How I Outlined and Drafted the Sequel to Pantomime

Firstly: this isn’t writing advice. I am still very much figuring out how I do this writing malarkey best. But I wanted to write a blog post outlining my process of writing the sequel to Pantomime. Evidently, across a writer’s career, a second book is often the most difficult for an author to write. With a first book, there’s no deadline and thus less stress. A second book has a deadline, and expectations, and if it’s a trilogy, middle books can be tricky.

I had no real system in place when I wrote the first draft of Pantomime. I kind of made an outline, but in little dribs and drabs. I wrote very slowly, sometimes setting down the MS for months at a time and working on a book with an adult Micah Grey, or writing a short story or a poem, or not writing at all. It meant it took me a good 15 months to write, and then a furious 3 months of really substantial edits when I had my revision request from Strange Chemistry.

I don’t have that sort of time now, so I had to figure out a way to write faster. I found writing Pantomime2 (title still to be determined), both easier and harder than I thought. I started working on the sequel in late March, pretty much right after I found out book 1 was going to be published. I had been thinking about the sequel for a long time and had a few pages of vague notes and ideas. I spent three weeks working on fine-tuning the outline—I wrote lots more disjointed notes, about 10k in total. Any half-baked idea found its way onto the page. This is one of the best parts of writing for me: VOMIT ALL THE IDEAS!

I then vaguely arranged these ideas by subplots in a mindmap (yes, I made a mindmap). And then I made a chapter by chapter outline of the first 8 chapters, and pared down my remaining notes so it made more sense and was in chronological order. I wrote 3 chapters to get a sense of the book, and then finished my outline and sent it to my agent with a pleaded “does this make sense?” I got the thumbs up and kept going.

I tried to make this book a story where if you grabbed it and didn’t realise it was book 2, you’d still be able to follow it, even if you would wonder just how the characters started off in such a state. The main plot is self-contained, yet many hints and questions that are raised in the first book are explored and answered, and some subplots are still open at the end to lead into hopefully a third book.

I hate it when people profess that you should never edit your first drafts, that your first draft should always be a vomit draft written as quickly as possible. That works brilliantly for some people. It does not work that way for me. Yes, yes, I know Stephen King writes a draft in 3 months. He also has a hell of a lot of practice and no day job. I’m not a fan of writing advice that makes you feel guilty. The best writing advice is, as ever, get your butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard and type away, however suits you best.

The first draft of Panto2 took me 5 months and turned out to be 103,000 words. But I only worked on it maybe 4.5 of those months. The other 6 weeks I edited Pantomime twice and also wrote notes, researched, and wrote about 15k of another book. I can work on two projects at once, sort of, which again doesn’t work for some people. I prefer that, so if I get stuck on one project, I’m not banging my head against the keyboard and hoping words that make sense come out of it. I work on something else for a little while and then come back to the first project refreshed.

Every 20,000 words I stopped and edited. I read what I had, rewrote awkward scenes, moved scenes or chapters around, added new scenes, and I went back and altered my outline to reflect the changes I made. So by the end, the last 20k were rough, but the other 80k was in reasonable shape. That works for me. I can’t write straight through for the Micah Grey books—the world is complicated, and I worry I’ll go off on crazy tangents, or forget important details at the beginning that I could use to tie into the ending. I can get character’s voices better and figure out their motivations. I like having a draft at the end I don’t have to totally rewrite.

I have spent the last few weeks editing it more, while also bouncing around between other projects. I read through it a few times, and my alpha readers—my best friend, Erica, and my husband, Craig—pointed out some things they noticed. By this point it was mostly smoothing out inconsistencies in the first ¾ and making bigger changes to the last ¼. That draft, now 106,000 words, is now away with my wonderful agent. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if this style of drafting worked for me!

Funnily enough, I’m writing my next book in a way that is the complete antithesis of this. It’s a messy, messy vomit draft that I’m going to have to throw out and rewrite almost entirely, but it’s the best way to figure out what I want from that story. Just goes to show that every book is different.

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4 thoughts on “How I Outlined and Drafted the Sequel to Pantomime

  1. It sounds like we work in very similar ways. I’m not a ‘vomit out the first draft’ writer either. I’ll write a couple of thousand words and then edit them before continuing. I still save major edits for the following drafts, but a finished draft has to be coherent. I also like having more than one project on the go, for the same reasons you mentioned – it can be nice to have a constructive distraction sometimes.

  2. Heh. I know where you’re coming from, Laura. As you already know, I write by the seat of my pants, only knowing how I’m going to start the story and and how I’m going to end it.

    But I cannot finish a first draft in vomit form. As the story develops, if I find my characters doing something in the present that requires a change to the past, I change the past. I also go over my stuff so much before I actually write the end, it’s typically in good shape when that first draft is finally done.

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