Writing Style – Why not just figure it out as we go along?

That one phrase may almost entirely encapsulate my style of preparation for writing. Of all the Ferrets, I think I am the one most likely to leap into a new story with no preparation, plotting sessions – or outlines.

Indeed. I do not outline.

That is to say, I’ve tried, once or twice (and it is definitely a possibility that it might actually be helpful for me to come up with at least a loose, easy version of outlining I can and will use reliably – I will never be on the level of Rebekah, our Queen of Outlines, of course) but it never settles for me.No plans!

When I start a new story or novel, most often what I have is a scene. A single scene. I may not even know when or where it is. I may not even know yet what kind of world it takes place in. If I’m lucky, I will also know a few more things about the characters participating in the scene, and even a few of the other characters around them.

If I’m not . . . well, it’s a good thing I mostly enjoy the panicked flailing of making things up as I go along, I suppose. Because I may not have so much as a name for the character the scene is centred around. I may not even have more than a few seconds worth of scene in my mind. I may not have anything more than that single image.

That is quite often where I wind up, in fact.

The panic is negotiable, but I really do spend much of my time writing a novel or for a larger ‘verse figuring things out, well, as I write. I may figure out things that are far ahead of where I am currently writing – or far behind; backstory is kind of my bane, considering how much of it I wind up with – but they pretty much come to me as I go along, even if they are very much out of place.

(Seriously. Backstory? Can get very, very scary with me. On the level of ‘oh, here’s the entire life story of this immortal character who is really only loosely connected to the story via his relationship with a secondary character’ scary. It pops into my head and works itself out, and there I sit with it. Just waiting to be written.)

I’ve always written like this, so watching my fellow Ferrets and other authors outline and plot out not only the immediate scenes, or isolated ones in the future, but whole novels, or even series of them, is some kind of marvellous alchemy to me.

A kind of marvellous alchemy that is simply never going to work under my hands.

I’m fine with that – I almost always enjoy my almost haphazard (. . .I hope it is only ‘almost’, anyway) dash through storylines, and I love learning things about the worlds I create in such a dynamic fashion.

It works for me, and works very well. Plunging straight into a story means I have the momentum of first discovering it – first falling in love with it – and it can be difficult to drag myself away from that to indulge anything else.

Now, research – research, I do, and in very large quantities. (Assuming I don’t already have the details I want stored somewhere in the warren of files in my brain, that is.) I often adore the researching part of novel-writing, though it can be frustrating as well.

World-building I will happily spend ages working on, once I have a start in writing a world, of course, and a start to get me off into the history, culture, characters, and anything else metaphorically shiny that will lead my curious self off into a labyrinth of information to discover and create.

I very rarely plan out anything more than those lone events that occur to me out of order, even once I have begun to write, though. I simply wander along, and sometimes fight to drag the story in a direction that makes sense, knowing where I have to be eventually, for that one scene I know will happen – in roughly ten chapters. Or fifteen. Or twenty.

Sometimes – often – I don’t know how far away those things I see coming are, and have to figure out piece by piece how to get there, what makes sense.

Of course, this style of writing has its downsides, but for the most part it suits me well, even when I wind up with my plot twisting around on me, or finish a novel only to find, to my surprise, that I actually only finished part one of a trilogy. Or a series. Or that I now have material for a prequel.


(Yes, that does indeed happen with me. Often. In fact . . . that happens with me far more often than simply finishing a standalone novel. Or short story, even.)

One could almost say, at times, that my first draft becomes a sort of very rough outline, for me – because my first round of edits is almost always a near-complete rewrite, to tighten up timelines, add scenes, shift events around a little. . .

Still, this is my favourite way to work, at least that I have tried so far, and it definitely works for the way that my mind tackles worlds and stories.

Do you write without a plan? Does my method make you boggle as much as outlines befuddle me? How do you go about figuring out what lies ahead (or behind) in your story, or beneath the obvious threads as you write?


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