Of the trouser mind, or rigidly defined…..
You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky—Paul Auster
I guess when you turn off the main road, you have to be prepared to see some funny houses—Stephen King
I am told that I talk in shorthand and then smudge it—J.R.R. Tolkien
Where there is no imagination, there is no horror—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Yesterday found us digging up dinosaur kneecaps and stubbing our toes on tarnished genie lamps– and, we have the dirty fingernails to prove it. But, once we have our prize, however petrified or oxidized it might be, what do we do next?
An idea, however glorious and magical it might be, is just an idea. That bone needs meat and that lamp needs polishing!
And depending on the type of person you are, once the fattening up and the polishing starts, one of two things happen:
1/ You know precisely what animal you’ve uncovered and can apply the correct amount of flesh and fur… you know the name of the genie residing in your lamp and exactly how many wishes he will grant… and you write your story accordingly.
2/ You haven’t the faintest idea whether your animal has fur or feathers… you aren’t sure the genie of your lamp grants wishes or even if there is a genie… and you let your story write itself accordingly.
In other words, you’re either a planner or a pantster.
As a planner (play by the detailed outline writer), you know exactly who’s saying what and who’s doing what. You divine the direction your characters will take, sometimes days, weeks, years in advance. You can’t even move forward without a detailed itinerary in triplicate, notarized three years in advance.
As a pantster (fly by the seat of your pants writer), you know nothing about nothing. Well, you probably know a few characters’ names and what might take place. But, everything looks hazy, like the vague futures read from a cheap fortune-teller’s foggy crystal ball.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I seem to fall somewhere between these two extremes. I love the idea of a detailed outline and knowing exactly where I’m going next. But, I love the fear of not knowing where my story’s headed. Outlining brings stringent order to spiraling chaos. But, unfettered writing can lead to some interesting and unforeseen places.
What say you? Do you walk your characters strategically through the plot’s chessboard? Or, do you toss them in the deep end and cross your fingers that they can swim?