Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seat of the Pants in Five (Almost) Easy Steps

   It may appear that many people frown on writers who write seat of the pants (SotP) style. It's a shame really. SotP writing is really fun, similar to reading a book for the first time. Or more like playing a role-playing game.
   Their disdain might stem from the fact that just sitting down and writing a novel with no idea what will happen is scary, even less so than outlining. In outlining, you don't actually have to write the novel for a while. You can spend quite a bit of time on the outline before starting the first sentence. You often can have detailed character profiles, plot, twists, character arcs. Everything but the story.
  With SotP, you start out with minimal planning and just dive in. I generally start with characters and a basic plot. I might write a list of scenes I want, but no order, so that the story flows and twists naturally. Granted, it sometimes seems to wander a bit. In Hunter Romero and the Atlantean Curse, I started with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just started writing and it's the farthest and most developed one I have.
  Let me give you an example of my normal SotP outline along with the first step from Lester Dent's Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. Here are the steps I've taken so far.
  STEP 1: I had an idea. That's how all my novels start out as, an idea, generally a scene or a nebulous feeling. It was a  modern Doc Savage/Indiana Jones/ Lance Juno character crossing a rickety wooden bridge. I sub-consciously asked three questions. Who was he? What was he doing? Why was he doing it?
  STEP 2: I answered the above questions with the answers Jack Wilder, fighting an Egyptian cult, and it was his job. That was good, but he needed fleshed out and helpers. I learned that he was an ex-Special Forces soldier who was honorably discharged due to an injury. He co-owns a company, Wilder and Gray, Soldiers of Fortune, along with Jonathan Gray, a retired CIA agent. There's a third person, but I haven't made him yet. I figured out their skills and their looks.
STEP 3: Define a basic plot idea. What is the conflict? Who are the perpetrators? Why is the hero there? Why is he involved?  This is also where I filled in the four starting points for the above mentioned formula. This is a simpler step, but it requires lots of thinking to make everything seem reasonable. I might use a plot generator for ideas, I found a good adventure plot generator, or even character generators.
STEP 4: Write. This is the final and longest step. This is where I just sit down and start pouring the story onto paper. It will be pretty bad, but some parts will be brilliant and other parts will need cut and fixed. The twists will surprise you, and they should surprise the readers.
STEP 5: Edit and revise the novel several times so that is perfect. This will take a while and will need several posts to cover fully. 

 So those are my five steps to writing a novel. Sometimes it's rough, it's normally hard, but it's a blast to write.


  1. Interesting, Varon.

    I'm a panster (or skirter, as the case may be), probably because I don't have the patience to sit down and flesh out a complete plot. But I've run into problems that way: wild plot twists that don't have an end in sight, inconsistencies, and characters who refuse to die (Long story. I call him my resilient bad guy.).

    Pansting has it's perks - it's a lot more fun and you spend more time in the writing process.
    So do planning. It's a lot more logical, and your plot is guaranteed to make sense.

    But we aren't sensible, are we?
    My personal rule is to have a complete outline and never follow it.

  2. I wrote an outline once. It was four pages long and utterly pointless. I just can't see how the book will turn out without the prior events happening. Besides, I like surprises.

  3. Wonderful post, and a great description of the process. I typically use a combination of outlining and free-writing; I sometimes need notes to work out complicated plot issues, but if I over-plan and never draft, the story stagnates.

    I have to say, all of these hints from Hunter Romero have me intrigued, and I'm not usually interested by Indiana Jones-like characters.

  4. Thanks. That's what I use as well.

    That's good, that's why I'm dropping hints.

  5. Really good post! I hate to outline and tend to just sit down and write. I love the twists that come out of that!

    I can't wait to read the other stories you've written!! If you want me to anytime just let me know!

    Elizabeth Dresdow

  6. I know exactly how you feel.

    I don't have any others yet.


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