Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hanging Onto My Pants

Once again I owe a huge thank you to Maia, who—to my great fortune—precedes me in the blog rotation here. I had in mind the topic of "pantsing," but of course, I didn't write it down, so I was staring at my upcoming blog date with a bit of apprehension. I knew I had a topic, but I couldn't remember it.

Although it's gotten Maia into a bit of a jam, I am here to sing the praises of pantsing (which definitely sounds like something an erotic romance writer would be into.) I'm a writer because I love to read. I love the magical page-by-page discovery of a story in my head. Once the story is told, it's a different kind of magic. That's not saying I don't love rereading old favorites, but that first time thrill is gone. That's one reason I can't be a plotter. If I know all the details of how it's going to turn out, I get bored, even with myself. (I know, hard to believe.) The mystery is gone. One of my excellent critique partners has her entire story plotted out on scene cards. She can pull up any scene from her book and write it in any order. I am awed by her ability even as it makes me shudder in horror at the thought of doing it myself.

For me, a romance begins and ends with the characters. The books I've written that had more to do with what than with who are still sitting on my hard drive, and rightly so, because I let the plot outshine the people. I've learned to start with the people, throw them into a situation and let them tell me the story. The characters take on lives of their own, the rat bastards, often dragging me down plot threads I never saw coming or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but that's what keeps me turning (um, churning out) pages. Because I'm lost in their story as they tell it to me.

As Maia said, it can be frustrating. Sometimes these independent little brain children paint themselves into a corner, or worse yet shut up and refuse to tell you the rest of the story. I saw that someone suggested to Maia that violence might force her characters to speech. I'm all for it. When they pull that crap with me, I go back to who they are, remember what it is they fear most, and light a fire under their recalcitrant little butts. It may not work right away, but that's usually because I haven't dug through all their layers of protection to find out what will really hurt the most.

So while I heartily endorse flying by the seat of your pants, (the fact that I'm sniggering at "seat of your pants" only shows that one of my college-aged characters from my current work in progress is ready to come out and play), it's not for everyone. It takes a willingness to relinquish some of your god-like control over the world and people you've created. It takes a willingness to dig deep inside your characters and make them hurt. And since it's your world and they're your brain children, I guess you have to be willing to hurt a little too. But I'll take that over the scary empty space inside when there's nothing new to discover. I'm K.A., I'm a pantser, and as Henry James said, "The rest is the madness of art."


Zoe Nichols said...

Well said, doll! As a fellow pantser, I must raise my glass in agreement.

I can't do a "what" story. I get distracted then uninterested every time.

Which I suppose, is why we write romance in the first place. So we can be as people-centric as we want.

K.A. Mitchell said...

Thanks, Zoe. Yes, too much external plot gets in the way of the good stuff these days. Like backstory and dialogue and oh yeah, the hot sex. :D

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