Are you a plotter or a pantser?

First, what is a plotter, what is a pantser?

These are terms writers use to describe how they approach writing a manuscript. Some of us make an outline, some of us make a VERY DETAILED outline. Other of us have nothing more in our heads than an opening line or opening scene, and we crank up the computer and “see what happens.” We don’t know the story until we write it.

I’m somewhere in between. I have OFTEN started a book with only a single line in my head. I hear a man’s voice, a Scottish accent, but an educated one, and he’s grousing about needing a rich wife. Somebody paraphrases Jane Austen, and I find out this guy needs a wealthy wife, but the whole idea makes his quietly sentimental and family-oriented heart ache.

That was all I needed to get started on The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.

With Nicholas: Lord of Secrets, I’d met Nick in earlier books, and he wasn’t making sense. He was a ladies man, sorta, and he loved horses, kids and old people, but he was loath to marry. Why? He’s a dear sweet, guy, handsome and charming, he needs an heir, and he won’t marry. He had a reason. I knew he had a reason and a valid reason (no reason-y, no book-y, dude), but he wouldn’t share his secret with even me until his book was half written.

That’s an extreme case of my usual approach: I write as much as I know, a few chapters, usually, and then I must perch on my croquet wicket, waiting, waiting, hoping, waiting, for the characters to let me in on the deal. Lady Louisa took half the book to tell me what exactly was plaguing her from her past, but in the middle of a conference of the American Librarians Association, she came clean.

Other books I have a sense going in where we’ll end up based on the character’s wounds–Lady Eve had to get back on the horse, so to speak; Gillian, in The Captive, had to reconcile herself to how far we’ll go to protect someone we love. Those were by far the easier books to write, so now I try to spend more time analyzing where a character hurts before I get too much of the book written.

A word of caution: I’ve been told, and I expect it’s true, that no matter what our preferred process is, a book will come along that refuses to be written unless we go over to whatever the dark side of the writing process is for us. For me that would probably be a detailed outline, for another writer, it’s the hold your nose and jump school of plotting. I haven’t hit that book…. yet.