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Meandering Around the Map

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Originally published 20 April 2010

I used to try to be a “seat of my pants” writer. I would start with an idea, and move forward. Sometimes I knew the ending, sometimes I didn’t, but I just wrote until I couldn’t write any longer.

I will admit I did a fair amount of writing like that. The thing is, I didn’t finish much. That which I did finish, failed to satisfy. I wrote mostly long fiction, so I guess—in a way—it is understandable that so little was actually completed. Still, this also applied to my short fiction.

If you will excuse the digression, I am not—primarily—a short fiction author. That is because I am not—primarily—a short fiction reader. In my experience, one writes what one would like to read. For me, that’s long format fiction. I got into short fiction because that’s one way to “break through.” I intended to get some short fiction under the belt, then get my agent, then publish my novels.

Of course, then I stopped being prolific, and here we are.

Digression complete. Back to the topic at hand.

I learned that I needed a roadmap. I needed to plot out even my short fiction. I had to know how I was getting from A to B. I’m not saying every writer needs this, but I did.

It got my short fiction published.

Every short story that I have sold was plotted out from the beginning. Every story I am working on now is plotted out. That does not mean they end up as intended.

Characters can take control of a story. Events in the story can change. While writing, I sometimes realize that a planned event or character action doesn’t really work, and by changing it, I change the story. None of this matters. Because I have the roadmap. I can make detours and still stay on course.

None of the four stories I have sold (three now published, one coming soon!) match their original plan. They all changed—sometimes drastically. The setting of Flotsam (basically a floating suburb of wrecks and scavenged material held together by ropes and chains) from “Flotsam Jewel”—published in the now defunct Forgotten Worlds—was a later addition. It changed a lot of the story, but just the details. For “A Pound of Dead Flesh,” published in Black Gate, the main villain changed, and this totally changed the climax of the story.

I need a roadmap to begin journey. I still do a lot of “seat of my pants” writing, but having a map helps me to “stay on target.” Porkins would be proud.