Why I will always be a Pantser: 2013 365 Challenge #323

Letting the kids paint their own faces

Letting the kids paint their own faces

In a fit of inspiration on Sunday morning, I wrote notes for the next few installments of Two-Hundred Steps Home. I don’t do it very often, partly because my mind goes blank as soon as I’ve written the day’s 500-1000 words and partly because planning isn’t in my nature. When I write, I have a (very) rough idea of how a story will end but that can and does change as I come to know my characters better.

With THSH I’ve thought of a dozen endings, all of which have been scrapped as the story has followed its twists and turns. I admire people who plan even one book, never mind a whole series, as Two-Hundred Steps Home has become.

Incidentally the books I’m reading at the moment are one story told over ten volumes (although the second set of five possibly were added after the first five were finished) and it all hangs together. They were published year after year, with no chance to go back and change stuff, yet there are hints in book one that only come to fruition in book five or ten. My response to that is Wow. Since writing Claire’s story, there are loads of things I’d go back and change if I could, if I wasn’t writing it live, as it were.

Artistic face painting!

Artistic face painting!

Maybe it’s because they’re plot driven rather than character driven stories. Maybe I’m just missing a writing gene. All I know is that, if I plan for something to happen, my characters always mess it up.

For example my notes had Claire falling apart in her confrontation with Robert, because she’s all emotional about Conor. One commenter on yesterday’s post suggested Conor should come and punch Robert. Neither situation suited Claire. To be honest Robert was not really on her radar except as the person who ended her lunch with Conor early.

She was angry but still in control. How far she’s come, I’m so proud. 🙂 She doesn’t need a man fighting for her and she won’t let Robert’s arrogance derail her. Besides, he’s her brother, she’s used to him being an arse (and doesn’t he do it well?)

Without intention, Claire has allowed me to set up a comparison between Robert and Conor, a parenting story line and some fun dialogue. Much better than my ideas, that’s for sure. My advice? Trust your characters, they know what they’re doing.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire let the warmth from the chipped mug soothe her as she inhaled the reviving scent of Earl Grey. Her skin prickled and her body remained still only under sufferance. She wanted to pull her hiking boots on and stride down to the beach, to let the sea breeze blow the dark thoughts from her mind. But outside the window, the mountainous clouds had turned black and the wind dragged at the tree tops, sending the green leaves dancing.

She knew, also, that despite extreme provocation, she wasn’t about to send the boys back to Geneva with their father. If it meant buying a phrase book or spending a fortnight doing sign language, she wouldn’t quit now.

I’m sure some of it will come back. I learnt the language for eleven years, some of it has to have stuck.

Her brain presented her with a range of French phrases, none of which were appropriate for communicating with two pre-teen boys. Her ire at Robert’s duplicity rose again, and she gripped the mug tightly before taking a calming sip of tea. Despite her desire to punch him, she knew from experience that she might as well smack a rock.

Footsteps approached down the corridor, accompanied by a deep voice murmuring dire consequences. Claire braced herself for confrontation, focussing on the steam rising from her mug as if it was a meditation candle.

“Ah, Claire, there you are.”

Robert’s urbane tone rolled around the small room, and Claire wondered if he ever lost his cool. She glanced up and saw him in the doorway, phone in one hand, the other hand buried in his pocket. Behind him the boys giggled and shoved each other in the arm. She took a moment to look at them properly, as much to avoid having to endure Robert’s bland, appraising, stare. She knew if she looked her brother in the eye she was likely to lose her temper again and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

The boys were almost as tall as their father, but with the boyish round faces and gangly limbs of the adolescent. The tallest boy had dark hair, thick like his dad’s. The youngest was fairer and his hair tended to curly. It reminded her of Conor’s, although both lads had dark brown eyes and eyelashes that would be the envy of future girlfriends. She tried to picture Francesca in her mind, and remembered that she, too, was a dark beauty.

As if sensing Claire’s resolve, Robert turned his attention to his sons. “That’s enough, boys. Now you apologise to your Aunt or I will take the iPads back with me.”

His words provoked muttering and hanging of heads. Claire wondered what they had to apologise for, noting also that the boys clearly understood English, even if they didn’t speak it. As she watched, a suspicion crept into her mind, fanning the flames of her latent fury.

The kitchen filled with silence. Claire added her stare to her brother’s and eventually the younger boy cracked.

“We’re sorry we pretended not to speak English, Auntie Claire. It was only meant to be a joke.”

His voice held no trace of the French accent from earlier, but rather rang out with the public school boy vowels of his father.

Robert didn’t acknowledge his son’s apology, he merely transferred his gaze to the elder child. When he remained silent, Robert said in a low, menacing, tone, “Alex?”

