When it comes out writing, one of the most common questions I’m asked about process is whether I’m a “plotter” or “pantser”—whether I outline my books before starting, or fly by the seat of my trousers. As a fantasy writer, I have to imagine the majority of us fall into the former camp (the thought of setting out on an adventure WITHOUT a map is quite frankly terrifying). At the same time, I’ve found that knowing too much about my story diminishes the excitement of actually WRITING it. I need the kindling to light the fire, but discovery keeps it alive.
Because of this, I’ve realized I’m neither a plotter, nor a pantser.
I’m a connect-the-dots-er.
What this means is that before I start writing a book, I create five to ten plot points that absolutely must be present in order for my story to be, well, my story. Some of these are pivotal plot moments, some are twists, others are moments that reveal the nature of a character, but each is vital in its way, and together, they make a loose road map for my book. A way to keep one’s self from wandering 50,000 words in the wrong direction.
With A Darker Shade of Magic, for instance, the very first plot point I had was the inspiration for the entire book: the moment when a magician walked through a wall, and ran into a street thief who picked his pocket. This intersection of the two main characters, Kell and Lila, was a pivotal moment, a crux, and I knew that without it, the story wasn’t the one I wanted to tell, and I ended up working outward from that moment to find the other ten points.
But the important thing about connecting the dots is that I start with these marks, but not the lines between. Finding my way from point to point, that’s the blank space, the place for discovery. I might stray, explore, write myself down wrong paths, but I never stray so far that I loose the pattern, and I can always back up to the last plot point or work backwards from the next.
The advantage of plotting is that you have a detailed plan, but little room for inspiration. If you do have an idea that leads you astray, you risk setting off a chain of events the ripple effect of which disrupts if not negates your entire outline.
The advantage of pantsing is that everything is a mystery and anything could happen! The downside is that anything could happen and you might write yourself down a path of no return and have to rip out thousands upon thousands of words worth of plot stitches.
Connecting the dots is a way to introduce a controlled measure of chaos into the creative process. To stray without straying, to keep the story in your mind, the next plot point a guiding light in the distance, but the way from here to there filled with possibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V.E. Schwab is the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013, an Amazon Best Book of the Year (as well as Best Book of the month), a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice 2013 Book Awards, and the ALA top pick for Fantasy for their 2014 reading list. She is also the author of several books for children and teens, including The Archived series. You can check out her website here, then go buy her new book, A Darker Shade of Magic, here.