Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Right Way to Write

It's a question many people ask both themselves and others. What is the right way to write? If you came to the blog looking for an answer, here it is. And it's so simple, you'll smack your head like you were in a V-8 commercial.

Ready for it?

There isn't one.

Not universally for all writers, that is. There may be one right way for you, but as far as I can tell, everyone does it differently. One person outlines; another flies by the seat of their pants. Some people let the story flow and they follow. Others have a clear path and the story follows their plan.

The reason this came to mind this morning was a blog post the esteemed and humorous Travis Erwin wrote the other day. Just a few minutes ago, I went back to read the comments people had made, and one in particular made me think about this topic. The post is about writing yourself into a corner - something I've done on numerous occasions - and the commenter stated that they don't do it any more because they outline.

My initial reaction was: How sad.

You see, I can't conceive of having the entire book plotted out ahead of time. Those times when I have written myself into a corner, while frustrating almost to the point of tears, have forced my brain to think outside the box. Each time, my story has come out better for it. If I'd had everything plotted out ahead of time, those moments of creavity would never have happened, and my story would've been flattened because of it.

Don't get me wrong. I tried this with Caldera. I had the whole thing outlined before I wrote it. And truth be told, it damn near killed the book with blandness. You see, I can't write that way. For me, writing that way was too boring. I knew what was going to happen, and so writing it didn't excite me in the least. It was only after I threw out the outline and just let things happen, that the book shined through.

I tried it the other way, too. I wrote Spectacle without any idea of where it was headed. Everything was new to me. It was great. And it also took me way too long to write because I had to do a lot of deleting, and going back to check facts, and make sure all the loose ends I'd left were tied up, and... Well, you get the picture.

Now, I do it both ways. I plot a little and I pants a lot. (Not a plotter; not a pantser - a plantster.) It works for me.

That's the point of this post. My way is not everyone else's way. I can't do it the way you do it, and vice versa. Guess what? Neither of us is wrong. Each writer is doing it the way that works for them (or they should be).

My advice? If you haven't found the right way for you, read what other writers have done, pick out the parts that work for you, and come up with your own right way. Your books will come out better for it.

If you've found your own 'right way', share it in the comments. Maybe you've got something that could work for someone else.


Travis Erwin said...

Count me in the plantster category as well. I knew more about my current WIP than I have any other because it started as a short story.

So in many ways that has been an outline but when I started to turn the story into a novel I went back farther and did a ton more character development, but I needed to add a few secondary plot lines and a bit more conflict to sustain the story so much of it has been seat of my pants writing. Now that I'm nearly through I realize the novel veers more from the original short story that I ever thought it would even though the basic plot is the same. Had I stuck to the strict flow of the short story the novel would feel exactly like an elongated short story and I doubt any readers would appreciate the padding.

I typed all of that to basically say i agree with you and thanks for the compliments .

JenWriter said...

I'm a planster, too! I've outlined some of my book, and it's really helped me with direction. But there are things happening left and right that I didn't have any idea would happen. And my silly characters are popping up with romantic arcs that I never knew about before they started happening.

I'm a little worried about how one of these random plot threads is going to pan out, but we'll just see where it goes.

WordVixen said...

I always thought that I was a pantser because I hate outlining. But, I've discovered that I need at least a rough outline just to remember where I want to go. Not to avoid writing myself into corners, but to have a direction to start with in the first place.

As for being written into corners? I once told two writer friends of mine that I can "get out of anything with a rabid hampster". I swear, one day I'll use it, too!

Josephine Damian said...

I see you refer to me. What's sad was getting 100+ rejection letters for my pantsted (is that a word?)first novel.

My goal is a film deal from my second novel and that means following the three-act structure to stay on track and follow Aristotle's story telling basics.

I stop reading so many novels close to the end because those writers did not think their story all the way through. I'm also at an age where I can't waste time meandering down blind alleys only to erase what I wrote, and go back to a starting point....

If I plot out an outline ahead of time, I can see the blind alleys in advance and not waste time writing those scenes that just don't work.