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Who Are You?

February 19, 2009

There are two distinct ways to approach writing: plotting or write by the seat of your pants. I’ve always been the one to come up with an idea and just write. Let the story flow where it’s going to go. Change what needs to be changed later. The problem with this method is the details. Readers will call you on the smallest inaccurate details.

I know when I’m reading a book and I see something wrong. Whether it be spelling or grammatical error, it doesn’t matter. I still ask myself “How could they have missed this” each time. But it’s easy to read something over and over and still miss the same thing. That’s where critique partners and writing groups come in.

I have yet to find the right person I can rely on. When it comes to my own writing, I’m insecure. I never feel it’s good enough. I need someone else to read it and give me that brutal honesty. I don’t think a writer can live without brutal honesty. Unfortunately, my quest has been unsuccessful. This has caused me to shift in to more of a plotter. Plotting has added some security, but hasn’t eliminated the search for the right critique partner.

Who are you? A plotter or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? Do you feel your method helps or hinders your craft?

  1. February 19, 2009 1:00 am

    I fly by the seat of my pants. Fixing up details is for rewrites, second drafts etc. I believe that my characters speak through me and the times that I’ve tried to plot they revolt and the story stops – even if it’s icky or I totally disagree. Characters can be so characteristically three year old when they can’t get their way.

    I know exactly where you are at with the fear of sharing your work.

    I didn’t share my work with anyone for almost ten years after my confidence was decimated by someone who used their critiquing as a personal attack. What I’ve found useful is a list of things that critiquing should be … and to know if it doesn’t appear on that list, regardless of how much it might hurt – it’s not real criticism.

    I have also found a trusted group of friends/family/colleagues to cast an eye over my work. That allows me a modicum of safety in sharing my work – but it still makes it hard for me to listen to what they say. As a consequence though – my writing is getting better.

  2. February 19, 2009 2:21 am

    I’m a bit of both. I plot things in my head, and when I have time, I’d write. Sometimes I’d use the ideas I’ve thought of, sometimes I create new scenes as I go along. It works great for short stories or vignettes, but I wouldn’t recommend it for novel writing.

    I have three friends who I fully trust to give me honest and constructive critiques. What I love about them is that even though they’re my friends, they aren’t biased with my work and can always be trusted to tell me the truth. It helps that they’re also writers. I listen to what they say and it gives me courage to share what I wrote to a bigger audience. 😀

  3. February 19, 2009 3:43 am

    I used to think I was a plotter, then I tried writing out according to the plot, and finding the plots unravelled, because characters either wouldn’t do what they were told, or I would get to the stage where I would think “that’s not how this character would react to this situation”.

    Now I’m very much an organic writer, letting the story flow and change as I allow the characters to react.

    The huge disadvantage to this of course is huge gaping plotholes when you’ve finished. As you point out, if you have a well-planned plot, you tend not to make these mistakes, but if you write organically, you need someone you trust to read over the work and say things like “remember that huge event in chapter 3? Yeah, what happened to that?”

  4. pinagbayanan permalink
    February 19, 2009 5:36 am

    I’ve come to think of it this way: I’m a careful character creator.

    As far as plot is concerned, I do know what’s going to happen, but not always all of it at the same time. Sometimes it’s a big event that I know of – a war which I’m building towards, or a death I know is necessary. I don’t necessarily undertand the details that go into that event. Sometimes it’s a small events, the details that I get. I know before writing chapter 1 that there will be a conversation between two characters in chapter 8. But I don’t know where and why they’re talking.

    That’s because rather than being very strict as a plotsman, I’m a strict character writer. My plots organic in the sense that they are the confluences of well defined character arcs, with the interaction of the characters changing the nature of the plot as they go along.

    😀 I hope that makes some sense. hehe.

  5. February 19, 2009 7:31 am

    I write by the seat of my pants. I always have done it this way. I sometimes *wish* that I could be a plotter but whenever I have tried to do so, I’ve gotten bored or stuck or both. Maybe that’s because the idea was, in fact, boring, or maybe it’s because I’ve always hated outlining (in school, if we had to do a term paper and turn in the outline ahead of time, I would write the paper early and then outline it — that’s how much I hate planning my writing!).

    The problem that I have is that since I just go with whatever the characters want to do or whatever the setting forces them into… sometimes there is no recognizable plot at all, just a bunch of characters standing around talking about how awesome it might be if something would just go on and happen already. While this can prove amusing and entertaining, it isn’t really all that stellar when it comes to really look at the piece as “A Piece”. But when it is all going well, I think that it provides a very readable, conversational, style which makes it (in my opinion) far more accessible to more potential readers.

    I am usually very careful with details so I rarely worry that some small detail will be wrong when comparing chapter 1 to chapter 13. However, since I don’t plan ahead, sometimes I’ve ended up with BIG details that got messed up, meaning that chapter 13 ended up being exactly what chapter 1 implied it would not be (because the characters decided to throw caution to the wind and do something crazy). But that’s what re-writing and editing are for, right?

    I think that overall, writing by the seat of my pants helps me because I just blurt out whatever is in me that’s willing to come out. However, when I’m in a place like where I have been for the past two months and nothing is coming out at all, it is a huge, painful hinderance because I cannot even put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. I’ve got nothing. If I could do some plotting, maybe it might get me writing again as the idea would already be down on paper, just waiting to get fleshed out.

    So, in the end, I guess I am saying that this method of mine is both a help and a hinderance, depending on my state of mind and on how painful the writer’s block is at the time.

  6. Matthew permalink
    February 19, 2009 11:37 am

    I usually have a general sense of where I’m going, but not how to get there. I have a very skeletal plot outline in my head, and sometimes, I think that it would be helpful to write it down so that I don’t forget anything, but when I try, it just doesn’t work for some reason. I just find that I have to trust that if it’s a good enough idea, I’ll remember it.

    Also, I don’t write linearly. Sometimes I start at the end and work backwards, and when I think up a plot, it usually doesn’t come to me in order from beginning to end, so writing a nice, neat, orderly outline isn’t even always an option for me.

  7. February 19, 2009 11:37 pm

    I’m with Paul and Jodi – try and plot a course and your characters get huffy, cross thier arms and say “I don’t think so!”

  8. February 19, 2009 11:38 pm

    Oh and as pinagbayanan says – I like to think I a careful character creator – I get inside thier skin and move around the events.. and let them go for it.

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