How do you develop your stories?  Do you plot in advance, complete with outlines and maybe index cards, or do you drive the book by the seat of your pants, letting the characters sort of lead you around by the nose?

I'm in the latter category.  I have no idea in the world how a book will turn out, or where it will take me during the process.  I started my current one with nothing but an image: a six-foot, feather-winged angel walking down a crowded street in a Bangkok slum.  I'm now almost 90 pages in, and I still don't know exactly who he is, but I'm having a wonderful time.

I'd love to hear from you, and also to suggest (if the subject interests you) that you look at my blog at, where some really good writers are addressing the question.  So far we've had Stephen Jay Schwartz, Bill Crider, Rebecca Cantrell, and Gar Anthony Haywood.  Up right now is Helen Simonson, whose first novel, COLONEL PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND has had amazing reviews by everyone from Oprah to Publisher's Weekly and the NY Times, and which entered the Amazon rankings, two weeks before its pub date, at 126.

I'd love it if you dropped by and took a look at the way these folks do it, but I'd also love some replies here.  This is a topic I can read about and discuss pretty much any time.

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I would never submit a 100-page synopsis. But it does give me, the writer, the juice to trim the sales pitch down to five to seven pages that grab--your cloud language. And that is why I say that the 100-page synopsis is my first draft.
I've just found that in order for me to convey my enthusiasm, my ambition for the end game, that I need to commit myself to such rigor. That's not saying that other folks don't have other ways of conveying that same conviction.
I don't know that we are all that far apart here--you write the first third of the book, I do the major synopsis/first draft before submitting the proposal. Whatever it takes to transmit one's personal enthusiasm and devotion to the project to prospective editors/publishers. And to make them wonder, "And then?"
Pantser, definitely. I often make half a dozen false starts on a vague idea, before I find the story. My documents file is a jumble, and sometimes I find myself opening a superceded version of something and belatedly realizing that I'm working on the wrong one. Obviously, I also lack the guts to delete anything.
But you might go back at some point and mine it for nuggests of something usable.
Agreed. I once shelved an entire novel because I couldn't make it work, and I've since cannibalized everything in it that was any good.
Plantser. Depends on the book.
How? What kind of book requires which approach, and why?
Wow. How fascinating to read the writers on your blog. As an amateur fiction writer, it is great fun to get a peek inside the heads of published professionals.

I'm just past the halfway mark of my first novel-length manuscript. I think it's safe to say that I'm a hardcore plotter. Of course, I have to be a flexible plotter if I want to keep my hair on my head.

I started with an idea and let it expand in my brain. When I feared things would start spilling out and I'd lose them forever, I pulled out the 3x5 index cards. I wrote a sentence, graph or character quote representing scenes or ideas that I wanted to include in a scene. I had cards for the main plot and a subplot and used thumbtacks to arrange and rearrange them on a bulletin board. I kept adding cards until I ran out of room. That's when I started writing.

About twenty-five percent of the way through my WIP, I had to find another way to keep track of my scenes. I started using Microsoft Office's OneNote. (OK for my purpose, but there's got to be something more user friendly out there.) I've added lots of new scenes, cut out a few and done more rearranging. And as I go, I keep adding plot notes, car photos for reference, description ideas, etc.

Can you spell A-N-A-L? LOL
I really like the idea of the scene notes: character, graph, quote. I do that in a much sloppier fashion: I keep a second document open when I'm writing (pantsing, of course), and when something comes to me for a future scene, I just switch windows to that document and pop it in. I just put a couple of stars in the center of the page between scene ideas.

I know it's not organized, but it works for me even it I never look at it again because the act of writing it down has sort of glued it in my head so it can't slip out my ear.
Oh, and Melissa, I'm glad you're liking the series. Leighton Gage, who writes brilliant mysteries set in Brazil, is next -- coming this Wednesday. And six excellent writers to follow.
I'd like to be a plotter - it seems the logical way to write, but I'm more of a 'seat-of-the-pants' person, in reality!

So often I start writing something in my head and I just have to seize it and try to keep up long enough to get it into written format. I certainly feel as though I'm learning about the characters/situations as they crop up, almost as if someone else (my alter-ego? ....that's spooky!!!) is really in charge!

Not having the plot defined, worked out, and every loose end tied up does mean lying awake in the wee small hours arguing with myself about how to resolve conflicts/situations/plot-holes....still, it occupies me while the OH is snoring.....
Hi, Sue --

I'd like to be a plotter, too, but I can't do it, and that's completely at odds with the way I live my life in every other area. If anything, I'm an over-planner. When I travel, I have more luggage than Elizabeth Taylor, just so that every possibility short of a meteorite collision is covered.

But when I write, I literally CAN'T think that way. I have to do it on instinct, just letting the characters tell me what they want to do, and not allowing myself to correct them when I think they might be screwing up. Oh, well. As long and labor-intensive as it is, I might as well be writing it on a wooden laptop. (By the way, this one actually works.)

Is that for real? A wooden laptop?


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