I always love when I have a guest pantser on How They Do It because I'm an outliner. It's fun to see how the other half lives, and even helps me with the more spontaneous side of my own writing. Today, we have Leslie Langtry, who writes about one of my favorite things. Assassins. (and does it with the best song spoof titles)
Leslie lives in the midwest with her husband (not an assassin), kids (not assassins), and dogs/cats/guineapigs (also, not assassins). While she has actually been asked if she has assassins in her family tree - alas, she does not. She does, however, enjoy writing about them and will continue the Bombay Family of Assassins Saga with PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHTS, a novella due out in August.
Take it away Leslie...
Maybe we need a 12 step group for that. All I know is that it's impossible for me to plan out a book before writing it. Try as I might, I struggle with the idea of outlining. It's a problem that makes it tough for me to submit a complete synopsis for a proposal.
I have friends who are Outliners. And once, Sophia Nash told me she's a mix - a Pantyliner (her exact word), if you will. I'd rather be an Outliner. I've even tried NOT being a Pantser. But it's no use. As Lady Gaga would say, "I was born this way."
When I sit down to write a book, I usually have a basic idea to get started. This idea most likely came in a dream, although sometimes it comes in the shower. Anyway, I'll use my first book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, as an example. I was working on a completely different book when I had this dream about a soccer mom who is in the family business, which is assassination. She introduced herself as Gin Bombay, and told me it was tough juggling making 4 dozen cookies for the PTA Halloween party and killing the bad guy terrorist next door on contract. This was all I had to go on. And since Gin wouldn't shut up until I opened my laptop, I knocked out the first chapter in one hour.
The rest of the book sort of unfolded as I wrote it - a process I delighted in because it was like I was reading the book too. I was stunned to learn that the Bombay Family was the first name in assassination since 2,000 BCE, and that they had the tradition of giving each other place names, hence Gin is really Virginia. I didn't even know until near the end who the bad guy was.
While some would call this schizophrenic...weird...or downright insane, it kept my interest in the book I was writing going until I wrote the last page. It made writing fun! As a result, this was the first book I wrote that was bought and published. Maybe it comes from the fact that I'm a reader. I read every day. There is nothing more exciting to me than turning the pages to a really engaging book. And writing a book has always felt the same way.
Of course, the publisher wanted me to write another book in the series - and I was thrilled. She didn't even ask for a synopsis. She just asked me to make the next book about Gin's brother, Dakota. I wrote that book in five months, and turned it in whole. My editor read it and said, "Wow, I've never seen a romance written in first person voice of the hero!" She proceeded to tell me how unusual that was. I was greatful she didn't tell me not to do that or even that there was a rule about it. My publisher requested a third book and we went through the same process. Everybody was happy.
Until the fourth book. For the fourth book, she wanted a synopsis up front. That was the hardest book I ever wrote. I still enjoyed it, but knowing what was going to happen kind of dampened my enthusiasm for finishing it. People loved it, and I did too, don't get me wrong. But it was like waking my kids for school in the morning. And no, I’m not exaggerating…it was THAT bad.
After that, I submitted a couple proposals to my agent. She wanted a more detailed synopsis for each of these. I struggled with that. Part of the fun for me was the discovery along the way.
The current project is a mix. I’ve somehow managed to put together a skeletal outline to make any agent happy without compromising my enjoyment of writing. So far, it’s going well. I’ve only changed the direction four times, but I’m allowing myself to do that if that’s where the book goes. I find I can still insert subplots at the last second. I just did that with an assassin novella I’m working on. Somehow, that instantaneous scene has made it easier.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that while it’s okay to be an Outliner or a Pantser – it’s far more productive to mix the two. How you do it, is up to you.