Saturday, 31 August 2013

Flying By the Seat of One's Pants

Some writers need structure. They have to rigidly map out every scene, every chapter and every possible direction that their book can take before committing pixels. I am not one of those writers. I like to give my characters the space to develop organically rather than in accordance with some preconceived plan. I would not consider doing it any other way. After all, how could I expect to surprise my readers if I cannot surprise myself?

Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know that I recently bought my first car. Now that I have my own transportation I no longer want to waste my weekends. I want to get out and do something worthwhile. Often, my wife, Katie, and I, will be walking along the seafront in our local town and we will see cars parked up facing the ocean. The drivers do not leave their cars and will usually have a fast food takeaway with them. This has always bewildered us. These people have a car, yet they waste it by just going to the drive-thru and then parking by the beach to eat the food before driving back to whence they came. Will we be doing that now we have a car? Not on your life.

This morning was our first Saturday with the new wheels and we decided to just fly by the seat of our pants as they say. We got up early and headed out in the direction of The New Forest National Park. The rough plan was to just find somewhere to park up and then go looking for ponies.

We left the car at a spot named Pig Bush and then set out on a walking trail. The trail was not marked out and the path to take was not totally clear, but we were feeling optimistic and did not worry about this too much. It did not take us very long to find some ponies. In fact, the ponies were everywhere. We became so engrossed by these beautiful animals that we completely lost all sense of direction and it was not long before we were hopelessly lost.

The next three hours were taken up with wrong turns, dead ends and a lot of backtracking. It was like being trapped in a maze, but the old rule of always taking the left turn did not work. To make matters worse, we had stupidly been trying to navigate by the ponies. You see, trees all look the same to me (especially in a dense forest), but each pony was distinctive in its own unique way. The problem was that unlike trees, they are not rooted to the spot. Therefore, our plan of following that little gray one was not proving very effective.

As the sun started to descend and we began to contemplate that we may be stuck in the woods after nightfall, Katie exclaimed "now I know why people get a McDonald's and eat it in their car!" We had failed. I could see why some people (or would that be most people) need some sort of structure. Signposts, a map, anything to point us in the right direction. And being a writer, I can see how whilst it is wonderful to be surprised by our muse, we do still need some basic structure. We need a direction in which to send our writing. We need signposts along the way to make sure that we are on the right track.

Even if we know where we are ultimately headed, the scenery can still surprise us as we make our way there. We can still happen upon unexpected events. Just so long as we can find our way to the end, it will work out fine. Nobody likes to be stuck going around in circles. Now if I can only find my way out of this bloody forest, I can start applying this logic to my next novel.

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  1. Yeah, I'm the planning kind. It might be my complete lack of confidence in my own writing savvy, but I just feel better if I know where I'm going! Call me a control freak writer, I guess.

    But there's no one way to write. Even to each writer. I flew by the seat of my pants a little more with my second novel. With my third (a collaboration with another author) it's been a blend. We plan, write, plan, write, and so forth, just going by how it feels to both of us.

    1. It is interesting that you have changed your approach with each novel. I was he same. My first book was rigidly planned (had to keep rewriting the plan after every chapter), the second was almost stream of consciousness in parts and the third was half planned, but with a fairly flexible ending.

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