By Beppie Harrison
Writing a book is an odd experience.
Of course, I mean writing a whole book of fiction, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many people think about writing a book, and a few of them actually get started. Getting past the beginning is the hardest part, and a lot of those who try give up at that point, and what they write is sometimes rather odd. Some people, of course—even some people who actually finish books—begin not at the beginning, but somewhere else. Marcia Davenport, who wrote many very fine books, wrote that she always started with the end. Her mother, the soprano Alma Gluck, told her that a strong, memorable ending was the most important part of any artistic achievement, and so she always wrote that first.
Writers, by which I mean people who do finish writing their books, often complain about the middle section being like a swamp in which a good book may founder. Certainly I’ve found that it’s often the middle that clarifies for me whether what I’m working on has enough strength to go all the way to the end, or if I need to go back and work out what I’m trying to do in the first place. Middles are hard. The end? Well, if you’re Marcia Davenport you already have that ready. If you’re not, trying to tie up all your loose ends into a satisfying resolution is hard, too. I’ve had a couple of books that wouldn’t stop at what I expected to be the end, and went on and on.
I hope they didn’t read that way!
But then, I’m one who writes making only a very loose plan for the book. Writers like me call themselves pantsers, because we write by the seat of our pants. Plotters are those who feel most comfortable knowing exactly which way the book is going to go. They want a very detailed plan or outline so that each step is worked out in advance, and the writing just fills out that outline with characters who are already defined.
My characters are vague in my mind when I begin. I mean, I know something about them, and have a general idea of what they are going to do in my book, but they have a disconcerting way of grabbing the plot in their own hands and riding off decisively in another direction. (I write historical romance, so the car hasn’t been invented yet and they’re most likely on horseback.) Plotters would be very unhappy with that, if it should happen at all. Most often, of course, it doesn’t.
I tend to grin at the computer, rejoicing that my mind people have turned into characters of their own and follow where they lead, hoping I won’t end up in a blind alley somewhere. Of course, sometimes I do, which is why my laptop has a delete key that is frequently used.
I wonder if all of us, pantsers and plotters alike, walk around hopefully looking normal but with voices going on in our heads? There are books now in print that I can look at and remember, yes, that bit wrote itself in my head when I was turning past the gas station just before I came to the highway. Or perhaps another when I was emptying the dishwasher and stopped with plates in my hand to see how an exchange between two of my characters was going to end.
My world is more real to me when I’m working on a book, and I love that real world. Right now I’ve just finished a Regency novella, which will be The Dowager’s Season, introducing a quartet of novels about the dowager’s four granddaughters. The first will be Clarissa and the Two Suitors. Sometime this summer, I hope? Until then my head will be buzzing.