I’m a discovery writer (or pantser), but a modified one. Why modified? Because once, when I was fairly new to writing, I actually managed to write over 100,000 words on a novel and, as I was writing the final scene, I looked up and said to myself, “But it’s not a story.” I knew intuitively that it wasn’t a story, but it took me a lot longer to figure out why. (By the way, once I finally figured it out and learned a few other matters of craft, that not-quite-a story became THE VOICE OF PROPHECY.)
Obviously, I need to know where the story begins. By which I mean not necessarily the opening scene, which can change. The inciting incident is usually pretty stable, though, and that’s what I need to know.
A few of the major plot points along the way is nice. I do make notes of or even sketch out a few scenes that come to me, but I’ve always done that (even in that draft that wasn’t really a story). Some of those will make it into the final version intact. Some will have to be changed to fit. And some will have to be left out or cut.
I like to know the climax. Of course, I’ve known the climax the DUAL MAGICS series was headed for for a long time, now, so that’s not a problem.
Sometimes I’ll even write out what I call a proto synopsis, hitting just the high (or low) points of the story.
But the main thing I absolutely have to know is the central conflict. Without that, it’s just a string of events. That’s the reason that that very first version of THE VOICE OF PROPHECY (then known as THE IGNORED PROPHECY) wasn’t a story. The germ of the central conflict was there, but it just wasn’t clear enough to be the backbone of the story.
I’ve been organizing all of this because, very soon now, I’m going to be starting the first draft of Book 4, the final book of the DUAL MAGICS series, tentatively titled WARRIOR OF MAGIC. Can barely wait.