Yes, I spelled that correctly, just to make a point. Lately I’ve seen a few posts on LinkedIn and Facebook where one writer purports to tell other writers just how to write. Even worse, at least two of them stated that Stephen King (yeah, THAT Stephen King, the one that sells bajillions of books.) was doing it wrong.
Outside of the obvious hubris and ridiculousness of that remark (see I can be nice, I used ridiculous instead of the word I wanted to use) given his output and success, was the relative unsuccess of two of the writers. Even for me, the Queen of snark, it was a little absurd.
I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters. Solomon Short (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
Part of the issue is, of course, the age-old difference between pantsers, the free spirits who write by the seat of their pants, and the plotters, who outline every chapter and create character boards for all the major characters before setting pen to page.
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. W. Somerset Maugham English dramatist & novelist (1874 – 1965)
Nothing has changed… except human nature, and the need to have our way be the best way.
What disturbed me, though, was the way some new writers took such advice as gospel. How many of them would be the round holes with someone forcing them to try to accept square pegs, and getting discouraged when they found out they didn’t fit?
Yes, I do like people to learn new words, it enriches the language. (Thousands of wonderful words are being lost every year due to lack of use. Soon we’ll be down to I c u 2!) Yes, you should use an editor if you can afford it because a good editor will make your story shine. If you can’t, find beta readers. And yes, I want people to understand proper grammar so when they break a rule they know why they do it and how it can make a story better when they do. The immortal “to boldly go” using a split infinitive is the best example. The same for the title of this article.
Even so, while I’ve said should, I never said had to… because I don’t believe in it.
As with politics, I have to be careful what I say next, for I am an inveterate pantser. Those who know me know I’ve said I’ve tried the other way and I can’t do it.
Does that mean it’s wrong? No. Does it mean it’s right? For me, yes. For Stephen King, yes. For Anne McCaffrey and a thousand other authors both large and small, yes. Does that mean that plotters are wrong? No. There are as many plotters as there are pantsers. Every writer has to write in the manner that suits them best. For every writer, there is a way that works. Some use an outline as a general reference and then let imagination take flight. Others plan each chapter, then throw the plan out when the logic doesn’t hold. Others, like me, just write the story.
New writers? Find your own path. Don’t let anyone else tell you there is one right true way… because there isn’t. There is your way. If it feels better to just sit and write, then do that. If you need to have the structure, the bones of the story laid out, then do that. Do what works.
A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness. Edith Wharton US novelist (1862 – 1937)
Write what feels right, because that’s all that matters. No great writer ever knew they would be great.
The most difficult part of writing a book is not devising a plot which will captivate the reader. It’s not developing characters the reader will have strong feelings for or against. It is not finding a setting which will take the reader to a place he or she as never been. It is not the research, whether in fiction or non-fiction. The most difficult task facing a writer is to find the voice in which to tell the story. Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon Commencement Speech, 2008
Find your own voice, write the story in whatever way feels right and let the chips fall where they may.
If you ever meet a writer so confident that he or she feels qualified to tell you how to write, run. Every good writer in the world has sometimes absolutely known that their writing is complete crap. If you don’t believe me, read Stephen King’s On Writing. He tossed Carrie – his first blockbuster novel – in the trash. His wife rescued it, read it, and told him it was good. Otherwise he might not have known. The most successful have fought and struggled. If there is any debit to this magic that is Indie writing, it’s that anyone can write. You can’t measure your determination against a pile of rejection letters.
You should read On Writing anyway, so you know what it’s like, the pitfalls and the pinnacles. Don’t listen to the folks that tell you not to. When they sell millions of books THEN they can tell you how to write.
Notice one thing about Stephen King? He doesn’t. Except for the adverb thing, and he’s mostly right about that.
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair. The sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000 US horror novelist & screenwriter (1947 – )
Come to it because you have passion, because you love it, because you have a story you have to tell… but say it in your own voice and in your own way. Anyone who tries to tell you different? Tell THEM to stuff it.
* * * * *
Valerie Douglas is a contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and the writer of the epic fantasy series The Coming Storm and the contemporary romance series The Millersburg Quartet. For more information please see the IU Bio page, her blog http://valeriedouglasbooks.blogspot.com or visit her web pagehttp://www.valeriedouglasbooks.com/ [subscribe2]
23 thoughts on “There is no one write true way….”
Excellent. The same that you say of plot – there are plotters and pantsers and neither is inherently right or wrong – I have learned that the same is true of character development. The first few who learned that 'my characters tell me their story' rather than i create them fully before writing them acted as though i was crazy (I am but that is another story) I have learned since that I am in good company, so if I am doing it all wrong so are many others – many successful others.
Hear! Hear! When readers asked me how I came up with my story I tell them I didn't. I sat down to write and it wrote itself. I just observed and recorded it to page and print. At least one of my characters, Clinton Dobbs started as a minor mention just to set the stage for the main story line. Somehow he became a critical player in the story and I have to say one of my favorite. As for whether to pants or plot I generally follow a mix of both. I outline my story knowing where I am beggining and where I hope to end with a few important happenings sprinkled in the middle. However once I begin writing I let the characters tell me the story and I just follow them from page to page.
Oh man, that first sentence is a beaut – not! But you get my drift.:-)
If you're going to break the rules, REALLY break them.
Good stuff, Valerie. It's always seemed weird to me that in one breath the purveyors of a "right" way to write will say "find your own voice" one second, then with their next breath they'll tell you how to write more like evrybody else. What is voice, really, if it's not the little things every author does differently? 😉
Wow, and I botched that second sentence. What is it about replying to this post? 😉
Thank you, Valerie. I really needed this reminder today!
