The Blank Page, Part Duex

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A freelance editor once told me that in the world of writers there are plotters and there are free stylists. Plotters start with an outline in hand, marching through prose and dialogue until they arrive at an ending conceived on a whiteboard or napkin long before. Free stylists– that’s me– start with a character (if they’re lucky) or a sentence (if they’re not), and are as shocked as their readers will some day be by what happens. I once posted, “My character is making a terrible choice; I can’t believe I’m letting it happen. Hope there’s no such thing as character karma.” For me, that’s how it goes down. I get to know these people– their strengths, their weaknesses, their predilections– and then conflict presents itself.

imagesI’m not a martyr. I WISH I COULD PLOT. I want to. I tried desperately to follow that path with my second book. I don’t consider it cheating or even corner-cutting; I’m just unable to get scenes on paper when I already know how it plays out. It’s as if my inner muse loses interest. So, instead, I take the hardest possible route: writing to find the story, then cutting to pace it.

Last year I attached a sail to a new character and eventually found my next novel, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO LUCY BISCARO?, about a woman whose past keeps meddling with her future. It went to my editor a month ago. We met in New York last week to discuss the revision. I received an on the writing and characters, but a B- on pacing. Lucy has a happy home at St. Martin’s Press just as soon as I get her to the ending faster. This time, publishing’s pace will work in my favor. Readers won’t meet Lucy until February 2018, so I have time to build her up.

Other writers: are you a plotter or a free stylist? A hybrid, perhaps? Tips to share?

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Abby Fabiaschi is the author of I LIKED MY LIFE (St. Martin's Press, February 2017). She and her family divide their time between Tampa, Florida and Park City, Utah. When not writing or watching the comedy show that is her children, she enjoys reading across genres, skiing, hiking, and yoga. Oh, and travel. Who doesn’t love vacation? Learn more at abbyfabiaschi.com.

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This article has 14 Comments

  1. Abby, I am having the same issue with my second novel that you described with yours — “I’m just unable to get scenes on paper when I already know how it plays out. It’s as if my inner muse loses interest.” My first novel was character driven, and the plot just had to emerge, because I do like a decent plot. I’m not abandoning my outline yet, but I’m trying to forget it as much as possible. Congratulations on novels #1 and #2!

  2. I was a pantser before I ever heard the term — maybe before it was even coined.

    I remember a friend called me one day, maybe around 1975, and asked “Do you write with the front of your brain?” Without even thinking, I responded, “No, I write by the seat of my pants.”

    Like you, if I know where a story is going, I lose interest in actually writing it.

  3. I am such a Type A person I always assumed I would need to plan out the whole story before I started writing it. With each of the three books I’ve written, I’ve started by sitting down and trying to plan out every scene, and every time I’ve given up at some point and just started to write the damn thing. It took me awhile to accept that THIS is my process. I need to outline the first few chapters and then start writing, and as I write I figure out what I want to happen for the next few chapters, etc. So I guess I am a combo – I need a bit of a roadmap but one that’s flexible enough so the characters can switch course!

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