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I tend to burn out developing my stories before they even reach the page, so I'm taking some advice to pants a novel. I didn't quite follow the advice to the letter; I used an idea that had been rolling around in my head for a while. Character A had a backstory, Character B was in conflict with him, and there would be an antagonist to both of them. Anytime I try to introduce the antagonist, however, I find myself losing interest because I have no idea who he is. I'd be happy to throw him away and see where the story goes without him, but I'm concerned that it would lose much of its motivation.

I need to know all of my main characters better. I recently wrote a scene that shed a lot of light on Character B's reasons for wanting to leave the situation in which Character A has placed him. That and Character A's backstory might be enough to provide the motivation I'd miss if I chucked the antagonist. I would like to write some scenes revolving around these details, but they wouldn't be part of the finished novel and I'm afraid of slipping into procrastination.

Is there room for writing scenes that could prepare me for writing the main story, but won't be in the final version of the novel? Is this procrastination, or is it useful for a story I haven't spent a lot of time developing? How can I tell the difference?

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Since Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum, I've lightly edited your question to make it more answerable. Have I kept your question intact? If I've damaged it, please revert and we can try again. – Neil Fein Feb 21 '12 at 3:43
Actually, I think your edit brought out the question I wanted to ask. I am especially interested in hearing the answers of those familiar with pantsing novels, but I won't mind answers from plotters as well. Since that statement seems to be what red-flagged you, I see no reason why that information can't just stay in this comment. – Sheelawolf Feb 21 '12 at 5:20
I'm glad mt edit was helpful. In the interests of transparency and clarity about the moderation process: What stood out for me was the fact that the information was a request for discussion. – Neil Fein Feb 21 '12 at 6:09
I'd like to learn how to write better questions. I'm not quite sure how I was asking for discussion. I view discussion as a two-way street -- conversation going backwards and forwards. I view SE as a one-way street -- once I get an answer, there is no conversation unless clarification is needed. While my statement could have limited answers (perhaps unwise when a good one can come from anywhere) I didn't see it as asking for a back-and-forth conversation. Does my understanding of SE need to be adjusted? – Sheelawolf Feb 21 '12 at 6:23
In my opinion the sentence I edited out, "I'd like to hear from those familiar with writing unplanned novels" is a request to discuss the issue. Since this is getting off the subject of your question, if you'd like to discuss this at greater length, I'd love to go into more detail. Please feel free to ping me in chat by typing @NeilFein. – Neil Fein Feb 21 '12 at 7:12
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Fearing procrastination is procrastination ;)

First: No-one said you are not allowed to develop a character when pantsing a novel. But if you take three days to add detail on detail for just one character, then you are doing it wrong.

Sit down and write your story. If you encounter the problem, that you need more information about one character to go on, take a sheet of paper and a pen and scribble down the character details. Don't think! Just write down what's in your head. The moment your pen leaves the sheet and you start to ponder what to add more, throw the pen away, reread your character sheet and go on writing your story with the new information.

Does something do not fit what you wrote yesterday when using the new character? Shrug your shoulders and keep writing. No-one cares, at least not at this stage of your novel.

Second: Scenes that do not belong to the story? How do you know, that they do not belong to the story? How do you know, that what you plan to write is what you want to write? Maybe these scenes are the real story you are after. Don't keep them separately. Add them to your story, keep writing. You can kick them out afterward if they don't fit. Being unsure and developing from what comes from your mind instantly is part of the game.

Third: Never forget your main goal: Finish the &*$# novel!

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@Sheelawolf, and John - we can discuss the policy, but let's do so in chat where the other mods can chime in. I'm going to clean up this comment thread so it stays relevant. – justkt Feb 21 '12 at 21:27

If you are writing, it is NOT procrastination. Believe me, there have been plenty of times where I would sit and think about a character or scene and come up with all these grandiose ideas, but never actually get anything down (or done). Then later I'd find myself wishing I had written something (anything) that would help the story along.

Your first draft should be all about geting everything down. If you provide too much detail (or not enough), you can always fix it when you go through and edit. After the first pass through, you'll have a second draft which may still need to have more information deleted (or added). You may find yourself starting all over from scratch, but at least you'll have plenty of notes and reference material.

Also, there was another discussion about short story spinoffs from a novel. If you end up with some fully (or mostly) developed scenes or characaters, even if you don't use them in the finished novel, you may be able to use them as part of a supporting short story or part of a sequel or spinoff. The main thing is to just sit down and write!

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