When the question is asked – pantser or outliner – I usually describe myself as a pantser.
A pantser is a writer who writes by the seat of her pants.
Or, to paraphrase Tony Hillerman, I write myself into a corner and then write myself out.
But that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I’m an outliner. But I don’t call it that. I associate outlines with something I had to do in school. I suppose that’s why I avoid the term.
When I’m starting a book, I sit at the computer and write whatever comes into my head – character sketches, background information, bits of dialog and plot. I explore, I digress, I run around in circles and meander off in search of box canyons and red herrings. By this time I have a have a good idea of where the book starts and ends, but not what happens in the middle.
Ah, those pesky middles.
So I start a timeline. I write down what happens before the book opens – that’s the backstory. My timeline gives me an idea of what needs to happen in order for my protagonist to get to the conclusion and solve the mystery. But at this stage my timeline may only get a few chapters into the plot. Sometimes I write in a linear, chronological fashion, and sometimes I figure out the order of events while I’m writing the book. I discover that order by writing scenes out of order. I call this jumping ahead.
I did it in my Jeri Howard novel Witness to Evil. I managed to get Jeri down to Bakersfield to look for a missing person. Then Jeri learned about a murder. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I only knew that Jeri had to go to Los Angeles to follow a lead. So I jumped ahead. Jeri left Bakersfield and headed over the Grapevine to the LA Basin. I pounded out seven chapters in a short time and when I got Jeri back to Bakersfield I knew more about my timeline. I went back to earlier chapters I’d written and inserted crucial action.
Right now I’m working on my twelfth Jeri Howard book, titled Water Signs. I have a good beginning and a good sense of where Jeri and I are heading. But again, I’m at the point where I’m not sure about what goes where.
So I’ve jumped ahead. I’ve written a number of scenes over the past few days and I’m learning more about my book as Jeri talks to people, ferrets out information and visits the scene of the crime.
The technique is working. I’m making progress by jumping ahead.