Writers know that there are two kinds of writers. People who plot. And people who make the plot up on the seat of their pants. I’m some kind of Frankenstein amalgam of the two; I like to say I plot by writing. The truth of the matter is, I usually have a pretty good idea of the larger events in my book when I start writing: the black moment, the mid-book crisis, and maybe a few intervening events. But the small stuff, the engine that drives the book from point A to point B, is usually made up on the fly. In fact, it’s so made up on the fly that I usually make it up after I need it, and that is because I write with absolutely no semblance of order.
I’m at the frightening place in my manuscript where I have a good smattering of scenes written, but no more than a few thousand contiguous words…. anywhere. My manuscript is like a pile of confetti, with random pieces from beginning, middle, and end all piled together. I jump ahead to scenes I know are coming, rather than beat my head against scenes I’m not sure about, and then jump back to fill in blanks. That means that there’s some point–erm, that would be now–when I don’t really have a work in progress so much as a series of disconnected flashes, punctuated mostly by question marks.
Filling in those question marks is actually the most fun. For instance, last week I figured out how the hero is going to solve a problem that crops up near the end of the book. I wrote that scene, and realized that in order for the solution to be effective, the hero was going to have to rely on the availability of, some item. Let us call it Dingbat A. Now, you never want to have your hero reach into his bag of tools at the crucial moment and say, “Aha! Dingbat A!” Not unless you want your readers to complain that Dingbat A comes out of nowhere and is a complete deus ex machina. You cannot do this unless you are writing episodes of Inspector Gadget. So that means that I had to have a scene earlier on where Dingbat A is introduced.
Of course, you also never want to have an earlier scene where you say, “Oh, Dingbat A. How I love thee. I foresee that you might be useful, in the event I am set upon by ravening were-hedgehogs.” Because then your reader will get to the were hedgehogs and say, “Oh, for crying out loud, just use Dingbat A already.” Ideally, you want to introduce your reader to the solution to Big Problem sideways–that is, you want to make Dingbat A present, or even better, problematic, rather than showing it as a potential solution. (A side benefit: This makes your characters appear smarter than they are. Nobody needs to know you thought of the solution first and then figured out how to hide it in plain sight.)
I realize that all this sounds horribly circuitous. Welcome to writing a book with Courtney.
In any event, I had this great idea for a scene that introduced Dingbat A. It was sexy. It wasn’t about Dingbat A, although you can see Dingbat A in use–and that’s always a good thing, because that means it’s a scene that’s a nice piece of misdirection. Plus, it was funny, which is always a bonus. It made me realize why I write my books out of order. Because, you see, the scene starts at the point when my hero and heroine have Colonel Draven tied up on the floor and covered with petticoats.
You probably don’t think there’s anything odd about that (or at least anything odder than what I have said so far) and I suppose there isn’t. But what I really really want to know is–Who is Colonel Draven? How have they tied him up? And why the hell are they covering him with petticoats?
Thus arises the minutiae of plot.