included details in the back story. For example, the relationship between the heroine and the hero’s mother was inconsistent. Did they know each other before the story started? In one scene they did, in another scene it seemed like the opposite was true.
My time line was off. The time references in the scene transitions needed to be tracked and adjusted. During the editing process when I reviewed the feedback from my critique partners and beta readers, I reverse engineered an outline in an Excel Spreadsheet and dealt with the time line problems.
I learned a lot from experimenting with my writing process. I like having time to brew my stories in advance, and rest my stories before I edit. An outline helps me to keep track of the details and generates fewer time line, back story and character inconsistencies.
I’m currently writing my ninth book. For my new novella I’ve typed up pages of background information. I’m writing a fast and rough first draft as I complete my outline. For my traditionally published books I wrote proposals in advance (three chapters plus synopsis).
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you tried different writing methods? Do you have a defined writing process, or does it change depending on the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Narelle's latest release, The Bridesmaid's Hero, is available for a limited time in the Love Blossoms box set.