Shelley Widhalm

Writing as puzzle solving

In Freewriting, Writing, Writing Novels, Writing Processes on December 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing is like solving a puzzle, at least when approaching the story or novel without planning or forethought.

I’m a pantser writer, but I’ve decided for my next novel, I’ll engage in the planning approach. I’ll come up with an overriding idea, a beginning and an ending, and a few of the character sketches, instead of writing and seeing what happens.

Why am I going to the other side?

Writing’s become a bit painful and an emotional experience for me, where I have to face myself and how I write and process the story. I get lost in where to go next and don’t know where I’ve been. I just keep writing like I’m in a speed writing contest, when what I really want to do is write with purpose and direction. I want a plan.

By freewriting my stories and letting what happens happen, I’ve noticed how I’m trying to solve a mystery, though I’m not writing a mystery. I write myself in a corner, or multiple corners. A short story becomes a novella. A piece of flash fiction becomes a short story. A novel goes on too long past the 100,000-word mark when I want to write 80,000 words.

This get-myself-in-a-corner writing is the result of my main character needing to solve something, but I don’t let her solve it because all these other characters prop up and she has to interact with them and get through her own plot, because if I say, “Magic. Problem solved,” the reader won’t buy it.

I have to get her to the end of the story.

I have to solve how she and the characters interact to carry the plot forward through the middle all the way to the end.

But instead, I’m mired in the story, so I have to look back at what I wrote and figure out where the story is headed, picking up clues in what I’ve already written. I have to figure out the plot strands and bring them together, knowing my one basic question, while also wondering, but how do I get there?

I’m stuck in the middle and have to move backward, do some planning and thinking, and then I can get back to writing. What I do is stop, plan, and write. So am I really pantsing my novel, when I really had to middle-plan? The arc has to come full circle, not move in a straight line of writing whatever pops into my head.

That’s where the pain comes in. I’m in the middle of writing, and I have to throw my nature aside and start planning.

What is it like for you? Are you a pantser or a planner?

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