Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wrambling writer

Here's why I find it difficult to plot out books beforehand, or to write from an outline: I need every scene to have some sort of tension. When I write an outline, it's about getting characters from Point A to Point B, and I can write out steps that seem logical, but logic doesn't always have tension. I can decide that two characters need to, say, find a car. Or kiss. Or fight. But that doesn't mean the scene will have tension when I put the characters in that situation and start writing it.

Surprisingly, not even kissing and fighting scenes necessarily have built-in tension. Not even scenes with actual explosions have built-in tension! If something explodes, and it's not clear why, or what has been destroyed, or why it matters, it'll be a ho-hum explosion.

I'm thinking that tension doesn't really come from the plot, i.e., from what happens. It comes from the why. Or it comes from the difference between what is happening and what the characters want to happen. Or something. I'm still thinking this one out.

I find it easier to have a loose idea of where the book goes, write a bunch of scenes that sort of relate to that plot, and then write an outline that figures out what in order the scenes should go. A skilled outliner may be able to tell, while composing an outline, where the tension will come from in every scene. But I never know until I put my characters together and they start interacting before my mind's eye. Sometimes I think I know how a scene will go ("this is where they get back together") and the characters run in another direction ("hmm, they seem to want to part ways permanently!"). In a way, every scene is an experiment. I throw the ingredients together and watch what happens. As long as something happens--as long as the ingredients don't lie there inertly--I'm good to go.

At least for the early drafts. In later drafts, I definitely have an overall plan to follow, but by then I already have a series of tension-filled scenes to work with.


  1. Thanks for sharing that, Jenn. That really does make a lot of sense.

    1. I feel like every book I write is its own learning experience.