I’ve been stuck on my WIP (work in progress) for months now. Partly that’s due to the two rounds of edits and major revisions on previous novels that have taken up my time this summer and fall, but it’s mostly due to WHN.
WHN is a form of writer’s block. It stands for What Happens Next. It’s a crucial question that we “pantzers” (or is it “pantsers” in British spelling?) are constantly asking. Plotters don’t worry about WHN; if they forget What Happens Next they just consult the handy dandy outline they’ve made, or read the detailed synopsis they’ve made.
But for us Pantzers, WHN can stop us cold. Is the next scene going to take place in a different location? Will there be a new character introduced? Maybe the main character will have an epiphany in the museum, or on the way to the doctor’s office, or while listening to the lyrics of a favorite song.
Nailing down the location of the next scene is usually key for me. After that, the action starts flowing, the dialogue gets written, the character motivations appear as if by magic. I love scene setting—not too much, not enough to bore the reader, but enough to make the scene sound authentic. If my character is weeding her garden, what sort of weeds is she pulling? If a character is crafting a piece of furniture, what does it look like? What type of wood is it made from? Those sorts of scenic details add to, rather than distract from, a scene.
And often those details get my characters moving, thinking, or talking. And then before I know it a scene is taking place, and my writer’s block is over; my WHN is answered.
It’s this serendipity that makes me prefer my plotless method of writing, even though it’s terrifying at times, and time-consuming, especially when you decide the scene you just wrote is wrong for the book. Although, I’ve heard plotters do the same thing, ripping out entire scenes when they realize they’re either not needed or require major rewriting.
Sometimes I come up with WHN when I re-read what I’ve written—yes, the entire manuscript. This jogs my memory, makes me aware of a dangling plot point (such as a secondary character who hasn’t been mentioned lately, or an upcoming trip or visit a character had dropped into an earlier conversation).
I’ve also answered the WHN question by consulting a research book, reading a chapter or two at night before I go to sleep. Suddenly an idea is there, the perfect setting and situation just waiting to be inserted into the manuscript.
It’s not perfect. I’d much rather have a road map. Heck, I’d much rather have a 9-5 job selling widgets, on some days. But minds are a funny thing, and we work with what we’ve got. And rework, if necessary.
What does happen next? Hmmm….