Perhaps one of the most prevalent topics we find on writer/writing fora online these days, aside from Imposter Syndrome missives, is that of being asked whether one is a “pantser” or “plotter” in one’s approach to ones writing style.
Does one, as it were, fly by the seat of one’s pants and improvise as one goes along with no firm structure decided as one writes or does one spend more time laying out detailed roadmaps, flow charts, character sheets, and so forth with a detailed and unassailably planned plot?
Quite the polemic subject, I can tell you! However I raise one point which I think is valid; since when did writers or artists in general conform to ‘standards’ or let themselves be placed into boxes? Artists are, by definition, nonconformist in their natures, that is what makes one an artist; one does not think about or see the world as everyone else does.
Of course, this brings up the famous bugbear, with whom I get along not at all well; the Writers Rules! I think having a set of cast-iron rules for writers is about as practical as expecting all sides of the American political spectrum to be civil to one another for longer than five minutes…anyway, I digress (again).
Let us think about this for a moment; are you one, either, both, or neither? I volunteer that I am quite the impulsive type. Let me outline (haha) my manner of doing things;
The Fisher Method
- I do have, in my mind’s eye, the place I want to get to. I know how it ends and am, perhaps, writing backwards, explaining how my characters arrived that that conclusion. Like one of those movies that starts at the end and then, in the rest of the movie, makes sense of that titillating scene. Only I write my final chapter and seal it away forever.
- I have an idea of the structure, the general characters, how they think and who they are. I know about the society they live in, the world they occupy, and the enemies or challenges they will face. In other words I have the bare bones.
- I like to create artworks of my charactersm as well as some key scenes in the story, some of you like them and have told me so, for which I thank you very much! This gives me an idea of what my character looks like, how they stand, what they wear, of their general mein and expressions. I also like to hide little clues to torment present or future fans with in these artworks.
- I learned early on that the best way to develop a character and get into their skin is through the medium of short stories. Put them in situations that are different to those they’ll face in the main novel. Develop their backstory and let them play to see what they’ll do. In Empyraeum, these experiments became rather popular by themselves.
- By dint of the things you learn in the previous two steps, your story map has probably changed just a little bit. Maybe you have added more characters. Maybe a previously unimportant character is more prominent. Maybe, like I did, you realise that themes and ideas uncovered in the shorts require further exploration.
- A story is a living, breathing , thing. It is given life through you and through the imagination of everyone that reads it. Just as your charaters must evolve and develop through the course of the story, so too must your story have some ‘growing room’.
- Keep your website or blog as a Central Lore Repository this is what the readers will use to refer to the lore and background later and become familiar with it now. In there modern times, your website is the public face of your world or universe.
- Be aware, during edit phases, of any information that may need some ret-conning. This is why making sure the lore on your website is always up to date so you can refer to it as you edit.
What Does That Mean, Now?
That means that I don’t think you need to be one or the other. I think an adaptive and fluid attitude to writing is what keeps both you and your readers engaged. I mean, if you are not surprised or engaged, how can you expect them to be?
I have said I am rather impulsive when it comes to storytelling and, while it does make for a good yarn or three, it actually requires a lot more discipline than you would think. Most people think that those writers of a more trouserly persuasion are too impulsive, unfoccussed, and more akin to mad scientists than writers (add A to B, shake in some F, and see if we live or change shape). Instead it involves iron focus, deep lore, awareness of the whole shape of your dynamic universe, and an awful lot of spare bits you may or may not use.
I think this latter part is very handy to have because, if you hit a wall (any but the 4th) and cannot get past it, cometh forth the left-overs! It may surprise many, looking at Empyraeum as it is today, to know that it was made of three or four reconstituated left-over projects I just could not get to work on their own, that something was missing. These were;
- Bloodstar; a universe envisioned in my teens which ended up bearing quite the remarkable resemblence to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe
- Trinity; Gabriel and Sham’s world of mysterious angel/demon/human creatures of uncertain origin. Part of that (including Gabriel, Unity, and Sham) was brought over in to Empyraeum, the rest was folded into The Chronicles of Enoch.
- Untitled Work: Hidden from public for centuries; a secret society made up of Alexander’s former elite soldiers, emerges into the modern world announcing his return.
- Embodied Saga: Short stories detailing a strange series of natural disasters which reveals mankind’s secret noospheric connection to their own demise.
I have added a lot more and chopped off a few things that I may well find useful later. There is some lore I am wavering over the use of. I brought the Ghorkai back after some hesitation. I might bring back a couple of other fantasy inspired races too; Empyraeum has grown into such a complex universe that I may well have to rely on fans to create an Expanded Universe because I seriously don’t know if I can write as much as could be written.
Of course, having fans who want to write expanded universe works is my dream and I’ll be sure to help and guide anyone that wants to get involved in that once the main trilogy is finished.