A few days ago I was “chatting” with a young man who is contemplating trying his hand at writing a novel. His questions though, about the process, got me thinking.
See he was asking things such as what kind of “villains” do people like the best, and what story “premise” is most popular? It occurred to me then that if he was asking these questions and using the answers to direct his story was he really telling HIS story? And really how often do we as writers do the same thing before we begin our own next great novel?
Certainly trends in the writing and movie culture will play a part in what writers try to craft. If vampires are the “in” thing we might try to write a story which includes one. Still most writers, I think, believe, hope, write what THEY want to write and give trends and popularity only a passing consideration.
But how do we decide what to write? Going back to a past tip, we write what we know, we write what we would want to read but beyond premise and heroes and villains how do we get from start to finish?
For some the only logical way is to plot out the entire story. Almost as if they were writing a nonfiction book. They have chapter outlines and designated goals for each scene they have intended dialogs to carry the story forward. They plan out when a character enters and when the exit they even know all the twists the story will take. When done with all the planning all they basically need is connecting words to complete the story.
I think, and this is just me, for a beginning writer this is a very good method. It certainly allows a writer to determine if they have established a firm GMC upon which to build a story. Plotting gives the writer a chance to know in what ways the characters will be growing and developing. Plotting too helps establish writing goals. A plotter, someone who plots can easy say “today I will write chapter 5” and then they can pull out that outline they planned out and write chapter 5.
But this organized, methodical, way very professional way of working on a MS isn’t the only way to write. There is at least one other way to go about it….
The “pants-er” method. You know what I mean, the writing by the seat of your pants whatever comes to mind at the moment not really knowing if any of what you write will actually work in the script or if when you stop for the moment you will have written the greatest thing since “Gone With the Wind” or something more suitable for use as kindling in a fireplace.
This is a valid method though. I think it’s even in some ways the true description of a real writer. There is no labor intense manufacturing of plot and character. No forced meeting of goals or twists or cleaver dialog. Pants-er just let it flow. It comes out as fast as it can be imagined and it meets all the criteria of storytelling and novel writing. Sure the method may require more editing on the back end and maybe even the deletion of entire chapters and scenes but the story gets down before any of the vision gets away.
There are drawbacks though to this method. The biggest one would be when nothing comes to mind that day to write. The dreaded “writer’s block”; when the voice, or voices, in your head decide to sleep in or simply not speak to you. This is not really a problem of the plotter who can if one chapter isn’t working that day they can skip ahead to the one they “feel” is writable. Still when everyone in your head is quiet you can get some editing done.
Now if I sound like I have a bias towards pants-ing it, I do. I completely believe in getting the story down first. Getting the words on a page before frustration can set in, before all the things glaringly wrong can be pointed out, before doubt in ability is builds before the actual work involved in writing is realized. But in no way am I saying one method is better than another or any other besides the two I mentioned is worse.
The writer’s ultimate goal is to tell a great story. To tell THEIR story, in THEIR voice. And if you are thinking about writing and you are not sure how to go about it try several methods. Try plotting, try pants-ing, try talking into a recording device, and try whatever makes you write. I guess what I most want to advise you is that no matter how you do it as long as you do write you are doing it right… correct.
Hope you find this encouraging and as always READ ON!!