Thanks for the post – I am also a pantser.
I read all the books on how to plot and I could never get my stories off the ground. I pants when I write poetry and short stories. I polish and then I am finished. I found that I work that way with novels too. As long as I know where I need to put my plot points, I'm okay.
I have a friend who plots everything and she is becoming famous. I envy her logical approach to the story. I just can't do it. 😉
I pants? I think I'll just go and shoot something lol
"Except for the adverb thing, and he’s mostly right about that."
I write non-fiction which normally leaves me out of these discussions, but I learned something new about my own process. I don't write books–I write articles that I can put together to make books. It's torture to try to sit and write a book from front to back, but I can write the chapters all out of order as "articles" and even if I have to totally rewrite them to fit the book, I can do that easily. So I outline my books, after they are written. Then do rewrites. Weird. Good post, Valerie, even got me thinking.
PANTSING IS THE ONLY WAY
(a prospectus on successful composition of fiction and gud spellign by bRuce Barker)
A. Outlines stunt the Creative Process
1. It stunts character development
a)predetermination of action
b)the tendency to make people robotic
f)sacrificing personality for the next plot point
2. Outlines bore Authors
A. If you know what's going to happen it wrecks the
B. You won't laugh at your joke book if you already
know all the punch lines
c+.How can it be paranormal if it starts as a normal
3)No genre is safe from the curse of outlines
3. If Ur spelling is wrong in the outline, ull copee it wrong in the maniscrupt.
R. Benefits of Pantsing
1. Keeps the author guessing along with the reader
2. Publishers secretly hate outlines
s) they hate a synopsis too but won't admit it
C. The look on beta reader's faces when you tell them
what happens next is, "a secret."
33 1/3. Rewrites benefits
1. If you have a bad memory, you get to meet new
w. The Joy of the "what the heck did I mean THERE"
?} "Inventing" the outline when the publisher rejects
the 900 page manuscript and wants a more "focused"
idea of the story
If you lose your outline, you're basically screwed. Also, if you mix up the pages of the outline you end up writing the sequel to Memento – but not on purpose.
(Note to self; email doctor and tell him the new meds are GREAT!)
*giggling wildly* I want some of those meds!
"The Joy of the “what the heck did I mean THERE”
experience" I had one of those in a non-fiction and had to just delete the section because I never did figure out what it was about. 🙂
Love this, Valerie! All creative people need to find their own voices. Sometime this takes a while. "The Rules" (concerning writing style and not the art/science of grammar) can serve a beginning writer as an armature to get started. Eventually, we all have to kick off the training wheels. But I cringe when people claim there's only one way to write. I don't know how many young writers this has hobbled.
But there is only one way to write, Laurie, and Stephen King also said this: ass in chair. 😉
Writing how-to's and opinions on craft are very valuable, not to make our work "perfect," but to make it better and to always keep us trying for a little better than we've done before. I really enjoy getting feedback, but if the expectation is that my work should be perfect, and that I suck if it's not perfect, well…that's awful advice 😀
"On writing" is a great book, and "Carrie" is a great story.
I read some of your frustration with this on FB – great post! We have to write our own books, tell our own stories, take a ride with our own characters, in a way that works for us. Then edit the heck out of it….
I find that everything I write helps me become a better writer. My best friend is a pantser and I am a 'modified' plotter. He just starts writing, I start with a basic outline – I know my beginning and end, toss in a couple of twists and turns in the middle and then watch it all evolve as I write.
I used to think I was a true plotter until I saw someone post about their book outline & character spreadsheets. Oh my, I'm definitely a novice at this….LOL!
Thanks for a great post.
Donna, I think your description puts you on the side of pantsers. :-)Although I do like the term 'modified plotter'. I do pretty much what you do but it is only in my head and so loose it moves with the requirements of the book as it evolves. I pretty much know where I need to end up but how I get there reveals itself as I go.
And I think most of us call ourselves novices. We are a humble bunch. It's one of the things I love about this group.
I do a fair amount of basic characterization but I don't do heavy scene plotting, just a few notes to myself to build the chapters. I did seriously consider myself a plotter, especially since I am a Type A perfectionist workaholic who loves to plan and organize. But compared to some, I am a real slacker.
That's what I love about IU – it's sort of like sitting around the campfire and comparing notes to find out that we may be different but we are still the same!
I love this post! As a new writer, I belong to a couple of writing groups and get my fill of helpful advice. They have been very helpful, however, I have also learned to be discerning. I write about this on my on blog in my post, " Listen To Your Own Instincts".
I appreciate having my thoughts validated. Thanks so much.
Valerie, I once read that J K Rowling had the entire Harry Potter saga plotted and outlined before she wrote the first word. That must have been a monumental task, and for a work as complex as that one, probably contributed to its success.
I am sort of a "pantster" in that I start a project with a beginning a middle and an end in my mind. Then I write down only those details like a time line that I need to keep from getting confused. Some characters are created in advance and some appear as needed.
Then I start to write and I change everything I did in advance as I go along. The 740k+ word sci-fi epic I offer for free as my web site was originally conceived as a 10k word piece for submission in a local contest. We see how well that worked. Even at that a reviewer recently took me to task for not finishing the story.
As far as I am concerned there is only one rule. The readers rule. Ignore them at your peril. Bob
I love it, Valerie! I'm definitely a panster. I did do a little character plotting for one book, but have not done it since. Sometimes I envision parts of a story in my mind before I write, and sometimes I just start typing to see what evolves. Often it's a surprise, but at other times I can see exactly where I'm going. Or should I say, where the characters are going?
Comments are closed.