Friday, June 12, 2009

Continuity and Where it Forces You to Go

Last time I wrote about Pantzing Versus Plotting as contrasting styles of writing. Despite their multiple differences, both styles share one point: A need for continuity.

Pantzers often don't worry much about continuity during their first draft. For example, I heard one pantzer tell how they began a story with their central character as man who by the end had become a woman. Not as a plot twist, the author just forgot they were man and began writing the character as a woman. Obviously, a fixed choice of gender must be made during the editing process.

As a point where pantzers and plotters agree, the both must maintain continuity from sentence to sentence.

For example, another pantzer told of when he wrote about his hero being hit over the head with a mace. He followed the logical train of events from that point and ended with his hero dead on the floor. This, in turn, fundamentally changed the direction of his story from that point forward.

For myself, I have written many sentences that had unintended consequences within my story, though none so serious as killing off a central character. As an example, in ...Awakens the Outer Circle,..., the second chapter in my epic Gods Among Men, I wrote a sentence off the top of my head that went places I never expected. The sentence I wrote was:

"Artemis Arrowsmith woke from the dream reaching for her bow."

Seems innocent enough, doesn't it? But consider all the things implied by the sentence. I establish the character I want to write about, Artemis Arrowsmith. Then comes a key word: woke. She was asleep, unaware of what was happening around her, and something made her wake up. What was it that happened? I didn't know for sure at that moment, but it fit with the word "Awakens" in the chapter title; and I knew it involved Damon Roth's appearance in Guildtown, the event running through the next few chapters. I.e. Her waking up was related to the central plot.

Then comes the phase, "from the dream." What dream? I had no idea when I wrote that sentence what the dream was. It just sounded like a cool way to open the paragraph. Plus it fit with waking up from a slumber. But now that I had mentioned a dream I had to come back to it in some meaningful manner. This need for continuity spawned a major, unplanned, subplot which I had to weave into my central plot.

The phrase "reaching for her bow" was originally a throw away line. I meant it only to identify her as an archer. Now however, it was linked to her waking up and the dream. The dream made her feel threatened, so she reached for her weapon. Why did she feel threatened? The content of the dream had to supply that emotion, so the throw away line became a driving force for the subject matter of an unplanned dream sequence that was mucking with my central plot.

I began to understand the appeal of pantzing: don't worry, fix it in the edit. The problem with this: I had a plot I needed to get back to.

Also in this innocuous opening are a host of simple questions: If Artemis is waking up, where is she? Why is she there? Is she in a bed, or on the floor, or on the ground outside? Is she in jail, or at an inn, or in her own home, or in a forest? Is it morning or night time? Are lights, noises, or smells associated with what just woke her up?

Each of these questions deserves an answer, and each answer drove the story in one direction or another. Each question carried infinite possibilities, and each choice limited the possibilities available to answer the next question. The need for continuity with random sentences drove plot changes in my story, both major and minor.

I'm sure a pantzer would understand and have accepted it as a matter of course. For a plotter like me it was damn frustrating. It is part of what took me so long to get the story started properly. The beginning of the story shapes the middle which determines the end. Small changes magnify as they go along until they whole story changes in ways that are hard to predict or control. Fortunately, I had characters and events in my story powerful enough to bend the subplots back to main plot. The additional subplots added muscle, but the plot, for me, is the bones that provide structure.

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