A Guest Blog by Jennifer McAndrews
In the writing world there’s a bit of a divide between those who consider themselves “plotters” and those who consider themselves “pantsers”. Simply put, it’s those who take the time to plot out the story in varying degrees of detail before the actual writing begins on one side and those who write ‘by the seat of the pants’ going on a wild unpredictable ride from “Once upon a time” to “the end” on the other. Authors tend to fall into one or the other category. But at this year’s Left Coast Crime convention, the fabulous Jenn McKinlay introduced us all to another category: the faker.
The minute I heard the definition I had to fight the urge to jump onto the nearest table and shout “I’m a faker!” In retrospect that may have been a bit painful and humiliating given my height plus the height of the table plus the low ceiling. So it was a good thing I kept my glee to myself. But more than being happy to learn there is a term for how I operate, I was relieved to learn I am not alone. See, the faker is the person who takes the time to do all the work of creating a plot—character studies, location notes, index cards of random knowledge—then sits down to write and completely ignores the entire thing.
In this regard I can confidently state that I totally faked A Shattering Crime, the latest in my stained glass mystery series. Each of the books takes place in the small town of Wenwood, NY, a town trying to pull itself out of its rundown past to once again become a thriving, desirable destination. As Shattering opens, the main character Georgia Kelly is attending a ground breaking for a new shopping promenade along the riverfront. According to the outline I put together, that first shovel full of dirt cast aside was going to expose a dead body — which, now that I think on it, reminds me a lot of an opening sequence of TV’s “Bones.” Still, that was the plan. I can’t tell you the rest of the plan because I may still need that dead body. But suffice to say, the notation of an excavator at the ground-breaking is the last bit of text spawned from the outline for Shattering. Once that paragraph is closed, the rest of the story is all faked. There’s a party tent where I never envisioned one, a dead political activist I only just met, and a smattering of poisoned pastry that takes the story into a direction I had never imagined.
Now, I feel the need to point out that I wasn’t always a faker. The first book in the series, Ill-Gotten Panes, was closer to a pantsed novel than a truly plotted one. I had a good sense of who killed the hardware store owner and how Georgia would come to be friends with Carrie and Diana, but the rest was discovered as I wrote. Conversely, Death Under Glass, the second book, was carefully plotted—complete with index cards of random knowledge and post it notes with legal facts. Whether because I had already taken my cast of characters through one book and thus knew them well or because all the up-front work gave me a good grasp of my story, I found a strange sort of comfort in working from an outline, a sense of confidence. So it was natural for me to plan on repeating that experience in writing A Shattering Crime. But that’s not even close to what happened.
How does the saying go? Man plans and God laughs? Yeah, that one probably pertains to big life issues, but turns out it’s equally true for me and writing. Which, apparently, makes me a faker. Oh, sure, I could probably call myself a plotter or a pantser and be equally correct. But there’s something about being able to (theoretically) stand up and shout “I’m a faker!” that is oddly satisfying. It takes the pressure off. It reflects how I sometimes truly feel. And most of all it makes me laugh.
In the end I suppose they’re all just labels. The important thing is the ability to take a story from beginning to end. The method you use to take the journey is no better or worse than the method someone else chooses as long as you take the journey. But for me, a little tabletop fist pump and laughter may just be the best way to go.
Jennifer McAndrews is the national bestselling author of the Stained-Glass Mysteries, featuring Death Under Glass and Ill-Gotten Panes. Her love of mystery began in middle school, and despite the occasional foray into romance fiction, she is happiest when weaving puzzles on the page and leaving a trail of clues for the reader to follow. She resides in the greater New York metro area with her husband, children, four cats, and three rescue dogs.
Log on to her website: http://jennifermcandrews.com