Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Don’t Care How You Do It…


Just do it well. Do it vigorously. MEAN it when you do it.

In case you’re getting the wrong idea or thinking that perhaps I’m stuck in the subject of two-weeks past, this week here at the word-whores we are telling you how we write, specifically if we are a plotter or a “write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants”-er. I, Linda, your hump-day word-whore am neither…and yet both.

You see, I have a large story arc for my series—an arc that would cover at least nine books. But that arc is simply a general summary of what happens in each book. The main plot thread. The subplots, the trials of the minor characters, the details that crop up and the actual way that the goal will be accomplished, all of that I figure it out as I go.        

To me, being shackled to a precisely organized outline is too rigid to allow the muse to function. I dare not take that risk because when the creative lady is dripping ideas onto my head like a cool anointing it’s very, very good. However, I need to know where I’m going. Writing without any clear notion of where these characters must arrive allows that same muse to pour buckets on my noggin and then me and the story are drowning in a blurry, unfocused mess. Stringing together random ideas does not a novel make—not one that readers would enjoy anyway.

For whatever reason, writers write. We tell out stories, putting them lovingly on the page…but it is in publishing them and sharing them en mass that is the goal of our hearts. Consider this:

In THE OXFORD BOOK OF AMERICAN ESSAYS (1914) Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) said:

When we American writers find grace to do our best, it is not so much because we are sustained by each other, as that we are conscious of a deep popular heart, slowly but surely answering back to ours, and offering a worthier stimulus than the applause of a coterie. If we once lose faith in our audience, the muse grows silent. Even the apparent indifference of this audience to culture and high finish may be in the end a wholesome influence, recalling us to those more important things, compared to which these are secondary qualities. The indifference is only comparative; our public prefers good writing, as it prefers good elocution; but it values energy, heartiness, and action more. The public is right; it is the business of the writer, as of the speaker, to perfect the finer graces without sacrificing things more vital. “She was not a good singer,” says some novelist of his heroine, “but she sang with an inspiration such as good singers rarely indulge in.” Given those positive qualities, and I think that a fine execution does not hinder acceptance in America, but rather aids it. Where there is beauty of execution alone, a popular audiénce, even in America, very easily goes to sleep. And in such matters, as the French actor, Samson, said to the young dramatist, “sleep is an opinion.”

{Matthews, Brander, ed. (1852–1929).  Americanism in Literature }    

So, in effort to keep from writing stuff that would bore people, I make bullet points in the document. I start with maybe ten or twelve. And I write. As the plot progresses, I add bullet points and time notations and moon phase notes according to the calendar I’m keeping with the story. I sit back and think the next logical step through and find a way to accomplish it that is interesting and—hopefully—not what one might expect. As I write the scenes, I remove the “done” bullet points. This is more fluid “combined” method evolves as the story evolves. It has the best qualities of both approaches, it gives me direction, yet it feels free. Writing a novel I’d say is never easy, but it’s always worth the effort.




  1. "The indifference is only comparative; our public prefers good writing, as it prefers good elocution; but it values energy, heartiness, and action more."

    Ah, the grand debate of which is more important a good story or a good story-teller.

    I like the bullet-points to frame out the chapter/scene idea then going back to flush them out. That should help nicely with the stroke of genius twelve chapters out from where the story currently is. ~makes note to self~

  2. :-D KAK- I've adapted my process over the years and been doing this for the last three books. Seems to work well for me. Was it Jeffe that said earlier this week the surprises along the way that are impossible to predict are the real story? I agree, and that's also the /way/ I write. I know the main stuff, but its the surprises that leap in as I write that makes it--to me--feel real and not contrived.

  3. That was me - and this method actually makes sense to me. I can bullet-point the direction of the story. I might try this, too!

  4. Hm. Bullet points. That would work...if I could freaking make up my mind about what happens in any given story

  5. Try it, but don't let it mess with you--if its not working, don;t force it. Everyone has a method that will work for them, they just have to find it, and your "misting" sounds delightfully ethereal and mystical. :-D

  6. I am fascinated by the differences and similarities in everybody's process. Now, if only I could figure out my own. By Saturday, so I can articulate it, lol.

  7. I don't usually do full bullet points, but I will throw a couple of "these three things" have to happen in this chapter. But I leave how I get there up to the muse, if that makes any sense...

  8. that's me - delightful, ethereal and mystical ;-)

  9. Kerry, make us fill out a bunch of worksheets ("Did this character play with Legos as a child?") and we'll be tearing our hair out and not noticing whether your description of process matches anything we've heard from you in the past.

    I call my process spiral plotting/pantsing. I do a lot of brainstorming and lay a few things out, but I hit a point where I have to start writing to figure out anything more.

  10. Ann Marie-- that's a very good point. There are times in a novel where the only way for the author to figure out what to do is to dive in and force the character through it too!

    Jeffe-- indeed! :-D

    Allison-- makes perfect sense. Seems to working well for you BoD kicks ass!

    Kerry-- this week was hard for me too. Time constraints didn't help. Hence the typos and weird type. :-D

    Marcella--missed you earlier, we were commenting at the same time! There's nothing wrong with figuring out what you want to happen in an outline/bullet point or paragraphical way--follow all the plot ideas through and see where you end up! You might find you suddenly have a series! :-D