I'm just past the halfway point in terms of word count (26,962 words) and I'm just a bit short of the halfway point plot-wise. Earlier this year, when I went to Wizard World Comic Con (see posts here and here), I attended a session for writers in which I learned about two different approaches to writing:
- Discovery writing: Start with ideas about the plot, and just write; focus is on character development (Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are discovery writers)
- Outline writing: Clear plan about entire novel; focus is on plot development (Orson Scott Card is an outline writer)
The problem is I've never finished a novel before, not for lack of ideas. I've written countless short stories and plays, and discovery writing seems to work well for those. But I realized if I wanted a good chance to finish my book, I was going to need a different approach. So I outlined the story, figuring out the big events that need to happen and generating some character descriptions. But I left things pretty broad within each chapter. Essentially I had a map and a notion of where they should be at each mile marker (chapter), but the rest of the journey hadn't been written yet. What I did isn't really pure outline writing or pure discovery writing. It's a hybrid of the two.
Fortunately, I found a description of what I'm doing in the NaNoWriMo website. They use similar concepts to what I've described above but use different terms. Discovery writers are "pantsers" - writing by "the seat of their pants." Outline writers are "planners." And people who do a combination of the two are "plantsers."
The great thing about this approach is I can keep myself on track and keep writing even if I'm feeling kind of blocked. But I still leave things open to develop and my characters have already done things that surprised me. I even created a character in a scene on-the-fly and he added a major development that impacted one of my protagonists. All totally unplanned - it just kind of happened.