I confess, I'm a non-plotter. I don't plot, not really. When I begin a book I have an overall theme in mind and that's about it. I start off with a scene, maybe a murder (murder is always popular) and that triggers the next scene and so on. I have only a broad idea of the story, which writes itself around the theme as I go along. The characters have to step out of my unconscious and take the story where it needs to go. I know there will be major events along the way, but I don't know what they will be. I know the ending, in the general sense that the good guys will probably win. They may, however, win in ways not expected. The victory may be pyrrhic. But I don't know that when I begin.
There are writers who plot everything, an approach often recommended in books and articles about writing. These folks outline and develop the entire story in detail. They follow their outline and know what's going to happen before they put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
Both approaches work. Both have positive and negative aspects. Both will succeed or fail based on all the indefinable skills that make up the creative process.
I tried to be a detailed plotter. It bored the hell out of me and I could never stick to it. It felt confining, artificial. I wish I could do it that way. It would make things a lot simpler.
As a non-plotter, I sometimes get in trouble. The thrillers I write demand accuracy in detail and a relentless logic to events. Things have to happen for a reason, not because a nice big explosion might be exciting. The more complicated the story, the more traps I can fall into. Because I write a series, it is inevitable that things will get more complicated. I've reached a point with the PROJECT series where I am challenged to give the reader more.
I am comfortable with the sense of when to end a chapter and how to do it. I trust my feel for the pacing of a story, so that is not a problem for me. I know when things are too slow or too fast, though that might not be apparent until revision. Since I revise as I go along, I usually catch it early.
But...I might be 20,000 words in and realize something is missing in the logical reasoning behind events. That will almost always have to do with hidden motivation that must be revealed as the story moves along. If someone is secretly watching my characters, why are they doing it? Maybe I didn't think that through enough before I stuck it in there, but now it's embedded and I must do something about it.
Being a non-plotter can come back and bite you. These days I'm working on the fourth book in the PROJECT series. I like to move my characters all over the world. It's fun for me and fun for the readers. They get to travel to places they would probably never visit, much less places where people were doing their best to kill them. I realized yesterday that I had moved my protagonists to a key place in the story far too easily. Now I have to fix it, which is moderately difficult. That happened because I did not have a detailed story line worked out. Easy moves the story, but it's a cheap shot at a reader. Readers invest time and money and deserve better.
WARNING: OPINION ALERT
Deus Ex Machina worked for Sophocles
but it won't work for you.
but it won't work for you.
So where does the confession part come in? I confess, I do a sort of plotting as I go along. I start with eight or ten bullet points, ideas for the story. These may or may not end up in the book. I have a big whiteboard on the wall of my office, my primary tool to keep things straight as the story develops. I constantly put things on it, ideas, questions, possibilities. I list the names of new characters and their role, e.g., part of the Russian Security Services. If there's a hole in the logic, it will end up there until it's plugged. As I incorporate or discard those ideas, I erase them. The board is always full.
I love the freedom of not knowing how things will work out. If I can surprise myself, then I should surprise my readers. I love it when a new character appears from nowhere, driven by the logic of the story, someone I've never thought of until that moment. The real enjoyment for me of the hard work of writing comes in those moments.
It is also satisfying when the day comes that I erase that entire whiteboard and start over with the next book.
I can tear my hair out over a glaring hole in the logical development of my non-plotted story, but that becomes another opportunity to improve my writing. I wouldn't have it any other way. If you want a challenge, you might try writing from the seat of your pants. What British writers call a "pantser". It's not for everybody.
What kind of plotter are you?