I got about halfway through the extended outline of my novel — which is not really an outline so much as a bare, running narrative of the story’s action (although I plotted it first in an ordinary outline, of the sort we were all taught in high school) — before I said, “Time to start the real writing!” So I began to write, whole chapters at a time (each chapter running around six thousand word so far, or about 15-18 pages as it would be in an average-sized trade paperback). Right now, I have about 18,000 words written, most of that has been lightly revised at least one, just to add in some depth to the POV and to bring out the nuances of the relationship between my two lead characters.
One of the things that fascinates me is how I’m getting to know the characters as I write. I’ve heard writers say that the characters take over, and I’ve always thought that was just pantser nonsense, but I’m beginning to wonder.
When I sat down to do some serious writing on this first draft, I had things pretty well planned out: an outline including every major scene (in the first half of the story, anyway), and a pretty detailed “extended outline” or narrative summary. I knew where the major game changers will occur and how they will affect my major characters. I had written detailed character sketches of all the major characters and a couple of the significant minor characters. I had even thought out a good deal of the “future history” that will explain how things get to be the way they are in my version of the twenty-ninth century, when my story occurs (not that most of that will be explicitly mentioned or directly alluded to in the novel). So basically, I just needed to sit down and bang out a draft of the first half of the novel, then do the detailed plotting on the second half , and bang out the rest of the draft, then think about revising. I figured, writing a little bit each day, I could have a complete draft by the time of my birthday, near the end of May. Happy birthday to me.
Looks like I may be celebrating my birthday early this year — mostly because I am writing 5,000 words a day, not 500 or 1,200. Why? Am I obsessed? No, I’m just really enjoying the process, partly because I’m finding out unexpected things about my characters, and new characters keep walking into the scenes.
My female lead, K, turns out to be half-Australian (maybe because I spent several weeks watching eight seasons of back-to-back episodes of an Australian TV series called McLeod’s Daughters; or maybe because I am using Aussie Simon Haynes’s excellent and totally free yWriter to write my novel) and she has a snappier wit than I had expected. She also has a cousin Jack who is a xenophobic Old Terran (native of Earth), who calls anyone not born on earth ETs (yep, extra-terrestrials).
J, the male lead, loves life on a spaceship because it feels like home and reminds him of his childhood (good thing, since he has hired on to a 5-year deep space mission). K, on the other hand, on the same 5-year mission, discovers too late that hurtling through the galaxy, dozens of light years from her beloved home on Earth, trapped with a bunch of strangers in a starship, gives her the moody blues and the heeby-jeebies (lucky for her she has met J, who lifts her spirits and takes her mind off the vast vacuum of space). And then, one day while K and J are having a quiet lunch in the mess hall, some jerk named Skip Amir horns in and starts hassling K, and J jumps up, ready to deck the guy and …
Well, I can’t give it all away. Besides, it may be different tomorrow. The point is, surprising stuff is happening — surprising to me, I mean. I hope some day readers will find the story as much fun as I am having writing it.
Maybe that stuff about “the characters taking over” isn’t entirely pantser nonsense.