Flying By the Seat of Your Pants: Not!

DragonflyAll of my writing life—38 books, 2 non fiction releases and almost 100 published short stories, plus a few never to see the light of day again projects—I have always had to know the ending before I start writing.

I know writers who feel that if they know the ending, they have no reason to write the book. And they make it work.

Not me.

I have to write a synopsis and three chapters in order to sell the book, or series to get a contract from a traditional publisher with an advance. A proper synopsis needs a beginning a middle and an end. The fluffy stuff in the middle happens along the way.

But if I know the ending, I can figure out what needs to happen in order to get there. Figuring out the midpoint and the crisis ahead of time helps too.

Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham helped me figure out my best working path. I take shortcuts now, but that book helped me get started.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not plan a scene by scene or even chapter by chapter outline. In the bad old days, publishers of spiritual fiction and romances wanted those details up front. I have never worked for them because I tend to break guideline rules right left and sideways, often under the direction of my editor at DAW Books, Sheila Gilbert.

Not too long ago I planned a paranormal, post-apocalyptic trilogy. I had a premise for each book, a synopsis for the first, and I knew the ending of the series. Book #1 Trickster’s Dance, Trance Dancer Series nearly wrote itself. It’s available on BVC

Then it was time to write the sequel. I knew the beginning, but then had to backtrack to explain some of the things that happened like snowfall in an area that had not had freezing temperatures in six years since the apocalypse. I plowed forward. At 37000 (out of 70000) words I stopped. I had no idea where, if anywhere the story was going, what was the plot conflict and why there was any character conflicts. I went away and did several other things. Six months later I still don’t know if I’ll get back to it, or if I’ll ever write the 3rd book.

Sorry. If Trickster’s Dance stole your heart, it’s probably a one-off. But if I ever figure out the ending and how to get there, I will go back to it.

I’m writing this as my beloved older brother lies dying of COPD in the hospital. My life is as grim as the 2nd and 3rd books in that series. I may need to go back to them for my own sanity.

Then there was The Renegade Dragon back in 1999. This book was under contract from DAW, 3rd book in a trilogy, 6th book in the Dragon Nimbus world. I’d sold this trilogy with a full synopsis of The Dragon’s Touchstone, a one-page synopsis of The Last Battlemage, and a single paragraph about the third book. I’d figure it out along the way and build it properly when I knew how the first two shaped up.


This was another book that I actually started in the middle and had to back up almost 100 pages to show how the plot and characters evolved. Then when I got to where I had left off, I had to back up again to make a previous character who’d been on the side of right but had questionable methods of helping the hero and heroine achieve their well-deserved almost happily ever after, turn villainous.

Plowed a little further forward and had to go back again and insert the object of the primary conflict—the library of magical texts that had been “found” in my very first book, The Glass Dragon.

Yeah it all worked out in the end, but it was a long hard slog with concrete overshoes through a muddy and stinking bog, that was almost late for the contracted deadline. There was money and my reputation on the line here. In my entire career I have only been late on a deadline once, the year my mother died.

For me, pantsing a book just doesn’t work. A little bit of pre-writing, getting the skeleton of the book’s structure saves me weeks, even months of agony.

Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham 1993, Writer’s Digest Books, helped me figure out my method for setting up a book. Over the years I’ve learned some shortcuts, but this book helped me figure out my path toward a completed book.

If you want to know more about how I do it, I invite you to explore Committing Novel, by Phyllis Irene Radford, Book View Café 2016

As always, your mileage may vary. Every writer has their own process and style. You have to write, and write a lot, in order to figure out your own path.

So, apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard and finish writing the book.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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