Thursday, November 6, 2008

How We Write

While I finish the book I'm reading for review, I thought it'd be fun to give a little behind-the-scenes info about SOTP writers vs Outliners.


Some authors write SOTP--that stands for "seat of the pants." These writers sit down at their computers and let the story "write itself." A prime example of this is The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Jerry has admitted he is an SOTP writer (he primarily wrote the fiction element of The Left Behind series). He doesn't outline every single part of the story before writing it. And reading the Left Behind series, you can see it. He backs his characters into the nastiest corner and then switches to his other characters, gets the second characters into or out of a mess and comes back to try to think of a way to get the first characters out of their mess. It's a very effective way of writing. Ever read "Left Behind"?? You won't be able to put it down.

Outliners are those who work out what they want to write beforehand, but a lot of them will tell you they leave room in their outline for changes or variations. A prime example of an outliner is Karen Kingsbury. She has written of her outlining on airplanes and then coming home to pound out the stories she so prolifically puts together. Ever read her work?? She's one of the best. Consistently a bestseller (like Jenkins above).

So either way is good. I'm SOTP with occasional bouts of outlining. But, even as an SOTP, I still put together character charts and motivation charts and timelines. And outlines are often involved, if not before the story unfolds for me at the keyboard, then after it's been tapped out on the keys. One of my writing buds and critique partners is an outliner (most of my writing friends are). We can barely understand each other's method. That's okay, our work is still mutually respected.

Have you read a book where you could tell which way the author went about it? I recently reviewed "Healing Stones" on this blog, and I believe that novel was outlined ahead of time. Sometimes the characterization gives it away, that and plot layering. "Healing Stones" was so well characterized and layered, with systematic reveals, that it seemed obvious to me it was well planned ahead of time. But, like with Jerry Jenkins' work, I was so often surprised with the story's path that I wondered if Jerry himself was, too. He wrote later that as he'd written one of the early books in the Left Behind series, he was astonished to learn that one of the main characters died! He, the author was surprised. How fun is that? And if the writer is surprised, the reader will be also. I love it.

Okay, let's here from some outliners out there. If you're a writer and you prefer to outline, let's hear from you. What's your method? Have you tried SOTP? And from the SOTP folks, how about you? Ever run into writer's block? Have you tried outlining? What happened? What makes you stick with SOTP?

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