When people ask “Are you a pantser or a plotter”, they often speak of pantsing as though it was a very linear thing – that you start with a beginning and write through to the end, accreting story and meandering around until you somehow end up with a plot in retrospect.
This is not the only way to pants. In fact, following a plot from beginning to end isn’t the only way to do it, either. As Kipling wrote, “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one is right!” (In the Neolithic Age)
So let’s look at ways of breaking linear writing. First, when it comes to writing the initial draft:
Lois Bujold once wrote that she’s started Warrior’s Apprentice with a single image in her head – and it wasn’t one at the beginning or the end of the story. “So while the book was written, largely, from beginning to end (a method I’d learned to prefer while writing Shards). it was generated from the inside out. I’ve described my usual process as scrambling from peak to peak of inspiration through foggy valleys of despised logic. Inspiration is better – when you can get it.”*
Jim Curtis writes scenes with his characters – and sometimes it’s a scene for three books down the line from his current WIP. By the time I see his WIP to beta read, it’s usually in chronological and story order – but I know it doesn’t always start that way.
My Darling Man is usually a plotter, and writes much in a more linear fashion – usually – but on the westerns, I know he’s skipped sections until he’s been able to get a book in with the bit of research he was looking for (right down to… not only who was in command of a particular fort, but when he left and who was in charge on that day.) And then he can go back and write that missing section. Other times, when he’s feeling the slog, he’ll skip forward and write one of the scenes that’s really exciting and interesting and shiny… Rachel Aaron calls them the “candy bar scenes”. Then he has to figure out how to get from here to there.
Does it change from book to book, series to series, or do you write the same way every time? Is it linear or not?
Second, there’s the editing… some people do this beginning to end, every pass, while others skip back and forth (especially when it comes to working in foreshadowing for later events). What do you do?**
*Sidelines: Talks and Essays by Lois McMaster Bujold
**Whichever you do, would you hit the share button below, so we might get a wider pool of responses? ‘Cause I can tap four writers with promises to feed them, but I’m interested in the writers at large on the internet. Since those of us locally are all so different in our styles and approach…