Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Discovery Writing 101

I'm a Discovery Writer, also known as a Pantser. This means, I sit down and write my first draft with no idea where it's going to go. I don't plan. I don't draw out character arcs or timelines. I start on page one and work my way forward, completely blind.

Discovery Writers get a bad wrap. We're seen as undisciplined, scattered, and messy. People are afraid of writing like us, because our editing process is rumored to be horrific. Often, we can't even tell you who our villain is or if our book will have a happy ending.

Being a Discovery Writer is scary.

It's like jumping off a cliff without knowing if your parachute will work. You start writing your story without even knowing if it has an ending.

But, to me, being a Discovery Writer is magical.

What people don't understand is that being a Discovery Writer is all about trusting your characters. You introduce yourself to them, and say, "Alright, now tell me your story." And then you just follow them.

And they do. They tell you about their lives and their adventures. It's a very personal way to write a story. You get really close to your characters as they walk you through their lives.

But you have to accept that you have no control. You have to understand as a Discovery Writer that you're really not making decisions. Oh, in the editing process you'll have some choices -- do I include this scene? should I explain why she's doing this? can I remove this character? -- but, in the first draft, you don't have a say in any of that. You don't decide if this character is evil or if that character will drink the potion. You just watch them and see what they choose. You let go. You stop planning. You stop trying to force your will on the story. You just let it happen.

And you'll write a lot of words that will never be used.

When I wrote The Witch's Key, I wrote a first draft of 300 pages. I didn't even introduce my villain. I wrote these 300 pages, and all the while Phyllida and the others talked to me. They told me how they felt about things, and why things were happening the way they were. It wasn't very accurate, because I wasn't getting the full story all at once. But, by the time I reached page 300 (nowhere near the ending of the book,) I realized that I now knew the story. I understood the arc, and the way the pieces played together. I understood why Thanasius had a book on Necromancy and why we were taking a spontaneous trip to Canada. I was able to start over with a clean page, and write with the story more straight in my mind.

But that's not to say this draft came clean. I was still learning things. I knew my characters better, so I could trust them more. I found some twists and turns and learned more and more. When I start editing in September, I will have the full story laid out.

I don't believe outliners can do all this with a single outline. Sure, Outliners don't end up with 300 pages they will never use. But they do go through many different outlines. They do chapter sketches that don't make sense when they get that far. Their characters surprise them, too.

For me, it's easier to make the journey with my characters, instead of trying to figure it all out at once. It's like taking a trip. Some people want to plan out their itinerary in perfect detail, and some want to follow the roads as they reach them and see where they lead. I'm one of the latter kind.

Right now, I have no idea what the plot of Magicland even is. I don't know if Suzerra is evil, or if she'll get a love interest. I don't know what the political structure looks like. I don't know if Jak will return to New York or stay in Fairyland when the war is over. I don't even know if Clara will survive.
And that's ok. Because I know that they will tell me when I get there. And I know that, whatever they do, it will be better than anything I could plan at this point.

Being a Discovery Writer is about admitting that you're not in control. You decide how the story is told, but you don't decide what the story is. That is for your characters to figure out for themselves. It's about trusting your charries and the story that they're telling.

So, if you're a Discovery Writer, allow yourself to let go. Don't worry about outlines and character development and all that stuff. Just write. Your story will come.



Whit said...

"can I remove this character?" No, no you can't.

"I don't even know if Clara will survive." Yes, yes she will.

It would freak me out to write like you do, but I sure love your stories and I trust your process.

Quinlyn said...

Hehe...I have a feeling I know where you got the inspiration for this post. ;) Thanks a lot!

And YES, Clara must survive...otherwise Jak will be as bad as Suzerra and probably jump off a cliff. *sob*

Leandri Burger said...

sigh So...I just found out I'm a Discovery Writer. Haha I was wondering what was wrong with me. I admire you so much, keep keeping on :D