Monday, January 16, 2006

SOTP Writing?

No, I didn't misspell STOP. By SOTP, I mean Seat Of The Pants writing, the kind of writing you do when you create a manuscript without outlines, storyboards, or snowflakes (I'll explain that later). You have a basic idea in your head, you sit down at your keyboard, and you let your imagination fly as you live the story along with your characters. It's exciting, because you really don't often know what's going to happen next. It can also be dangerous, because you might write yourself into a corner and have a problem finding a way out.

I enjoy SOTP writing. It makes every writing day an adventure. But I cheat a little. I have much of the story in my head, so I know the direction I'm going. I like to keep my ideas in my head instead of on paper, because that keeps them fluid. If I typed them out, I think I would be less likely to allow them to change as new ideas pop up. Keeping them in my head makes me more flexible.

I had no trouble doing this with three of the four Dragons in our Midst (DIOM) books, but Circles of Seven presented a challenge. There was a complexity of depth to the story with intertwined ideas from scene to scene that taxed my brain. I remember telling my editor that the story felt too big for me. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it. Still, I finally managed to do it, and I think it worked out well.

My current book, the DIOM prequel, is making me wrestle again, even more so. The story is so huge--taking place over a multi-thousand year period, with threads of connection throughout each time period, each book of the old series, and the future books in the new series--my brain is about to spill out of my ears. I am tempted to write a summary narrative just to get it down somewhere before the details get lost in the jumble of human fraility and approaching senility. We'll see.

If you're a writer, what do you do? Are you a SOTP writer? Do you outline? Are you a snowflake addict? (See Randy Ingermanson's cool method: Click Here)

I'd like to hear (read) your experiences.


Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

I've done SOTP a lot. However, I've tended to do it scene by scene instead of in order, so the end result is a collection of scenes with gaps in-between, which I've dubbed "swiss cheese writing." It works when I get a great scene in my head that I know is part of the story, but then I have to go back and revise it a little if I find it contradicts something that takes place beforehand. So lately I've tried to organize myself better by using outlines or just jotting down my thoughts.

From the sound of the prequel, it may be that you will have to use an outline or a diagram of some kind, since the scope is so much bigger than the other books. I tend to write ideas down in single sentences and put a slash or a letter in front of it to mark the event, and then line them up like a list. With a computer, I can move things around if I want events to change, or if I have to insert something in-between two occurances.

Clefspeare said...

It sounds like you've been through this a lot, G.O.

I haven't given up on SOTP for this story yet, but it's about to bust my brain.

Becky said...

I call myself an outliner, but it is of the loosest variety. Swiss-cheese! I like that!

For this third book I'm working on right now, I was having so much trouble, because I too am trying to tie up loose ends. Finally even after my initial loose outline, I did write a short summary, and it helped immensely.

I have no problem not following my summary or my outline, for no other reason than that I don't refer to it unless I get stuck. By making the outline or summary, that puts the story into my head.

So today I realized I was stuck, dug out the summary and had to laugh because I'd changed the key character in the second paragraph. I might add, everything works much, much better because of that change.

So today, when I found my place, I made a "chapter outline"--a list of the main things that will happen. Sometimes those chapter lists end up being two chapters long. (But I don't favor lengthy chapters like some people. :)


Clefspeare said...

I might break down and do a summary. I'm getting close to the breaking point.

Who writes long chapters? I can't think of anyone offhand. My first draft of the new book has two 6500 word chapters. That's not long, is it? :-)

Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

You could try for a very, very broad outline at first. By that I mean you could just jot down the specific time periods you want the story to take place in, and then let yourself go free to write the scene. Or you could just doodle a character "tree" of some kind, by taking one character and tracing the events through the ages like say, Morgan. By that, you could see the structure of the story but not feel too bound by a whole lot of details. That may even serve to inspire you.

I've been writing in some form or another since about 1996. The novel I finished and released last year actually got started about late 2001/early 2002, so it took about four years total and ended up at about 450 pages. So I've had a lot of practice at it.

I've got some chapters in my book that are that long, mostly the ones with action sequences or significant events.

