One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter – who was a child at the time – asked me, “Daddy, why are you writing so fast?” And I replied, “Because I want to see how the story turns out!”
. . . Louis L’Amour
This has long been one of my favorite writing-related quotes. Although I can’t write in “pantster” style, I’m always awed by those who can start at the beginning with nothing more than an idea and bravely head out for parts unknown, finally finding themselves at a logical, coherent, and meaningful ending.
My approach is almost the exact opposite. I look first at where I want to go and then figure out how to get there. Of course, getting from one place to the other — for me — requires a lot of hops, skips, and jumps. I bounce around a lot while writing, working on various scenes at different points in the story. For me, that’s how new ideas emerge.
Every writer has his or her own way of coming up with a plot. Some writers begin with a character; others start with a basic premise or theme. Some writers need to pin down every last little detail, and others are content to start writing with only a vague idea of when, where, and how they’ll reveal significant bits of information. No way guarantees success. No way is right; no way is wrong.
No matter how carefully we may plan and plot, however, the act of writing a story almost always involves change. We think we’re writing about one thing then discover we’re writing about something very different. Our characters change, our storylines head off in new directions, and emotions we never expected are suddenly jumping out at us.
This is why I love writing. It’s fun! It’s unpredictable. It’s a creative process that allows me to learn new things about life, about love, and most of all, about myself.
In writing, I often think of my story as a puzzle, and all the pieces must fit together. But…before I can even begin to solve the puzzle, I have to create the pieces. Those pieces are the characters, the settings, the problems, the conflicts…all of the many elements that — hopefully — come together in what we call a plot.
While browsing around one day, I found this handy little diagram. I’ve never used it and probably never will, but somebody might find it useful:
Sometimes I wish the thoughts inside my head were so neatly organized. They’re not and never will be. For me, the creative process of plotting begins with a day of “playing on the page”…it’s a wild and crazy journey. It goes something like this:
I really don’t have a clue what I’m going to write about. Earlier, I listened to Robert Rich’s music – Aquifer – and I have thoughts of wolves running through dark forests, but is that something I want to write about? Not really. I like the spooky feelings of edgy ambient soundscapes, but that doesn’t mean I want to write about haunted houses, ghosts, or vampires.
During this first week, I should inquire into the nature of my premise. What premise? I must allow images and ideas to emerge. I can handle the second part, but I’m stumped on the first, and the first precedes the second, and the second is dependent upon the first, so where does that leave me? Out in some ambient forest with a pack of howling wolves.
Yes, it’s a messy process, but somehow it works for me. Eventually, I figure out where I want to go, and eventually I find a way to get there.
While I may be awed by those writers who can start at the beginning, head off for parts unknown, and speed at breakneck pace through a story, I don’t think I’d want to work that way. I’d rather let my mind wander off here and there — I just hope I don’t lose it somewhere along the way!
Thanks for visiting today!
I hope you’ll leave a comment and share a thought or two.