Plots? Who needs ’em!

If you’re ever in a room full of writers and want to get them talking, ask them who’s a plotter and who’s a pantser. (For the blessedly innocent, “plotters” outline their books before writing, “pantsers” write by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go along). The writers will argue about it for hours.

For me? I’m a pantser, who keeps trying to be a plotter. I want to be methodical and structured and disciplined, I want my stories to have three acts or five acts or be snowflakes or whatever the hell I’m currently reading about, I want to be able to fill out a beat sheet before I start writing and then stick to it. But it never seems to work out that way.

I was just cleaning up the voice recordings on my phone, and I came across a bunch from when I was writing Feral (coming December 15, pre-order your copy today!). I generally find I get my best ideas for writing when I’m completely unable to write – in the shower, walking the dog, driving the car, etc. If I’m in the shower I just try to remember, but the rest of the time, I record a message to myself on my phone.

For some reason, I didn’t go back over my audio notes for Feral, so when I listened to them, it was like a totally different book. Same two main characters, but a totally different cast of supporting characters, because–well, I guess it’s not a spoiler, since I mention it in the blurb for the book–because in my initial idea for the book, Dodger wasn’t poisoned. He was just sick, and Noah helped, and that was how Shane and Noah met. But there was no “search for the poisoner” plot, no police, none of the rest of the stuff that takes up a lot of space in Feral as I actually wrote it.

Instead, I had Shane living in a sort of flop house (like the one Daniel Day-Lewis’s character managed in My Beautiful Laundrette), and conflict in the story coming mostly from tension within the relationship, with Noah being too goal-oriented to let himself be distracted and Shane much more dangerous than he was in the finished version. The final conflict was going to be Shane getting a few hundred dollars as a bonus from the flop-house owner, and blowing most of it on a party for his friends. And Noah got mad b/c Shane wasn’t thinking about his future at all, and Shane said don’t be mad, here, I got you this present (something thoughtful), and Noah pushing it back at him because it still wasn’t Shane looking out for Shane and trying to build himself a future, and then Shane being hurt by the rejection, and then something something something make-up smoochies!

It would have been a good story, I think, and it would have been much easier to write. I can write break-up/make-up scenes as fast as my fingers can type the words. And it would have set the tone for the series, as well, and that tone would have been easier to write overall.

But lately when I’m writing I’m feeling this plot-related insecurity. I need more structure, I need more plot! My characters can’t just hang out and and try to figure out their relationship, they need to do stuff. So I throw more plot at the story. In this case, the whole business with poison, etc. And I think it’s a good plot, and I’m not worried about it.

Except… I keep fairly close track of my sales. It’s not really fair to compare a book that came out this spring with a book that came out six years ago, since the older book has had so much more time to accumulate sales, but I can still get a rough idea of what’s selling well.

And my best selling books? Dark Horse (the whole series, but especially the first one), Mark of Cain, and In Too Deep. None of which is all that plotty. Dark Horse, especially, was written before I had any real idea of structure (or much else) and was just about a guy trying to figure out his damn life and going through a series of essentially episodic events. Very low on plot.

So… maybe I should just relax on trying to have so much plot, and let myself write what comes easily. I wrote In Too Deep in less than a month, and that was with lots of edits and promo for other books going on at the same time. The relationship stuff just flows, and if it sells as well… maybe I need to catch myself when I start trying to get too plotty. Maybe that’s an unnecessary distraction.

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