One of the most asked questions is whether an author is a planner or a pantser for a project. For me, it’s a little bit of a complicated question because what I’m writing plays a huge role into how I plan. For my Vellas, it tends to (mostly) be a pantser platform for me. I have a general idea of how the story is going to end while I initially tried to outline my first Vella story, I discovered it’s mostly about what feels right for each episode and not pushing beyond that. For my books, a loose outline chapter-to-chapter had been my primary tool for planning which allowed me plenty of wiggle-room for creativity: where are these key moments supposed to be so that the arc plays out right and there are no plot bunnies on that last page.
Enter the Web of Echoes series. Everything, and I mean everything, got turned upside down. Right out of the gate, Echoes was, by far, the largest project I had ever chosen to write – eight planned books with alternating short stories and full-length novels to push Caitlin through her journeys. Outlining seemed to be a must, but then I quickly realized I didn’t only need a chapter-by-chapter outline but also a book-by-book summary before I even started writing. By the time I got to the end of Northern Echoes, I realized I needed a timeline to keep exact dates in line and to understand how long Caitlin stayed at each location. By the end of book three of Sunken Echoes, I realized I needed not only summaries and outlines and timelines, but also character outlines as an easy reference for where they came from, what they looked like – every important detail – so if they were referred to in later books, I didn’t have to go back and read entire manuscripts (you don’t want to know how I realized this. It wasn’t pretty.).
Now, I’m guessing you are thinking I had it all covered. I thought I did. Oh no. Nothing is ever that easy. Because in the middle of book four, I hit that good old-fashioned brick wall. Some details in the overall story had changed from the original vision (as they always do because characters are snotty enough to get a mind of their own), and I couldn’t connect the dots in my mind anymore. I found myself in a week-and-a-half-long stalemate. I was unbelievably stuck.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a 1000% Disney nerd, and I love the art of animation. Funny enough, it was what I knew of the process of animation that gave me an idea on how to get, well, unstuck. I went into my kids’ school room, pulled out three different colors of construction paper, a pen, and scissors and got to work. After three days, I was over the moon. The visual storyboard I had made separated the storyline into the traditional three acts defined by the color of the construction paper. Under each titles, I could see what was supposed to happen and when, along with how that played into the character arc and the overall arcing storyline. With it as a tool, I was no longer stuck, and I’ve pulled it out for reference with each additional book in the series. I LOVE it!
Any writer will tell you that every project is a new challenge, harder than the last and easier than the next. My friend says it’s how we grow as artists; I tend to think we have a innate desire to torture ourselves. Either way, Web of Echoes’ challenges ended up giving me another tool in the box for the next time a project writes me into a corner – and a fun new way to envision it.
One reader who comments will win an ebook copy of Northern Echoes and a $10 Amazon gift card.