There are two basic schools of writing: outliners and pantsers. Outliners strategize, plan out every move like an elaborate game of chess, and finally, when everything is perfect, write the book. Whenever I think about writing an outline, I hit the same block the Oracle did in The Matrix: I can't see past the decisions I don't understand. If I don't know why my MC would choose the boy I want her to choose, I can't make her do it--and I certainly don't know what she might do next! And I can't know why she'd choose him until I know what he says to her. And I don't know what he says to her until I see what else is happening in the scene! (And around we go.)
But then, when I try "discovery writing" or "pantsing," I run into dead-ends.
Ever play Entanglement? It's a very fun game with all sorts of parallels to writing. Parallels I've been dwelling on lately, instead of, you know, writing.
But then we get this problem:
There is literally nowhere to go from here. There is no way to get back to all those lovely blank tiles on the other side of the board. My score is excellent for the first half (as excellent as I get, anyway), but suddenly my game is over. Whatever I choose next will end it for me.
This is exactly what happens when I try to pants a novel. I'm writing along, enjoying the story, watching as my clever characters become more and more real... then BAM. Wall. There is no way forward without backtracking, deleting several recalcitrant character traits, and trying things another way (sadly, there is no UNDO option in Entanglement).
So I combine the two. I set benchmarks. I drive my characters toward those benchmarks, but I let them take their own way. If they like to wander too far off the path, they get a partial lobotomy, we backtrack, and we try it again. I don't let my characters take over, but if I don't understand them, I can't write them. Frustrating but true.
So what's your process?
Don't forget to call in to talk to Mary Robinette Kowal tomorrow night at 9:00 PM EDT. Go to the Farland's Authors' Advisory Conference Calls blog for details.