Reining in Free Rein
Can I be somewhere-in-the-middle please? Because although there is NO WAY on earth that I am ever going to be able to formulate a plan, much less write one down and stick to it, I would likewise be very scared to Fly by the seat of my Pants (as the latter label infers). I'd be an OCD Pantser and require some kind of safety net; a parachute maybe. I’m not fond of heights, lifts or flying - having only JUST been able to stomach the occasional aeronautical dream, so long as they’re lucid and I’m in total control of course.
Which, you’d think, would make me more of a Plotter. But no. In fact at the start of every English essay at school, I’d always leave a half-page gap at the beginning of my work where I could write my ‘Plan’ AFTER I’d written the story. Little did I know this was the start of my Synopsis training. Also I don’t like being tied down. (No sniggering at the back please). I don’t like restrictions of any sort to be honest, and I don’t like HAVING to stick to a plan – okay, I know it’d be different if I was, say an Architect or a Surgeon, but I’m not - anyway, restrictions just make me more rebellious and desirous to buck the trend. And trends are so ‘last season’ aren’t they?
I put it down to a cautious childhood where I had to conform to everything and where having an imagination was neither allowed nor tolerated. Freud could’ve based a whole new dissertation on my childhood, but I won’t go into that.
So if I’m a Somewhere In The Middle-type person, would that make me a ‘Potter’ or a ‘Plantser’? Hmmm… I’m getting definite Alan Tichmarsh-ian whiffs now. You see, I know precisely HOW I want to start and I know exactly WHERE I want it to end, but other than that, I give free rein to characters and any situation they decide to place themselves in. And if they’re silly enough to get themselves into a tight squeeze, well then they can jolly well get themselves out, can’t they? And it’s so much fun seeing how they do it.
Of course I know how far I will allow a character to go. Before the whole thing starts teetering like a pyramid of baked beans, I mean. For instance I wouldn’t launch my lovely delicate female lead from the relative safety of a leafy London suburb to the wilds of Minnesota on a drug-hustle or anything. And equally I wouldn’t kill off my mysterious, brooding hero simply because he won’t get round to fancying aforementioned female lead and has his wandering eyes set on Denise at the Bookies instead.
So I rein in the absurd. After I’ve seen what it looks like written down of course. Have you ever done that? Written something so far-fetched simply because you CAN (a bit like God creating the Duck-Billed-Platypus -what was all THAT about? Thank goodness He also invented the 'delete' button).
Athough having said all this, if I find myself halfway round Sainsbury’s, realise I’ve forgotten my shopping list and I’ve merely been running on autopilot as far as the soft cheeses, then I have been known to flee and leave the half-filled trolley in a blind panic at not knowing which aisle I need next.
Luckily my characters have no such qualms. They’re made of sterner stuff; crammed full of promise and endless possibilities.