Tag Archives: planner

Ghost Writers in the Sky

My sister found this graphic in her Facebook feed, and sent it to me. I’d told her that. I’ve often felt as if my life ricocheted from one disaster to another, but looking at the second graph made me feel as if it was a masterpiece of contingency planning! 😉


Then it occurred to me that the same set of graphs can be used for people in the Parallel Universe: the people about whose lives we write stories.

One of the requirements of fiction is that it be plausible. If it’s not plausible for a real human life to proceed in a perfectly planned direction, it’s not plausible for a fictional life to do so, either.

I never planned anything that went into Irish Firebrands. I just watched and listened with amusement, astonishment, puzzlement, disbelief, dismay and grief as my characters moved through Life’s Great Adventure, while I wrote down everything they did and said, and all that happened to them.

Usually, I felt like a reporter, not a like writer who was creating, inventing or imagining what was going on. Sometimes I even felt as if I were writing an “as told to” book, or that I was a ghost writer recruited by the characters to take dictation, and then write their story for them.

As discussed in my postWho’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Block? (Part 1), it’s this kind of convoluted character life path that can be a factor in much of the frustration writers often report with the writing process, and even in the manifestation of writer’s block. Rather than let their characters mosey along, making their own unreliable choices, some writers expend excess mental energy on trying to ride herd on their imaginary friends, as if they had a deadline to reach the railhead at Dodge. The exhaustion of trying to force characters along a plotted path can end up making these writers feel like the specters in the old “western” song, Ghost Riders in the Sky.

If you’ve always been a “planner,” but have been suffering with rebellious characters or writer’s block, try following your characters around instead of trying to lead or drive them along a predetermined path. If you don’t like the term “pantser,” because to some it suggests a lack of skill or discipline, then call it reporting, or even ghost writing: after all, it’s life in the Parallel Universe we’re talking about, and there, as here, life just happens.

It’s less work and more fun to let fiction write itself: Embrace the unexpected! 🙂



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A Gift for You!

500px-Xmas_tree_animatedClick on the image below to download and print your gift bookplates:

if-platesHappy Holidays to All my Friends and Readers!

xmascoverbb1 new front coverbbv2-front-coverbbv3-front-cover-marblebird-life-ca-cover_copy

Thank you for your support!


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Should You Write an Outline? |

Source: Should You Write an Outline? | by Jo Robinson

My answer? No. Outlining is taught to readers during their childhood, by schoolteachers who use it to analyze completed and edited fiction (which probably wasn’t written from an outline), as a way to explain story structure. The true use of outlining is in non-fiction, which relies on facts organized to fulfill a specific purpose.

Outlining fiction in advance causes frustration in many who try to adhere to the practice. How many times have you read blog posts by writers who are suffering from “writer’s block,” or who complain that their characters are “running off” with the story? I’ll bet an advance outline was usually involved. If used at all for fiction, outlining properly belongs at the end, when writing is completed, to be used as a tool to evaluate the continuity of a story, in case developmental editing is needed, in addition to copy editing and proofreading.

Jo’s post is also an interesting look at Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I guess I’m a King-Koontz hybrid; possibly more at the Koontz end, because I revise as I write. I think King said Kurt Vonnegut worked that way, too. (Of course, our genres don’t match – I’ve never read any fiction by any of them, and only King’s how-to book. But I digress.) The success enjoyed by these famous pantsers shows that because Writing is a Fine Art (not a craft), any rules about it should serve the purposes of communication and creativity, and not attempt to control them.

National Novel Writing Month operates on hell-bent-for-leather pantsing, to get to the 50K word goal. The only reason to create an outline during NaNoWriMo is because it can be legitimately added to your word count. After that’s done, however, to pay attention to an outline is to invite writer’s block, and what NNWM calls “your inner editor” to wreak havoc with your writing momentum.

Outlining can help non-fiction writing, but my impression (based on reading individual writers’ blogs, and NaNoWriMo forum discussions) is that it’s of poor utility to creative writers. Instead of the fiction writing process being a 50/50 pantser/planner proposition, its distribution may be skewed. Spontaneous, organic writing may be how most of us really write fiction, but even if outlining doesn’t work very well for writing stories, the habit, mistakenly applied to fiction since childhood, is strong enough to be self-perpetuating. For many, it spoils the writing experience.

pantser planner

Do you suffer from writer’s block? Are you upset because your characters are misbehaving? Are you outlining because it’s said to be the right way to write, or that it’s the only way to produce good writing? Is your outline growing in detail and complexity, but your novel isn’t progressing? Are you reluctant to let go of the outline, because that could mean you have no discipline? Have you ever felt guilty of quitting, because you couldn’t finish writing a story you had outlined? In the past, did you dutifully produce outlines, but didn’t follow them, after all? When a teacher required an advance outline as part of a writing assignment, did you quickly write the assignment first, and then outline it? (The last experience is mine, and I’ve seen the others in writers’ blogs.)

Are you looking for commonsense suggestions to help make your writing life less stressful and more enjoyable? Try The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing:

Excellent spelling.
Good grammar.
Sufficient correct punctuation for signage on the path to meaning.
Thorough research.
Understanding of literary conventions.
Love for language and loyalty to its complete lexicon.
Writing by inspiration, rather than controlling the performance of the tale.

We must all follow our own writing process, but we must make sure it honestly feels good to do it that way. If we don’t enjoy writing, we’re not doing it right.


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