Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where the Hell Did I Put That Damned Earlobe Again?

By Andrew E. Kaufman
Newly branded author of psychological thrillers

I think it’s in my nature to stretch myself with each new novel. I’m on my third now, and I’ve noticed I’m talking risks I never would have previously considered. I suspect that’s because I’m developing confidence as an author. I’m growing. As a result, my stories seem to be growing in complexity as well.

That’s a good thing, but it can be a scary thing, too.

Because I’m also driving myself a little crazy. Several times, I’ve wondered whether I’m going too deep into the literary waters with this newfound sense of freedom and adventure. Kinda like a swimmer who dares to go past the buoys, then looks back and thinks, “Holy crap! Where’d the shoreline go?”

That’s me, right about now.

Case in point: about twenty-thousand words into the manuscript, it occurred to me that I’d lost an earlobe. Well, I didn’t really lose it—more like I misplaced it somewhere among the pages. And it wasn’t mine; it belonged to one of my characters. The severed appendage was an important piece of evidence in the story, and I'd forgotten to remember where I’d strategically placed it. Not good.

I actually ended up having to search the document for said earlobe, and alas, I found it exactly where I’d left it: in chapter fifteen. Silly me (In case you’re wondering, it was in a parking garage, underneath a car).

But it got me thinking about my writing routine. I’m what many in the industry would call a “pantser.” That is to say, I write on the seat of my pants, using intuition to guide me through my stories rather than plotting them out beforehand. I’ve never done outlines. I don’t understand them, and the times when I’ve tried, I’ve never stuck to them anyway. For me, structure feels oppressive.

People often ask me how I can do that, how I can write a novel with no outline and no notes to tell me where the story will go. To that, my answer is always same: “I. Have. No. Freaking. Idea.” But the truth is, I just do, and it always seems to work. My story arcs seem to flow correctly, and my endings tie everything together nicely.

I think what it comes down to is a wiring sort of thing. It’s just how we’re made. Some of us do well in a structured environment while others don’t. I happen have the attention span of gnat and I’m easily distracted and my brain moves faster than I can often keep track, and, well...see what I mean?

I’ve spoken to other authors who carefully plot their stories, and they can’t see how I can write a book that way, which is fine because I can’t see how they can do it their way, either. But it's just fine no matter what because when it comes to writing,  I don't think it's a matter of keeping the rhythm--it's a matter of finding it. We all have to find our own way, and nothing is right or wrong as long as it works for us.


  1. Even with structure, it's easy to lose details (or body parts) in an 80,000-word story. Which reminds me, I need to update my character database and create a detailed timeline for the story I'm working on. And yes, I makes notes and lists along the way too. (For more information about my process, see my blog: Your First Draft Doesn't Have to Suck.)

    Maybe someday (when I can afford to fail), I'll try something a little more spontaneous. But in the meantime, as long as we're both having fun writing...

  2. As a fellow pantser (who writes By the seat of her pants instead of ON them! Although, I'd love to borrow your pants. I'll bet there are some good notes written there) I tried to co-write with an outliner once. We succeeded in churning out several decent short stories and we're both still alive, however, the process was a bit stressful because, as you mentioned, I think it has to do with wiring. And I'd say with a book in the top 10 of Amazon's Top 100, your method of writing works just fine for you. Lost body parts and all :)

  3. I think that part of the process of learning craft involves learning process, and you're right—it's different for everyone.

    I find I'm happier with a bit of a hodgepodge. When I know my characters really, really well, and have kind of an idea about the trouble they're going to get in to, I like to sit down and enjoy the freedom to create on the fly. It's like have a bit of a map, but feeling completely free to take unplanned sideroads whenever they feel right.

    I'm so glad you found your earlobe, and hope you manage to remember where you put all of the other pertinent body parts as you finish this new manuscript.

  4. You made me laugh! Great post, Drew. I agree that your method works very well for you, so don't change it. :)

    And LOL @Peg and the "other pertinent body parts."

  5. I hear ya, Drew. There are a lot of players I need to coordinate now in the climax of my new novel and I'm wondering how to tackle the choreography without losing...earlobes. Or worse. Good luck with yours!!

  6. And you have to be ready to accept that your process might change with the next book. I'm a 'tracker' not a 'plotter' and it's worked for me so far, but as I consider the next book in my mystery series, I do think I need to be more diligent about details since I figure these books will all be set in the same town.

    Having just finished book 3 in another series, I did find I had to search the previous books for some details I was pretty sure I had never mentioned, like the name of the street the heroine's shop was on, but I do like to make sure I don't screw up.

    Now, if I'd had a 3 book contract, I might have taken more time with the details, but each book was written with the thought that it was a one-and-only.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  7. Yeah, come to think of it, I'm with you, Terry. I'm more a tracker than a plotter. I do sometimes go backwards; I make a few key notes on my plot elements after I've constructed them, just to keep things straight in my head. I also go back and create a dateline so I don't have to keep calculating years repeatedly. Gets tiresome.

  8. Andrew,

    I think it does come down to wiring. I'm with LJ. I normally plot everything out, but I'm finding as years pass (I'm on my 7th book), I'm relaxing just how much of the plot I layout before I begin and how much of the detail I need to have noted away.

    I do keep a character database for my series characters. That way I know what has happened to them in past books (especially medical issues).

    I have jumped the fence and written one book as a pantser. I was so gripped by the story for The End of Marking Time that I wrote the first draft in six weeks, starting from the first sentence and plowing straight through.

    That was liberating, but it's a bit daunting for me on most projects.

  9. It's liberating to know that no one process is THE only one. As long as we can get into the zone and write, we can find joy in it and others can connect.


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