Just sent off two book proposals to my publishers. If accepted, they’ll provide the starting points for the next two Poke Rafferty novels.
I hate writing book proposals. What publishers usually want is a synopsis of the plot, and at this stage I have no idea whatsoever what the plot of either book is going to be. Plotting is something I let my characters do, so to speak. I come up with a situation that needs to be resolved, bring my characters into it, and then watch how they deal with it. Often I have a vague idea of how the story might end, but that’s just something to top — throughout the writing process, I’m keeping my mind open and receptive to better endings.
Something I wrote on the Writers’ Resources area of this site got picked up by another site and kicked up a discussion that eventually involved me. Out of it I learned that lots of people think there are two kinds of writers — pantsers, so-called because they write by the seat of their pants — and planners, who plot the book before they begin to write it.
Well, I’m a pantser. I think most writers probably do some of both, but I am first and foremost a pantser. I don’t want to know where the plot is going; finding out is half the fun of writing it. (As Raymond Chandler said, the best way to keep the reader from knowing who did it is not to know yourself.) I once wrote an entire mystery, Skin Deep, without knowing whodunit until I was actually cranking out the last 35 pages. When the penny dropped, I had to go back and fix a bunch of stuff, but that was fun, too. And I’ll bet no one guessed who it was.
The biggest problem with having written the book proposals is that I now have these two story frameworks tattooed on my forebrain, and I’m going to have to work extra-hard to overcome them. There may be a million better turns for these two stories to take than the ones I outlined in the proposals, but when I write these books, those plot frameworks are going to be there in my mind, like the squares in a hopscotch game. Yes, you skip squares or step outside the pattern altogether, but the damn things are there, and they’re always visible. It’s hard enough to write a book without having this ghostly floorplan embedded in my mind and having to measure my instincts against it. Every time my characters start to take me down a new path, I’ll be asking myself whether it’s better than the one in the proposal, when I should just be asking myself whether it’s any good.
Maybe, if I sell 140 million books, I won’t have to write these damn things any more. In the meantime, I suppose I should just be happy that a publisher as extraordinary as William Morrow actually wants book proposals from me. I wasn’t always that way.