Some writers are pansters- joyfully following the winding paths of their imaginations. Letting the story go where it wills. Letting nature take its course.
I fall in between. I like to know the arc of a story. Thus, I outline. But I’m also a panster–I have to follow the bread crumbs that lead me down unknown roads and hope they lead me back to the But sometimes, despite my best intentions, I get stuck. Plot holes gape at me, like hungry monsters, ready to destroy. Characters stand there on the page, scratching their heads and wait for me to continue.
The cursor blinks on the empty screen, unmoving and I am stuck.
In desperation one day, I decided to sit and write and not worry about what was coming out. No dialogue formatting, no page breaks. I let the words flow in a steady stream of consciousness. Each numbered paragraph represented a scene. Here’s what it looks like (and don’t worry about reading the whole thing and please don’t judge. This is a rough draft):
- They heard a noise from the tack room and smelled the smoke first. Bloody hell, the man’s lit the place on fire. Noel scrambled upright. The fire was spreading quickly, too quickly. Leather just didn’t burn that fast. The horses closest to the fire began to snort their fear, then whinnied when a puff of smoke emerged from the tack room. A great rolling cloud of black smoke hugged the ground before rising to the rafters. We have to stop the fire before it spreads. Another explosion sounded from one of the nearby empty stalls. Too late, the bastard’s set charges. We’ve got to get the horses out. More cries of fright from the animals. Noel slung a rope over Belle’s head and opened her stall. Take them to the pastures, he yells and coughs as he inhales the black smoke. Belle rears and he talks to her. Come, love, trust me (in French). She follows, blinded and throwing her head in the air. Get Lizette, Noel yells to Alex. He breaks away from trying to douse the fire with buckets of horse water and grabs Lizette. The horse’s eyes are wide with fright. He motions to ____ and ___ – get the others out. Men began arriving as word spreads of the fire. Noel turned Belle out into the field as others arrived. Dubois, he shouted the answer above the din. He set this. Another cough stole his ability to speak. Noel doubled over and spat out the black soot from his mouth. Alex appeared, leading Lizette and he heaved a sigh of relief. How many more inside? Ten at least. Lizette clopped along and threatened to bolt. Noel didn’t think, just what he knew had to be done. He shielded his face from the heat and ran inside the burning barn.
- Dawn brought a surreal quality. The cheery pink glow that splashed across the sky clashed with the sight that met Noel’s red-rimmed eyes. Ashes. Black and charred was all that was left of the working-class barn. Three horses hadn’t made it out and six men had been taken away to be cared for burns and blackened lungs. If only Noel could remove the foul taste and inhale deeply again, but every breath brought a fit of coughing. Alex joined him on the grass. His face was black, his hands were burned, but he was ignoring his discomfort and focusing on the ruins that were so many livelihoods. The Bastard burned it down. He breath came out as a wheeze. And took his team before he did. Has anyone seen Dubois? Alex shook his head. Seems the bastard’s also a coward. He turned to Noel. It looks like he’s left town. The police will find him, one day he’s going to show up and someone will recognize him. If they can prove he did this, they’ll set him to trial for murder. If? Your word against others, Noel. Too many knew you had a fight. Noel shrugged off the alarm he felt. My character will stand for itself. I’ve done nothing wrong. Other’s will stand up for me if need be. You saved many horses, Noel. He nodded at the men who were hosing down their animals, trying to clean the soot to see if they were hurt. Many of these men would have lost more in this fire than even you. Noel watched them work, heard the low murmurs of the French as they conferred among themselves. It was devastating, really, this loss and all had to make other plans for the winter months. He could only hope Weston was insured. Even then, it would take a long time to rebuild. But you, my friend, you’ve another place to go. See? Your woman arrives looking distraught. Noel turned to see that familiar carriage pull up. Sophia Weston jumped from the barn and began inquiring after him, no doubt. She seeks you. Alex cocked his head, and look at the concern in that poor lass’s eyes. Her father’s come, too. Mr. Weston stepped from the coach and took Sophia’s arm. They couldn’t hear the words, just knew they were to comfort. She saw Noel, sitting on the grass next to his brother and broke into a run.
Isn’t this a lovely mess? Past tense, present tense all mixed up and lots and lots of telling. But remember-this is a first draft. I wrote more than 20 pages of single-spaced type on this historical romance in one sitting and broke through a massive block. What a joy to let the ideas flow! And another benefit? The turning point of the first quarter of the story emerged. A fire? Who knew? And here was the perfect opportunity to put my two glorious characters together.
So, what do ya think? Worth a try? I’d love to hear from you. What do you do when you’re stuck?