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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

The dotty guide to writing


Can you tell what it is yet? My writing is like a dot-to-dot picture

I see a lot of talk amongst writers and interviews of authors about whether they are ‘planners’ or ‘pantsers’, ie do they plot the story meticulously and know exactly what they’re writing before they start writing; or do they sit down, fly by the seat of their pants, and just start writing with no clue as to where the story is heading or how it will end.

But I want to start a new category, mainly because I don’t fall into either of the choices that seem to apply to everyone else. I’m a ‘dot to dotter’.

What does that mean? Well, I don’t have a plan, that’s for sure. But I do have set points within my story that I know I want to happen – so I’m clearly not a ‘pantser’.

I write these key scenes out first, because they are the bits I’m certain of. And besides, I like to do my favourite bits first. After they’re completed, I sit back and ponder for a while about what on earth the structure will be like for the rest of the novel. What are the key themes pulling these points together? What are the characters’ motivations? How will these seemingly unrelated scenes join together to make a book?

Around this point, I generally have a minor panic and worry that I’m a complete failure who is incapable of completing a novel (despite the fact that I’ve written two bestsellers now, I still think this. I don’t believe this fear will ever leave me).

Then I decide that the only thing to do is write my way through the problem. So I sit down and write, with no idea of what will happen, making decisions as I go along. I start at the beginning and write my way up to a previously completed key scene, then on to the next and the next. Slowly I join them together, like a child drawing a line from one point to another in a dot to dot picture, until eventually the final product becomes clear to me.

That dot to dot is the first draft, and after that I can start filling it in properly, rounding it off, adding colours and textures, making it more realistic, creating details and layers that will make it jump from the page. Then, at some point, I will sit back and realise the new novel is complete, and wonder to myself ‘how on earth did you do that?’ The answer: I’m a fly by the seat of my pants plotter who enjoys going dotty…

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