to The Qwillery.
, their 2nd novel, was published on October 4th by Talos.
Pantsing vs. Plotting Your World
by Gabriel Squailia
It took me ten years to figure out how to write a novel. Since I couldn’t get a groove going, I just kept building the world—and building, and building, and building. By the time I got where I was going, it was so real to me I just had to put it all on the page.
From the moment I had the idea to the last edit of the final draft, it took fourteen years to write that book. Then I sat down at the desk and realized I was about to do the whole thing again. I could see myself getting into the same twitches, the same doubts, the same false starts, and I knew I’d be lucky to get off with a five-year commitment.
So, inspired by Robert Jackson Bennett’s excellent post about working under contract
, I tried something completely different. I contacted Cory Allyn at Talos Press, who had worked with me to edit Dead Boys
, and pitched him some ideas. I hoped to convince him to work with me from the beginning to the end of the process this time, so I could figure out what Real Writers Do.
From a menu of four pitches, he chose the one I’d come up with two weeks before. Others had maps and sourcebooks already developed; this one had a thousand-page first draft. Pretty soon we were signing a contract, on the strength of a revised opening scene and an outline I’d made up on the spot.
It did not escape my notice that there was no world this time. Nor was there time to build one—this wanted to be a book about characters, and to honor that I built two people who could give a damn about the political machinations that were churning up the world around them. Their quests were personal, and they were trying to forget history, not delve into it.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Does that approach extend to the world around your characters? What I learned over the course of the next six months was that I’m a bit of both.
There is a comforting solidity to a writing in a world you’ve thoroughly designed. When someone puts their foot down, I know where it’s landing, and I can tell stories about the history of the paving-stones they’ve stepped on. On the other hand, I can get lost in those stones, and I’m constantly torn between moving the plot forward and taking detours to tell you more cool things I’ve invented.
Over in the Land of Pants, there’s nothing but the living present. It’s a terrifying, invigorating space to occupy, and it demands that I tell the truth—even about my floundering. Viscera
, my second novel, is a book about navigating the brutal truths that emerge when we live through the most difficult times in our lives, and working without a safety net helped me do that concept justice. It was nerve-wracking, though, and I kept wondering, Is this allowed?
From the moment I had the idea to the final edit on the last draft, Viscera
took nine months. It was a far faster process than my first time out, and I imagine (with that deceptive pride common to authors before pub day and the parents of newborns) that it’s more fun to read, too. Does that mean, then, that I’ve committed to pantsing my way through my next book, too?
Yes and no. My hope is to use what I’ve learned from both of these projects, and to treat all techniques as tools in my belt. Different novels, even different chapters, call for different approaches. I’d like to keep on reinventing the wheel, with memories of the last reinventions informing my process, all the way to the end, when I’m surrounded by these wobbly contraptions—with hopefully one or two that roll smoothly along the way.
I may never know what I’m doing when I sit down at the desk with a new idea. But from here on out, I’ll act as if I did, and build a world—however detailed, however sparse—to suit my mood.
Not quite knowing, but doing it anyway: isn’t that what Real Writers Do?