Are you a “plotter” or a “seat-of-the-pantser”?

I’m absolutely an organized plotter. You could never write a suspense novel featuring a full cast of characters, shifting points of view, and a complex storyline complemented with subplots without a detailed blueprint. Some author friends say they sit down in front of their computers with only a beginning seed thought. Somehow they successfully crank out books. I say, “More power to them,” but the writing process doesn’t work that way for me. I’ve had plenty of practice—remember, I wrote five novels before I found a publisher for Fatal Illusions. I’ve tried both methods (planning and not planning), and I speak from the experience of failure. If you want to slam your head into a brick wall and not have a clue where your novel is supposed to go next, be a “seat-of-the-pantser.” If you want to begin a novel and actually finish it, plan to be a plotter. I know the pros and cons from experience.

Imagine you’re building a house. You don’t begin with a pile of plywood and a hammer and expect to produce a beautiful Victorian without a blueprint. Not on your life. A recognized author recently compared writing his novels to a plane taking off from an airport; of course, the pilot has a flight plan. What passenger in his right mind would get on an airplane if the pilot didn’t have a flight plan?

Fantasy novelist Terry Brooks has a great little book, Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, I highly recommend to any wannabe novelist; he offers a chapter on plotting that is indispensable. What I’m saying doesn’t mean that I recommend being inflexible. Though I plan my storyline chronologically point by point, I remain flexible. Sometimes part of the story may want to go another direction. At that point, I’m flexible if I see a better path, so the storyline often changes. But I never, ever begin writing a novel unless I know how to get from point A to point B to point C. I always know the beginning, middle, and ending. An average Christian novel totals about 100,000 words. Believe me, you don’t want to sacrifice umpteen hours of your life getting to 90,000 words only to be at a loss as to how to write the last 10,000.

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