Unexpected Guest - Jan Edwards

writing editing

I have always seen myself as a dyed-in-the-wool/seat-of-the-pants kind of writer and so, when I begin a new project, I will have an opening and an ending (of a kind that exists way over there in the dim distance), a rough notion of who is making the trip and vague notes on how they are going to get there.
However – not unlike travelling the M6 – there are no end of things that can cause detours and delays between start and finish, and I am not averse to bumping off various characters for a bit of added tension!
There are writers who plot and plan in minutest detail and produce notes on each section almost as long as the end product; a process that I would call a first draft. I can see the logic behind such meticulous plotting, especially when embarking on a crime novel of the whodunit variety. I reasoned that this genre necessitated my change of tactics – i.e. a fully formed synopsis – because the signposts and clues need to be seeded with more precision. With that in mind I planned out my novel chapter by chapter with the relevant clues highlighted along the way and felt quite pleased with the overall logic that had emerged.
For probably the first time ever I had a hard core synopsis to follow, and was merrily trotting through it at quite a pace, feeling unimaginably smug,  until … the ‘unexpected character’ arrived on the scene of the crime. He was intended to be a minor, if pivotal, character. A purveyor of information who allows the main protagonist to join the proverbial dots. Except that once he had walked onto the page he refused to leave, and his continued presence has altered the dynamics completely.
I don’t object to his presence – far from it. His walking into the plot has livened things up and added a whole new dimension. But that old ‘leopards and spots’ homily springs to mind when my carefully planned synopsis has turned out to be something of a misnomer; torn it up into so much confetti by my seat-of-the-pants writing brain. In consequence I am half way through the book and most of what has gone before now requires ‘tweaking’ (rewriting) and massive extending to accommodate his presence.
The essential plot remains the same, but I am now marking time until what I have written through pre-planning has been caught up with by my more usual peripatetic style of planning; which leaps from stage to stage like polar bears on the ice flow, always with an ending firmly in sight but allowing the tides to dictate how I reach it. Far from having a carefully crafted synopsis what I had was an opening and an ending (of a kind that exists way over there in the dim distance), a rough notion of who is making the trip and vague notes on how they are going to get there.
Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties


Chris Longmuir said…
I'm a crime writer, Jan, and I never plan or plot meticulously. I start with a scene and fly by the seat of my pants, I don't even know who the murderer is, and in one of my books an intended body refused to die and lived on. I rationalise this by thinking/saying that if I don't know who the murderer is, then my reader won't know either. The only problem with this approach is that I have to keep a timeline to let me know where each character is at any specific time just so they can be available to commit the said murder.
Jan Edwards said…
Agreed! I can't plot too closely - I get bored :-)
Susan Price said…
Same here. I sort of admire the writers I know who spend a year carefully plotting every detail of every chapter and then write the book in a fortnight. Iy must be an easier way, with less wasted time and energy, but I just can't do it. As Jan says, I get bored.
I'm untidy in everything, including writing. Can't be restful in a tidy room - though I know others who say they can't be restful in an untidy room. I've given up fighting it.
Though I will tidy up a bit for Christmas, happy in the knowledge that it won't last very long.
Dennis Hamley said…
Yes, I sort of admire them too. I was always told in my youth that that was the only way you could write stories. Anything else was the dreaded crime of 'making it up as you go along'. My start as a writer of fiction wad delayed for many years and the fact that I was disqualified from the thing I wanted to do most of all because of this deficiency was the cause, until I suddenly said, 'What the hell', started 'making it up as I went along' and have never looked back. The rigid planner I admired most was my great friend Bob Leeson. His unerring judgement before he even put pen to paper unnerved me. Horses for courses, as they say.
Bill Kirton said…
I'm with the others. I've had too many (welcome) experiences of the intruder who changes everything so I just write away and, when she or he appears, or the unplanned event occurs, I let them take me wherever they or it want to go. I don't think I've ever started a book (except the non-fiction stuff) with anything other than the vaguest idea of how I'll get where I want to go. It's reassuring to know I'm in such good company.
Umberto Tosi said…
I'm with you, driving up that same road, detours and all. I like to say that I'm seat-of-the-pants, but secretly, I envy those who can plot with precious, because frankly, I'm terrible at it. Good luck with your opus. It already sounds fascinating.

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