Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Confessions of a Closet Puzzler

I never suspected I had it in me.

You think you know yourself, but then the whole thing just sort of blind-sides you. There I was, putting along on my current WIP, being a good little linear pantser, and . . . what's that you say?

You don't know what a pantser is? A quick primer on writing process is in order then.

Pantser-- A character-driven writer who wakes up each morning wondering where her H/h will take her story today. (This is me. When I say I'm linear, I mean I start at the beginning and stop when I hit "The End.")

Plotter-- A plot-driven writer who knows down to the POV and sensory details what's happening in every single scene before she writes the first sentence.

Layerer-- This writer starts with a powderkeg of a premise distilled down to a single sentence. Then she expands to a paragraph, a back cover blurb, a one page synopsis, a 5 page synopsis, a 10 page . . . an 80 page first draft, a 200 page second . . . well, you get the idea. This writer keeps ploughing through the story adding layers of detail on each pass.

Puzzler-- These magical writers conjure their stories out of the air in vignettes written in whatever order the scenes come to them. Then they shuffle them into the correct order and string together connecting passages to make a story. Sort like patchwork quilting, but with words.

Anyway, back to my original thought. There I was, minding my business, writing away, when out of the blue, here came a scene into my head that was completely out of order. And I realized immediately that it had to be incorporated into my WIP, even though it meant backtracking considerably. (Like a couple hundred pages. This was a seriously out of order scene!)

After I finished tucking the scene in seamlessly, I basked in the moment. It fit. It was as essential to the story as any of the other scenes. It was like a Mozart sonata, each note strung together like a perfectly matched set of pearls.

Even though one pearl was tied in out of order.

I had tried plotting and layering before, but I never thought my mind worked organically enough for puzzling. I guess it just goes to show that if you write long enough, you'll use every known process and make up a few of your own.

When you read, have you ever been able to tell what sort of process a writer used?


Marcy W said...

Isn't it a wonderful thing to find that we can still surprise ourselves ABOUT ourselves!?! What will this discovery mean for your writing in the future, I wonder? Will you become a pantser/puzzler ... or will some books be more one than the other? Having found that surprises can work leaves room for lots more ... I can't wait to see what happens next!! :-)

Gillian Layne said...

Wow. I don't think I could tell anything from what I've read, but I've never thought about it before, either. I will now! :)

Nynke said...

That is so cool! Must feel really wonderful, shiny and new :).

It's an interesting question, about what you can tell about the writing process as a reader... I don't think I've ever noticed anything in particular, except maybe when a story is very obviously trying to make some moral point, in which case I assume the author must have been plotting or layering. But they might have rewritten the story to make it look that way, of course ;).

EmilyBryan said...

Marcy--I don't know what it means. I've always thought puzzlers were sort of "out there." I mean, how do they manage a decent character arc if they don't always know what's come before? Now I'm thinking that if the character is so deeply ingrained in my psyche, it doesn't matter what order the story first appears in. If another puzzle piece pops up and hits me, I'll somehow "know" what's come before and what must come after.

EmilyBryan said...

Diana Gabaldon is a puzzler, but to me, her work flows linearly and seamlessly.

Jayne Ann Krentz is a pantser, but her plots are so tight you could bounce a quarter off them.

I guess you probably can't tell the process with the good ones.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--Theme is a touchy subject. We always want our writing to speak to something beyond the mechanics of the plot, but we don't want to be seen as preachy.

My agent is big on having every scene relate back to the "big idea" in some way. She's probably right (she usually is!). The best stories are the ones that make us think about things in a new way.

Nynke said...

I hear you :).