Michael Phelps is one of the greatest swimmers in the world, but he only competes in certain relays. Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive, yet only enters select races. Why? Usain may be fast in the hundred-meter, but stick him in a marathon, and he might not do so well. As a writer, you need to understand what type you are, just like a cross-country runner knows not to enter a sprinting contest, or the average gym-goer staying away from a bodybuilding contest against professionals. You too must understand your strengths. There may be more than four categories, but I am only aware of four types. The beauty of the categories is you can be more in one and less in the other, but you can be a combination.
The seat-of-your-pants writing style is my main strength. The beauty of this arrangement is you can sit down and just start typing, and as you write, the ideas flow through your fingertips. More often than not, this choice is linear. I find many of my plot twists come from this method. I may plan one or even two, but 90% come from this ritual alone and takes me by surprise every time. If it pulls a fast one on me, the reader will crumble beneath a genuine WTF moment. Even now, as I write this blog, I am using the seat-of-your-pants technique. With everything in life, you cannot expect the good without the bad. The drawbacks are in the post-writing phase, there is a lot of revision and tightening the bolts of your story. Without an outline to keep you on course, you might go off track. Heavy rewrites may be in your future.
Snowflaking is the second technique, and despite the tongue-in-cheek humor, it’s not a bad thing. This type of writer sits down to write and says, “I want to write the finale, not the beginning,” and immediately jumps to the ending. Then, they want to write a juicy segment towards the middle, so they’ll write that. This routine continues until the novel is written. I used this process before, but with infrequent use. Sometimes, I find myself wanting to write a tantalizing scene, or another segment popped in my head and wasn’t part of the plan. I’ll write whatever I need to. Listen to your mind and body; it will tell you when you need a break or when you feel most refreshed. The downfall to this method is trying to find the thread weaving the tapestry together. You might think this would be best for you, and it might be. For others, not so much, unless you are an awesome writer or the novel has been planned out in advance. Snowflaking also doesn’t account for the unexpected. For example, if a character comes to life and you find yourself drawn to them and want to write them in more. By the time you realize this, who knows how much you have written, and you may need to tread over the same ground again.
Outliner is the learn-by-rote tactic used in middle school and high school for those of you who grew up in the ’90s or earlier. This manner is terrible … for me. Other novelists and writers fall back on this procedure as the time-tested dogma. If they found what works for them, that’s fantastic, but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay, too! Charting your course is ideal for mammoth stories and their moving parts, or for a series of books. In this setting, I recommend jotting down the significant moments. I utilize this tool for overarching themes and plot points but sparingly. The drawbacks are if you outline everything, there will be very little wiggle room for the unexpected. Maybe you planned for this character to be a secondary or a one-off, and they try to take over the story. Outlining doesn’t allow for this, especially if you are dedicated to your path.
Edit-as-you-go boasts various modes. You can edit each sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter before moving on. While you may have little at the end to fix, this method takes a lot of time and can feel as if you’re treading water. This can be detrimental to your creative health while writing. I don’t recommend this route. Editing and creative thinking are too diverse to be beneficial, and going back to edit takes you out of the flow of the moment. That said, many find this approach the best for them, and if so, continue.
My style consists of 80% Seat-of-your-pants, 10% Snowflaking, and about 10% Outlining. I may dabble with editing a line here or there because I am not in the flow or I couldn’t ignore the atrocious prose. All said, my style still varies. Let’s say I am writing a book of characters that never interact with anyone else except character A. Individuals B-F all meet A, but not each other. I will write a chapter for each to see where they are and then pick one. Let’s go with person A. I will write from start to finish, then write any of the other ones from start to finish. Each is linear. This helps me stay in the mindset of one and gives each their distinct voices. If I grow bored with them, it is a sign to me that the reader may also become bored, and I scrutinize where I went wrong.
Above all, if you found your strengths, stick with them. For those uncertain, try each one until you find the path that sets you free. Remember, advice is marvelous, but if it doesn’t help you, it can help others. As Yoda once said, “Pass on what you have learned.”
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If you enjoyed this content or you’re an avid, epic fantasy reader, check out my book, The Bearer of Secrets, on Amazon. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and print.