“Sorry,” the boy spat out, his face turning sullen at his father’s reprimand. Robert raised an eyebrow at him with a clear message and the boy glared back. “Sorry, Aunt Claire,” he amended, in a tone no more friendly than before.

It seemed to Claire that her brother wasn’t going to let it go, so she pushed back from the table and walked over to the boys.

“That’s okay, guys. Great trick, you certainly had me fooled.” She gave them both what she hoped was a non-patronising smile and was rewarded with a grin from the younger boy. Relieved, she glanced up at Robert’s face and came to a decision. “Can you give me a minute to chat with your dad? Have you been allocated a room?”

Jack nodded, while Alex folded his arms and stared at the floor. Claire swallowed a sigh.

“Great. Why don’t you go and play some games on your iPads, then? I’ll come get you when your father is ready to leave.”

She shooed them out with her hands, waiting until their footsteps had faded, before she turned back to Robert.

“Well?” She said in a low voice.

“Well, what, Claire? I don’t really care for your tone.”

“And I don’t care for your behaviour. Treating me like one of your PAs, whispering sweet nothings to your new lady friend while your boys try to convince me they only speak French. And what was that all about?” She jerked her chin to indicate she meant the scene that had just taken place in the kitchen. “You acted like they’d mugged me. It was only a game; you didn’t need to be so hard on them. I’m sure we did much worse when we were kids.”

She knew she wasn’t making sense, but the thoughts were all jumbled in her mind. Robert stood motionless and absorbed her anger like a sponge.

When she ran out of words, he said calmly, “Boys need a firm hand. You’ll find that out, assuming you’ve recovered from your fit of pique and are still going to take them?”

Claire’s palms itched and she stalked back to the table to collect her tea. It was safer if she gave her hands something to do other than slap her brother. She wondered why he was being so hostile. What happened to the brother who had sat in the hospital with her, worrying about Ruth?

“Let me get something straight,” she said, enunciating each word. “What you are asking me to do is beyond a little favour. I’m not one of your unfortunate staff and taking your boys for a fortnight is a big ask. In case it slipped your notice, I am working here. This isn’t a jolly, this is my job. I’m lucky my boss is understanding enough to let the boys tag along. They’re here on his goodwill as much as mine.”

“Ah yes, your boss that you have cosy lunches with.” He sneered and Claire’s eyes opened wide.

“Where do you get off, speaking like that, Robert? You dumped your wife and moved on to someone new. You’re in no position to judge.”

“So you are sleeping with your boss.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but no, I’m not. Some of us have principles.” She thought back to her parting conversation with Conor and hoped Robert took the flush on her cheeks for anger. “This is all beside the point. I said I’ll take the boys and I will, but do not forget that I am helping you.”

Their eyes locked for an angry minute, then Robert suddenly smiled. “Thank you, Claire. I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be ungrateful. There’s a lot going on.” He took his wallet out of a pocket and retrieved a roll of notes.

“Here. This should cover it, but if you need any more let me know, and I’ll wire it to you. I have to go now.”

Claire took the money mutely, wondering if it was too late to inflict violence. She looked at the notes in her hand and decided her brother would pay, one way or another.

***

10 thoughts on “Why I will always be a Pantser: 2013 365 Challenge #323

  1. You know, I think things in book 1 setting things up for book 5 isn’t necessarily planning, but taking advantage of situations. I don’t plan in great detail either, but it’s amazing how many times something I threw in randomly in an earlier book suddenly becomes really important later!

    • Yes, that happens to me too, and I wonder if my subconscious is really clever at planting things that I don’t see, or just really clever at making the best of a bad job! 🙂
      I have the same with themes. People point out a theme in my writing and I think, “Really? Oh yeah I see.”
      It kind of makes a mockery of all the Authorial Intention stuff I did in my masters degree…

  2. You’re not alone. I am the anti-planner. I just literally can’t do it. lol I’ve come up with certain scenes in advance, but whenever I’ve tried to plot out how a story is going to go from start to finish it has ended up being dramatically changed less than a chapter or two in.

    • Yes, I kind of see my first drafts as my plan. Then, when I have it all written out, I can tidy it up, add some extra conflict and sensory stuff. As far as plot and character development goes, it’s better if I don’t get involved and just let my subconscious get on with it.

      • Agreed! I always find that as I’m writing 90% of it feels like utter nonsense, but when I go back and read through I feel like, “Hey, okay, I can totally work with this.” Alternatively, like I said before, planning just finds me immediately deviating and getting all buggered up. lol

  3. I’m a pantser too but I’m absoultely amazed that you have kids and are still able to put things in book 5 that follow on from events in book 1. The biggest difficulty I’m experiencing with mine is that my memory has reached saturation point and I keep forgetting stuff, or getting in a panic,

    Cheers

    MTM

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