Layering of a story
My current work in progress, Red Rock Island, which will be published mid-July is an interesting case study in pantser writing. Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants. They sit down at the keyboard and begin a story with no idea of where it’s going. Compare that to J.K. Rowling who appears to be an outliner based on the storyboard that I’ve seen regarding her Harry Potter series. There are pros and cons to each style of writing and most writing instructors end with the advice to go with what works for you, the writer.
When I began my second series I started with a single premise. I’d put a guy who lives on the only private island inside San Francisco bay and he would solve crimes based on an engineering background combined with computer skills. That was all I started with. Today I’m sitting with the book 75% finished at over 60,000 words and I know I’ve got to solve my two cold cases, but I still don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know it will come to me. The reason I can’t outline, is I don’t know the story ending without knowing the details I’ve come upon along the way.
Since the story began I’ve added eighteen characters, two cold case victims, a dog and two cats. Some of the characters will be specific to this book only and other will continue as the series goes forward.
I had a teenager pop into the storyline out of nowhere and I’m fairly sure I won’t solve her mystery for a few books yet.
My main character, Damian Green, I thought would remain static throughout the story. He’d start alone and end alone, but he wouldn’t stay in the box I had planned, and so a woman along with a teenager appear in the story. Again I had no predilection that this was going to happen from the start rather it fit the story as it unfolded.
I understand that Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher series much the same way. He starts each story with Jack arriving somewhere and when he begins he doesn’t know what kind of trouble is going to find Jack in this new town, only that he will.
It’s both the agony and the ecstasy of each new story. I’m excited to see where a story takes me, but I can get stuck if I occasionally write myself into a dead end or when I don’t hear the story’s characters calling out to me. Weird huh?