"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Your Writing Adventure

One of my favorite quotes pertaining to writing is by E. L. Doctorow. He said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is how I feel when I start a new book. I might have the opening in my mind, and a few scenes in between, maybe the ending (which will usually change), but the rest comes as I travel that long, dark road with the “headlights” opening the way around each bend and over each hill, showing me things I wasn’t expecting and involving my characters in adventures I hadn’t planned.

Not all writers go about it this way. I am thoroughly amazed and impressed by writers who sit down and plot every last detail out before they put one word to paper. They use elaborate outlines up to a hundred pages worth--some even scene by scene. And there are those (it’s rumored) who even construct storyboards, sketches and all.

But this degree of organization not only boggles my mind, it makes me highly suspicious. Certainly these individuals run into some bumps in the road even with their detailed planning!

For me, every book idea is like a river, continually changing. Invariably, no matter the preparation I undertake beforehand, when I start writing, the characters say things I wasn’t expecting, do things I didn’t anticipate, open doors I didn’t know existed, and head down roads that weren’t on my map! Then along comes an intriguing character or idea that becomes integral to the story and not only puts my elaborate outline in the ditch but ultimately makes the book better and stronger. I always discover things about my characters and my plot that I simply couldn’t see until the writing began and the characters came to life. I’ve also discovered that these surprises are what makes the writing journey so challenging, fun, and rewarding.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how a writer gets from page one to the end. Some methods are better than others for each of us, but there is no right or wrong way. Do what works for you. One way or the other, all you really need when you embark on your writing adventure is a spare tire, a full tank of gas, and a really good set of headlights.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Linda. My sentiments exactly. I can't name the number of times I got marked down in writing classes because I didn't provide an outline with my story or my theme. I'm what you might call a "write by the seat of your pants writer." To me, using an outline is like being in a straight jacket. It's too confining and kills the creative spirit. I like it much better when the characters take over and allow me to come along for the ride.

I read an interview with Steven (sp?) King, and he said the same thing. He said he never uses an outline.

Bill C.

Eunice Boeve said...

I indentify completely. That's exactly how I write. Whatever I plan doesn't happen anyway once the characters take over the story. So I start with a character, a time period,and place... sometimes an occupation, but usually the type story, western,etc. defines that. Bill C. mentions Stephen King. King says in his book, "On Writing" not to start with a theme either, as one then tends to work to the theme instead of the theme developing naturally.

Richard said...

Like the others that commented, I like what Doctorow says. I also write that way. Sometimes I feel disorganizied and wonder where I am going with a story. But, I plug ahead and sooner or later, the story takes you where it wants. It's wonderful when your own words vindicate you.

Anonymous said...

Well done! I guess I'm a little of both. I do some sort of an outline to hit the main elements: places, characters, plotline, and any pivotal scenes needed. I HAVE to have all this in mind before I start to write, then I can sit down and let the book take over.

Sherry R.

PS. Loved your last sentance! :D

Linda Sandifer said...

I agree with you, Sherry. You have to have the main elements in mind before you start, otherwise you definitely are wandering around in the dark.

Linda Sandifer said...

I agree with you, Sherry. You have to have the main elements in mind before you start, otherwise you definitely are wandering around in the dark.

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