Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Potential Pitfalls: Writing Blind (v2.0)

Perhaps some of you wondered why this post was labeled "v1.0" ... here's the answer.

There's another way of interpreting "writing blind" beyond an awareness of the audience—awareness of the plot.

If you've been hanging around online writers' communities, you're probably familiar with the terms planner and pantser. It's not so much "either-or" as it is a spectrum. On the extreme planner end you have writers who outline chapter by chapter, construct copious background notes, and have everything clearly laid out before they write the first scene. On the other end, you have writers who truly fly by the seat of their pants. They sit down with just the barest seed of an idea—maybe the main character, or a slice of a premise—and start writing.

At that extreme pantser end of things, we run the risk of writing blind. Having no idea where the plot is going, and thus writing scenes that go nowhere.

Even at that extreme, this pitfall is still only potential. If we recognize that major editing will be required after the first draft, once the story has found its shape, it can work out just fine. But there's a key:

Somewhere along the way, we're not writing blind anymore.

At some point, we have to figure out where we're going. Otherwise, we're going to end up with 200k words of episodic scenes and no end in sight. Characters may still throw curve-balls, unexpected twists may emerge, changes may be required. That's all okay and part of the fun. But we need to get a bead on the main conflict and resolving it.

Of course, being a super-extreme planner ... well, that's another potential pitfall.

All you pantsers out there, what methods do you apply to your madness? What's your editing process like once the first draft is done?

8 comments:

Leah Petersen said...

I'm a major pantser, in everything, not just writing. My first book was written as it came to me. Eventually there was enough to it that all the scenes could be connected together with little effort. Then again, as the plot for that one, I just started with an interesting kid and watched where he went. Eventually his circumstances and personality combined to make a pretty consistent plot for his life.

Now that book's become a trilogy, so I'm having to learn this whole planning thing. I'm still winging it, mostly, but when my editor asked for an outline of what the potential books 2 and 3 would look like before we committed to it... well, I had to give her something.

It was tough, because so much of any story for me comes along after something happens that I didn't know about until I was writing a scene and suddenly, OMG what just happened!

And there's the next three chapters.

So I started book 2 with an outline. And by that I mean about a dozen sentences, each hitting on a major plot point along the way to the end. So, for a regular planner, they probably wouldn't call it an outline so much as a few notes scribbled on a napkin.

I'm at 75k words with it now and have stopped actively writing new stuff and just going back to the beginning and reading it through to see where it's thin, where it's no longer consistent because of something I came up with later, fix the areas where I didn't segue from one major scene to the next, etc.

So, in essence, I have no plan whatsoever for the last 15k words I want to have before this draft is finished. I'm just picking them up as I go along. A scene here, a whole new sideplot there. Whatever happens. ;)

Christine Murray said...

I'm a pantser, but as I go on I tend to plan ahead in my head more. Probably because, having completed two novels, I have a better idea of story structure.

Great post!

Charlie Wade said...

I think I'm a pantser. Though I do have a head full of useless information and the outline of the story is definately there. Do you have to write things down to be a planner? Or does having it all up top count?

Richard said...

I find it hard to start writing without some idea of where it's going. It only has to be an idea, and it can change, but I need to have some end in sight.

R.C. Lewis said...

Leah, sounds like you definitely recognize the editing requirements of your method, so it looks like it works for you. (Good luck finishing the sequel!)

Christine, I think that's how it goes for a lot of pantsers. As you go along, the free-form ideas start to coalesce into a particular shape.

Charlie, like I said, I think it's more of a spectrum. You could be on the pantser end of it, but closer to the middle than, say, Leah. Myself, I think I'm somewhere in that middle zone. I usually know where I'll start, the general premise, and the general ending. As I go, I jot down notes of things that will happen along the way, though not necessarily in order. Then the characters have to get rolling for me to figure out how I'm going to get from here to there.

Richard, yeah, like I just said, that's kind of how I work. In my WIP, I've known the *very* general end goal all along, but the specifics have morphed and changed quite a bit as I've gone along.

Thanks for the great comments!

Mindy McGinnis said...

I'm a pantser in the sense that I know what needs to happen next, but don't really know how I'm going to get there. So I sit down, my fingers type, and things happen. Not really a talent so much as dumb luck.

Rachel McClellan said...

With every book I've written, I always know the ending first. This works out great for me, because I just sit down and start writing until I reach the end. There have been times where I have to go back and thin out scenes or add some to get the word length I want, but I find if I know the ending, the story comes together so much better.
Great post!

R.C. Lewis said...

Mindy, I suspect we have semi-similar styles. (Big surprise, right?) And Rachel, I'm the same way with knowing the ending, at least in general.

It really is like setting out on a road trip. Some people set out knowing the roads they'll take, where they'll stop for the night, etc. Others know what city they'll end up in, but don't plan the route in advance. Still others just want to hit the road, maybe know what general region they want to explore, but go where the wind takes them.