I write mysteries and romances. And as a pantser, I don’t plan my books. I just sit down with an idea, an image, a character or a bit of dialogue and start writing. In the nine books I’ve published, the payoff scene (my term), like every scene, flowed from the writing and required no planning or thought.
For me the payoff scene is the point of the book, the goal.
In a mystery, the payoff scene comes when the detective (amateur or professional) who has been collecting data, interviewing suspects and fighting the forces (police, higher-ups, the media, etc.) working against her solving the crime, puts all the clues together and identifies then confronts/arrests the killer.
In a romance, it’s the point in the manuscript when the two lovers overcome the obstacles keeping them apart and acknowledge their love for each other, or that they’re ready for a relationship, and make love. Depending on the author and the type of book, the love scene might be fade to black or a graphic description of what takes place.
So why am I talking about this?
Ninety-five thousand words into my tenth book I realized I was spinning my wheels. Somehow I’d missed the payoff scene.
I was perplexed.
Unlike my previous nine books, the ending chapter came to me just as I started writing, so I wrote it. And while I filled in the other ninety thousand plus words, I had that ending in mind. It was my target.
For almost two months I kept trying to write the payoff right before that last scene and I couldn’t do it. I went back to the beginning and read through the whole story trying to figure out the problem.
Then I woke one morning with the answer. The scene didn’t belong there. I had put the pieces in place and built the tension for the payoff six chapters before the ending chapter but my pantser brain was focused on the ending so I’d let the tension dribble out and continued writing.
I’d already set it up, I just had to let the payoff happen.
Fixing it wasn’t just a matter of rewriting the one chapter, though. I had to rewrite parts of chapters leading up to the payoff and rearrange, rewrite and delete parts of the six chapters involved. But finally I have the payoff. And a better book.
Authors, have you let yourself go off track in your writing? And what strategies have you used to get back on track?
Catherine is the author of four NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mysteries–A Matter of Blood, The Blood Runs Cold, A Message in Blood and Legacy in the Blood.
In addition to the four Corelli mysteries Catherine has written four romances and The Disappearance of Lindy James, general fiction.
When not writing, Catherine is either cooking or reading. She lives in the New York City with her wife.