I always find it interesting to talk with other writers about their processes. Of course, some are strict outliners while others, like me, write mainly by the seat of their pants, letting the story unfold as they go along. Of course, even us pantsers do a lot of planning, thinking out plots, scenes, and characters in the early stages of a new project. I find that I need to get a pretty good handle on my characters very early in the process because they actually help me tell the story and make it unique.
I generally have at least a vague notion of who my main characters and important secondary characters will be by the time I start writing, and a general sense of my story. Then I dig in and write around 40 pages just to become more acquainted with my characters and to set the stage for what’s to come. At this point, I stop writing and dig into research because I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself only to learn that there’s no way the story in my head could possibly happen. My current manuscript, GHOSTLY EMBERS, is a YA contemporary novel with historical, romance and mystery elements, all of which needed to be juggled and intertwined in an “it could happen” sort of way. There were definitely times I wanted to tear my hair out. Instead, I went for a walk, or if it was cocktail hour, I drank a glass of wine. By now I know I’ll work out the kinks, even if it means a major rewrite. I sometimes envy writers who can sit down and plot out their entire book before typing the first word. I know it must save many hair-pulling incidents, but it just doesn’t work for me. I tried it once when I was about a third of the way into my manuscript. I sat down and outlined what I’d written so far with the intent of outlining the rest of the book. Unfortunately what I learned was that I had to write the next chapter in order to figure what to add to my outline. I knew immediately there was something wrong with that picture. So I went back to the way that comes natural to me, and let the story flow from my characters. You’d think outlining would come natural to someone who spent many years working as a researcher, and actually it did in that job. I guess it’s just the difference between writing non-fiction and writing fiction…at least, for me.