I have always been a fly by the seat of my pants writer. I often dream the story, map the scene, faster than my fingers can type it. This leads to typos and unemotional scene work (in my own opinion). I recognized this weakness in myself before anyone could point it out to me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I always told myself that it was fine – I was writing. All of my professors just wanted me to keep writing. I didn’t know how to stop and no one seemed incredibly worried about the fact that I wasn’t stopping – until this past Spring when I was forced, for the first time in my writing career to stop and think before I wrote. You see, I use to write novels the way some people talk – before even thinking. Sometimes I would realize what was happening in a scene just as I was writing it. As a writer, I felt like I had very little control. Sometimes I still feel this way… but I realized fairly quickly that this was a problem.
You see, I use to write novels the way some people talk – before even thinking. Sometimes I would realize what was happening in a scene just as I was writing it. As a writer, I felt like I had very little control. Sometimes I still feel this way… but I realized fairly quickly that this was a problem. You see, unplanned writing is often ineffective writing–or at least it is not nearly as effective as if could be. I use to set a scene to accomplish one thing and end up accomplishing something else. I always thought that this was good, it meant that I knew my characters well enough that I could let them run the story–WRONG. For me, because I can only speak for myself, this means that I’ve lost control of the story. Pause. Think. Breathe. Then Write.
Pause. Think. Breathe. Then Write.
Think. Breathe. Then Write.
Breathe. Then Write.
I’m the writer, I should know best. Giving my character’s control in the story can be nice, but it should never be the only way the story is written. At some point, the writer must take the pen, or keyboard, into their own hands and control where the story goes.
My last semester of college was stressful, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be. The English professors at Gardner-Webb may never truly understand what they did for me when they allowed me to study genre and write a novel for my thesis. Four years of writing on my own led up to that moment of writer realization.
I hadn’t been doing it wrong the entire time, but I could most certainly be doing it better.
To keep things very simple, for my thesis project I studied the Victorian period and wrote a novel that reflected a lot of the things I’d learned. It was while working on this project that I began to realize what I’d been doing wrong and how I could correct it through research. I could be a better writer, make my scenes stronger and my characters more realistic, by preparing for scenes.
Typically I write fantasy so I assumed that research didn’t really make a lot of sense. It should be my ideas, why taint them with the vastness of the internet? Of, but I was missing the point!
When you are planning to go camping what do you do? You pack. You make a list. You bring a tent, blankets, food, water– the basics. If you don’t consider what the weather will be, the type of terrain, the amount of people going, or the location, you will forget things and end up in a mess. You might dress for summer and end up with snow. You may need bug spray. You may experience the horror of having forgotten to bring toilet paper. There are so many moving parts in planning a trip — writing is literally the exact same.
Scenes need to be planned and packed for; otherwise, you may end up killing a character who is more beneficial alive. You might miss a really incredible plot point because you didn’t bring a map. I know, believe me, I’ve done both of those things. My writing became so much stronger when I started consistently living with a writer’s notebook and when I started planning before I wrote. Do I still listen to every bullet point or follow everything on an outline? No. Sometimes my character’s say that the story should be one way and I let them because otherwise I will get bored and quit. Follow your heart…but maybe also your plan? 🙂
I typically use a writer’s notebook as a guide. I’ll be writing about my own planning process next Wednesday. Tell me about your writing process. Do you wing it or do you plan it? How much control do your characters have?
Hello! My name is Brianna Joy Crump and I am a twenty-two-year-old writer from Raleigh. North Carolina. I am a recent graduate from Gardner-Webb University where I received my BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. While in college, I wrote nine and a half novels, as well as multiple short stories and a handful of poems. I am currently rewriting one of my novels and hoping to pursue agents and publishing come the fall. For more information, feel free to contact me on social media or check out my website.