Recently, I baked banana cookies. I was doing a series of posts on holiday recipes because my book, A Witch’s Kitchen, was #10 or 14 or 16 (it varied hour by hour) in Kindle children’s books about cooking, and I wanted to keep that momentum building. I had some nice overripe bananas, so I decided to bake cookies and take some photos to go with my post.
A funny thing happened. I typed up my abuela’s recipe, then I went downstairs to make the cookies. Except that I didn’t have any shortening. I kinda hate the stuff and rarely keep it in the house. Usually I substitute butter, but this seemed like the wrong solution for light, fluffy banana cookies. I sighed, made a list, and went shopping for shortening. At the store, I came across coconut oil, and I suddenly thought, That’s just the right consistency, it’s not hydrogenated, and it’s actually kinda healthy as fats go. So I brought it home and made the cookies with it, and they turned out stupendously yummy.
But wait, you’re saying. What does this have to do with writing?
This year, I had planned to participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I painstakingly plotted out my next novel, scene by scene. I spent long evenings worldbuilding with my husband the history buff. I read half a dozen reference books and reviewed my writing texts. On Nov. 1st, I sat down and started writing like the wind. By Nov. 4th, I already had over ten thousand words written.
And then the election happened, and I spent a day in utter shock. And then my immune system crashed, and I spent the rest of the month in bed with five different infections, unable to do much of anything except binge-watch TV series on Netflix. And in the middle of all this, I realized that I could not go on writing my protagonist as she was. I needed to seriously rethink my main character, at least one other character, and all the characters’ relationships.
I was despondent. All that work – 10,000 words! – down the drain. I would have to either seriously revise or just start over. But the more I thought about it, the more I found opportunities for opening up the plot. I could trim a lot of unnecessary framework, put my characters on a more equal footing, and retool the plot arc in a way that made much more sense. By switching from a single, tight POV to multiple POVs, I could give a more rich and detailed version of the events. That’s something I’ve never attempted before, and I’m both terrified and delighted by the prospect of taking it on.
In other words, I just got pantsed. My careful preparation had hemmed me in, but I don’t have to stick to the recipe. I can improvise, adjust, improve. Most of the plot remains the same, but the emphasis shifts, the characters expand, and the theme deepens throughout.
I’m a little glum that my plotting didn’t work out as smoothly as I’d hoped, but at the same time, I’m kinda glad. I like to dabble, to experiment, to substitute ingredients. From now on, I’ll treat my plot outlines more like… guidelines.
Quick plug: Do you know a young writer who loves science fiction? Dreaming Robot Press is launching the Young Explorers’ Logbook, a quarterly newsletter companion to their annual anthology series, the Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide. For the Logbook, they are accepting story submissions from writers no older than 14, and they pay $25/story. See the guidelines for further details.