BeckyJoie said...

I tend to work with lists for main events and lists for characters with their traits. In spite of this, I do a good deal of SOTP writing using those details as the bones of the skeleton. I suppose my method is much like Galactic Overlord's swiss cheese writing. I write for a quick-sketch cementing of the ideas and scenes in my head and then go back and make the full bodied drawing.

BeckyJoie said...

BTW, the SOTP style keeps the work sounding fresh. I doubt you'd lose anyone in your long chapter. You always keep the pace rolling well.

Carol Collett said...

I used to write strictly from outline, but those were mostly articles. If I'm writing a long essay or non-fiction I must use an outline at some point. Usually after the first brainstorming and pre-writing phase.
I'm really stuck in my ficion. Nothing flowing, outline or not. I'm forcing a couple of sentences a day-it's real ugly.

sally apokedak said...

well, I've only completed one book and that one is still being tweaked and added to, so I hesitate to say what kind of writer I am.

I will say, though, that I had written 17 chapters of my book when I died in the swampland of the middle. I was stuck there for six months. Then I read Randy's snowflake method and I used it. when I got to the point of writing a one page first person account for all my main characters, my story came together. I suddenly saw the story from each of their povs. I saw what motivated them all. I got to know the bad guy who i'd not known previously. It really worked for me.

I threw out thirteen chapters--took it all the way back to chapter four-- and finished the book in a few months.

Now I didn't know the end from the beginning. (And it has recently been pointed out that I still don't know the end--the ending needs work, heh heh) I knew how the book ended but none of the details at all. But I found that writing a one sentence summary of scenes I thought needed to be included to take me to the end, helped me get rid of writer's block. I write one scene and then I look and see what else needs to happen before my characters are saved. I'm never wondering what needs to come next.

It's not boring at all because I still don't know how the scenes unfold.

OK for someone who has only written one unpublished book I sure do have a lot of opinions on the matter, eh? =0)

Kyndra said...

I have used SOTP writing tecnique only once in the process of writing my novel. It was because I had to turn in my previous writing to my teacher, and hadn't remembered where I had left off. I have also found that if I write down what I wan't Ie. detailed outlines, overviews. It will cut off my creativity. I normally have to compleatly refigure the remainder of my storywhen I get stuck. And It just keeps getting better every time!

desertfriend said...

God has brought you thus far and He will take you the rest of the way. I am excited about what you are doing and it will come just trust.

Lindsey said...

I'm write SOTP more than I use outlines. Outlines tend to make me feel restricted, like I have to follow a certain pattern. I wrote one rough outline for the book I'm writing right now, and recently I looked back over it and was amazed at the different twists and turns my book has taken! It didn't follow my outline at all! But that's a good thing, because I like my story better than I like the outline. I like keeping the story in my head, too. The only problem is that I tend to get more creative at night, and then I get a great idea right before falling asleep... and sometimes forget it in the morning! I've heard that authors should have a notepad on the dresser table, or somewhere near, so that they can jot down an idea and not forget it. I haven't done that yet, but it may be a good idea since I'm always forgeting things.

I'm thrilled to hear that you're writing a prequel! How exciting! Now I won't have to be as dissapointed when I'm done reading Tears of a Dragon. This is wonderful news!!!

Wren said...

I've done SOTP, and I've had a couple of good results from it, but I prefer to be organized. I've tried the Snowflake method, and I like it, but I really need to take the time to do it the way it's supposed to be done.

Julian said...

I'm a very young writer, 12, and probably shouldn't be giving advice. Oh, well. Bryan, I do like the way SOTP writing makes your stories seem fresh. However, the thing that drew me to your books the most was how it all tied in toward the end. I would hate to think that only usin SOTP would confuse that in the midst if the apperently mind boggling plot.

I am a SOTP writer as well, but after reading the snowflake article, I think i will try Randy's way instead of the SOTP writing. SOTP writing has by the way taken me to chapter five after two months at least, they are short chapters too (and not 6,500 words to be seen altoghether!)

I think you should make a simple outline- no specific details, just an overall plot to get you through.