It all boils down to one question - are you a plotter, or a pantser?
With just five more days until National Novel Writing Month begins, there is a lot of buzz going on about how people are preparing to face the challenge of writing a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days.
Some people have detailed outlines and character sketches.
Some people have decided that they have Character A and Character B, and they are going to get thrown into Situations C and D, but they are going to let what happens write itself.
Still other people are tossing ideas around, but haven't really settled on the story they are going to write yet.
And finally, there are those NaNoWriMo purists who, having no idea what they are going to write, will sit down in front of their computer on November first and fly through the month, and their novel, by the seat of their pants.
I saw it mentioned somewhere recently that outlining fiction is a pointless effort, because the outline ends up becoming so detailed that you might as well just write the damned story already.
Do I agree with this? Yes and no.
My last attempt at NaNoWriMo failed in part because I tried to outline my story. I went into the month knowing the basics of the story that I wanted to tell. I had the characters formed in my head. I knew the setting. I had a general plot.
I wrote my first 1667 words like a good little writer on November first, but I decided that I needed more discipline, and I took things further. I cluster mapped. I brainstormed. I filled in character sketches and I filled in known plot holes. I created a timeline. I knew what my story was about and I knew what it was going to say when the month was over. I had created my very first outline!
I was so proud of myself for being so... so.... professional about my writing for once.
And so I wrote. I kept track of my daily word count on a spreadsheet and if I fell behind, I pushed to catch up. If I got ahead, I did everything in my power to stay there. I was doing this, by golly. I was WINNING NaNo.
Except that as I approached thirty thousand words, a strange thing happened. My main character started to deviate from the storyline that I had set out for her. She did things that were out of character, and she totally ignored my meticulously laid plans for her future. The man that I had planned as her love interest wouldn't take the bait, and another man appeared instead. I have no idea where he came from. I didn't plan him. He called her up on the phone one day when she was supposed to be doing something else.
Something that I had outlined for her to be doing at the precise moment this mystery character appeared and blew my outline to smithereens.
I was overjoyed and horrified all at the same time. On one hand, I was thinking, "How awesome is this? My characters hijacked my story. I wonder what is going to happen next?"
On the other hand, the Control Freak in me was totally freaking out.
My beautifully plotted and planned story was ruined. Try as I might, I couldn't rein the characters in, and there was no way I was going to be able to finish the story in fifty thousand words. In fact, I couldn't see it ending at a hundred thousand words at that point. At least, not if I was going to regain control of the story and tell it like I had planned to tell it.
I was stalled at 37K words, and that was that. I threw in the towel and congratulated myself for a valiant effort and then skipped NaNoWriMo entirely the next time it came along.
Here's the thing - once I created an outline, I was doomed. I've never been a plotter. Nothing against plotters. I actually envy plotters. My Control Freak envies plotters. They're so... put together.
But for me, the joy in writing has always been sitting down with some vague ideas and no apparent direction, and then letting the story tell itself. My characters shine brighter when they give birth to themselves. My settings are more tangible. My plots are more captivating.
They say it's not important whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game. I give myself credit for trying to be a plotter, but it didn't suit me, or my writing, so this year, I'm taking the NaNoWriMo challenge as a full throttle pantser.
This year, I'm playing to win.
What is your NaNoWriMo style?