How I Write: Roll with the Flow

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We humans love to label things. Writers are no exception, either. Take writing habits, for example, we label writers as either those who diligently map out their stories, plotters, or those who just start writing and go with whatever comes, sort of writing by the ‘seat of the pants, or, pantsers.
The problem with this is that a lot of writers don’t fall neatly into either category. Take me, for instance. I usually start my books in one of the following ways:
1. I list the chapters, and the main action in each, knowing generally how I want the story to end. As I write, though, I will often change action, or add chapters as some interesting action or event is suggested by the flow of the story.
2. I know generally how I want the story to end, and I plan the first chapter or two, and then start writing, going with the flow.
You will notice a common thread here; I always go with the natural flow of the story. Certain things just seem to logically follow other things.
Take, for example, my current work in progress, another in my Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring a retired army officer turned private detective in the Washington, DC area. Al is on retainer to a law firm, but the work they give him doesn’t take up too much of his time, so he takes cases involving people who are being put upon by the system, or who have no one else to turn to. Al is something of a knight errant, or a samurai without a master—otherwise known as a Ronin—and, he is always on the side of the downtrodden. In the current story, A Deal to Die For, his client is a spoiled rich girl, who he dislikes at first, but takes the case because she’s being falsely accused of murder.
Generally, my plan for this one was for him to prove her innocence after several false starts and a lot of time spent following red herrings. I decided that this one would be really complex, with several of the things that push Al’s buttons, like the presence of militia, and some play on 9/11, with a possible terrorist in the mix for interest. I mapped out the first nineteen chapters and began writing. The murder has already happened two days before the story begins, and Al’s task is to find the killer.
He begins working his way through the initial list of potential suspects, eliminating them one by one through diligent detective work, until he’s left with what he thinks is the most likely bad guy—only, I decided that he would really hit a wall when he learns that the most likely suspect is not what he first thought he was, and his nemeses, the militia bad guys start to crank up the heat and put his life in danger.
Now, if the militia guys are the real killers, the story’s about over, so I decided that this was too pat. In chapter 19, I have Al’s client fearing she’s about to be arrested, and unidentified bad buys tailing Al all over town. The clock’s ticking, and the stakes are cranked up to the max. I’ve kind of decided who the real murder is already, and now I’m just sending Al down a few false trails, so that when the killer is finally unveiled, readers will be surprised.
I’m now in the home stretch, and I’m planning a few confrontation scenes and some real nail-biting action just before Al finally finds the key clue that tells him where to look.
That, in a nutshell, is how I write. I go with the flow, and if the flow seems to be veering away from the rough sketch map I started with, I simply draw a new map. That is neither plotting, nor pantsing, but a combination of the two, which, being human, I will call plantsing.
So, having shared that bit of trivia with you, I will go back to my plantsing, and see what sprouts. Happy reading, and a glorious New Year to one and all.

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13 thoughts on “How I Write: Roll with the Flow

    dancingpalmtrees said:
    January 2, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Happy New Year! I enjoyed this post. Makes me feel better about my writing. I have some Good News to share with you. I resumed posting to my Writing Blog on December 30th 2017. I began creating posts during the Thanksgiving Holiday and using that wonderful Schedule Button. Therefore I’ve already covered most of January, part of Feb and a few more further into 2018. My blog format has been revamped and I’m focused mostly about 95% on poetry and a few stories less on politics and what’s going on in the Oval Office since there is nothing that I can do about our government and discussing it set me off course. Also at the end of this month I will be eligible to retire. So end of next month after my birthday I’ll be going to Human Resources to fill out the Retirement Paperwork. Can’t wait. I’m eager to get my life back. No more 16 hour days. No more double shifts. Freedom!! I’m so Happy! Once I’m officially retired then I can focus on writing a book because my brain will no longer be mush by the end of the workweek because my time will be my own! Hooray!!

    Liked by 1 person

      Charles Ray responded:
      January 2, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      Congratulations on your upcoming retirement, and good luck with your writing. Heads up; you’re likely to find yourself even busier in retirement than before, because you’ll be doing the things you love. I work 14 – 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, and never feel tired. I’ll be watching your blog for the new year. Take care.

      Like

        dancingpalmtrees said:
        January 2, 2018 at 4:19 pm

        Thanks. I hope to have a long busy fruitful retirement. Happy 2018!

        Like

    ccyager said:
    January 2, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Happy New Year, Charles! I read this post with a great deal of interest. Like you, my writing method does not fit into one category or another. When I was writing screenplays, though, I learned that it’s a good idea to be able to list conflicts the protagonist will need to overcome to see if the story idea had any viability. So, I have a tendency to first just start writing, especially the protagonist, and open my mind to my imagination’s playfulness to see what happens. Often, I spend a LOT of time just thinking about the protagonist, what he/she wants, what he/she will do to get it, and that’s when the list of conflicts comes in handy. None of this is written in stone. In fact, the story I’m currently working on is changing again, I think, because I’m not happy with the villain(s). They’re kind of ho-hum. I want something that will threaten the protagonist’s mentor instead. We’ll see what my imagination comes up with! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

      Charles Ray responded:
      January 2, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      Yeah, I tend to be the same with my villains. That’s what’s happening in the current story. The one villain at the start – I decided that he wouldn’t be a good villain after all, or rather that it was interesting to start off thinking of him as a villain, and then show about halfway through that he wasn’t actually a villain after all.

      Liked by 1 person

        ccyager said:
        January 2, 2018 at 11:00 pm

        I love it when a villain becomes a good guy and frustrates expectations!

        Like

    Yvonne Hertzberger said:
    January 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    That’s pretty close to what I do, as well. But mine is all in my head – a general flow, a beginning and a few key scenes, and an end. If there need to be changes they are usually driven by the characters who evolve as the story moves forward.

    Liked by 1 person

      Charles Ray responded:
      January 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      Yeah, I do that sometimes too, but I found that I need to make at least a few notes to keep characters’ names straight, etc.

      Like

        Yvonne Hertzberger said:
        January 2, 2018 at 9:34 pm

        I’ll admit I’ve had to make a rough map and a list on names this time around as well. I think my memory isn’t what it used to be.

        Liked by 1 person

        Armen Pogharian said:
        January 2, 2018 at 10:13 pm

        If it makes you feel any better, I also keep a complete character list for my high fantasy series. I don’t have trouble with the prominent characters, but there are simply too many supporting players to commit to brain cells (or perhaps too few brain cells).

        Liked by 2 people

    Armen Pogharian said:
    January 2, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    At the risk of repeating others, I do something very similar. I write an outline, usually organized by character with a few plot points for each. Then I begin writing and ‘go with the flow.’ The outline helps me get started and sets the general direction, but the ‘flow’ is more creative and reveals new details. Ideas from the outline that don’t make it into the story often provide nuggets or seeds for the next (I write two different YA series). Thanks for sharing your process and giving it a name.

    Liked by 1 person

    Charles Ray responded:
    January 2, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Asnycnow Radio.

    Like

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