Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘pantser’? In other words, do you prefer to know exactly what is going to happen on every page of your novel before you write it? Or do you prefer to start writing and see how the story unfolds.
I always thought I was more of a pantser but for the third volume of my crime series (the Scarborough Mysteries) I find myself becoming more of a planner. And probably most writers will move between the two. I think both approaches have their pros and cons. I think being a pantser is likely to create more quirky and interesting plot lines as there is the space for the unexpected to emerge. However, especially when talking about a crime novel, a certain amount of the planner is useful to ensure all the loose ends get tied up and none of the twists culminate in unintended dead ends.
Stories can start from anything – with a notion perhaps, an image, a character, a plot, something overheard, a dream. Generally I tend to start with a gaggle of characters in search of a narrative, so I am always on the hunt for a plot or two. I collect them in a folder; they particularly include pieces which catch my eye from the news or documentaries or the local paper.
Here’s a writing exercise
Take your local paper and go to page 5. Write a couple of sentences from this page in the middle of a sheet of paper, then begin to ‘mind-map’. Jot down on the empty space ideas and words which spontaneously occur to you. After about fifteen minutes a narrative thread may well be revealing itself to you, one which you could begin to follow.
There are particular issues around plotting, structuring and pacing a crime novel which I will explore later in this series.
Meanwhile are you a planner or a pantser?