Do criminally insane writers exist?
I’m not even sure the phrase “Criminally Insane” means anything. A horror film called Criminally Insane came out in 1975, but it was not about writers and it was certainly not legitimized by the presence of APA-certified consulting psychiatrists on set. I prefer the alternate title, Crazy Fat Ethel, anyway. A movie should deliver on the promise of its title.
But I digress (if it’s possible to digress from a topic one hasn’t brought up yet). Now that I’m in the groove with my novel-in-progress, I believe I am taking pantsing to a new level of chaos. Warning: You plotters might experience actual physical pain reading this.
I have no outline, a given for a pantser. I am not using writing software (beyond MS Word). I have tons of characters existing in four overlapping subplots, none of whom have written biographies and all of whom are tracked only within the haunted labyrinth of my synapses. And the best part: I’m writing out of sequence. That is, I am not composing the story in the order that events unfold. I’m doing this because 1.) I’ve lost my mind, and 2.) I am realizing what this story is about as I go, and when the ideas hit, I often need to go back and set them up with a bridging event. Oh, I gave up on numbering the chapters for reasons that should be obvious. I’m giving them placeholder names like “Car” and “Run” and “What am I thinking?”
You are no doubt thinking I have an unreadable disaster on my hands. It’s ok. I don’t blame you. No one can follow such a method and produce anything other than an incoherent word jumble. Funny thing is, it’s working for me. It’s like I have a box of invisible puzzle pieces and no idea what image I am assembling, yet an image is emerging anyway. Because once a piece is in place, the cloak of invisibility drops for that piece. Now I’m starting to feel the satisfying snap of pieces unexpectedly interlocking and creating clusters of pieces. I don’t know that I’ll ever work this way again, but I’m finding that chaos has its attributes.
In case you are a criminally insane writer, or just one who feels stagnant and is up for a change in methodology, here’s a summary of my steps so far. It’s the closest thing to an outline I’m composing this year:
I. Get a story idea from a three-word phrase that, of its own volition, pops into your head while you are showering
II. Write a short story based on the idea
III. Like the short-story enough to turn it into a novel, only set the novel years before the events in the short story take place
IV. Make the antagonists friends
V. Start in story in the middle, then tell the backstory
VI. Don’t think, just write. The characters and events will reveal themselves as you go
VII. Realize one of your minor characters is actually the villain and go back to fill in his story
VIII. Realize your characters are all connected and have been committing parallel acts (some overt and some symbolic), but with different motives, decide that is awesome in its organic-ness, and go back to build the bridges.
IX. Be confident that it will work and be interesting and different.
X. Nothing. I thought my outline would look better ending in “X”
That’s it. Happy insanity. Feel free to tell me I’m a fool in the comments!