Before I started writing my first novel, I used to imagine writers more as puppet-masters - planning out their novels and orchestrating everything to fit within that outline. As my only writing experience had been with short stories, nothing I'd yet encountered had contradicted that. I was able to plan out a narrative and then write it almost exactly as I'd expected. Is it any wonder I didn't find the experience all that exciting? There was no spontaneity involved, and I lost interest in writing for a good few years.
When I discovered the joys of writing erotic romance and was in the process of planning out my first novel, I thought I needed to know everything about what was going to happen. I had character sheets with detailed histories, a rough outline for the whole plot, and yet still I imagined I needed more. I could have gone on planning until I'd killed all the joy in the whole project. It took an experienced writer to tell me: "just get going and see what happens. You'll discover the story as you go along." Boy, was she right!
I began writing Barging In eighteen months ago, and while the first few scenes went exactly according to plan, I soon realised that I had a loose cannon in the character of Robin. I thought I knew him inside out, but clearly I was wrong as he kept doing unpredictable things. He was meant to be staying closeted at home, avoiding other men, yet he decided he wanted to go out to a gay bar. His first sex scene alarmed me as I had no idea he was that dominant. Worse yet, he would refer to things in his past that weren't on my history sheet for him. I would find myself staring at the computer screen, asking myself where the hell did that just come from? I was the puppet-master, wasn't I? It was like someone had cut all the strings and my puppets were parading around all by themselves.
Since then I've become much more relaxed about planning stories. I have discovered that many of my strongest scenes come about as a result of characters taking charge and doing things I couldn't have predicted. Yes, in my subsequent drafts I have to go back and change earlier details in light of things the characters tell me later on, but I think the extra work in the drafting process is a small price to pay for having vibrant, lively characters who take charge of their own narratives.
Writing is never boring when your characters have minds of their own. I'm no longer a puppet-master, I'm more like a Domme – I can set up the scene but my characters are feisty subs and are prone to insubordination, refusing to follow my orders. Sometimes they even use their safewords, yelling: “there’s no way I’m doing that – it’s out of character!”
It can be frightening at times, and it takes a huge amount of faith to just let loose and see where the story leads me, but it's exhilarating and I couldn't go back to planning every last detail ever again.
What about you? Readers, do you think you can tell the difference between a meticulously planned and a "seat of the pants" type novel? And writers, do you have a preference for staying in control, or do you let your stories lead you where they want to go?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. She blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She's beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
Jo once spent two years living on a slowly decaying narrow boat, and was determined that she would one day use the experience as fodder for a novel. It may have taken a few years, but she got there in the end. She usually does. Barging In, her first novel, was released by Samhain Publishing on 20th September 2011.
Visit Jo’s website for more about her published stories, saucy free reads and regular blog posts.