There are a number of ways to write a book. Generally, it is split into two camps. You have your plotters and you have your pantsers. Plotters have their story outlined in great detail prior to adding text. They have a roadmap that tells them exactly where they are going. Pantsers fly by, well, the seat of their pants. They sit down and let the story come as it will. This, of course, is a bit simplified. There are any number of permutations of each. Some loosely plot and fill in as they go. Some plot and outline the story to within an inch of its life. Others write scenes out of order and rearrange as the story needs. And still others start at the beginning and write straight through. The types go on in a fascinating pattern that illustrates that the creative process is as creative as the work that ends up on the page.
So how do I do it? Well I plot and pants it. I like to use the “Whose Line Is It Anyway” method to writing. If you don’t remember the show then you missed out. I started watching the British Improv television show when I was in High School. I came home every day and watched it before I even thought about doing my homework. Then the show made its move to American Television with Drew Carey as the host and I loved that too. I won’t argue the difference between the two, I loved them equally. If you must, then argue in the comments and maybe I’ll join in.
So how does Improv theater games relate to writing? Simple. You have characters and you have situations. People react to situations. This is how we work. We may have a general idea of where we are going and how we would react should a situation occur, but we never really know until it happens. The fact that we are terrible at prediction actually makes it all the more interesting. Inevitably the way we thought something would turn out is completely wrong. This is what makes life rich and experience all the more valuable.
I start my stories with two things. First I have a cast of characters with certain personalities and tendencies. I may not know everything about them, but we have the basics down. Then I throw them into a situation with a problem they must solve. Their personalities determine the way the scene will go. There are a million ways a scene can go, so it becomes something akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure for the characters.
But, you may say, what about story arc and plot structure? Can things get out of hand and throw you completely off track? Of course they can. But the characters and I have a general idea of where we are going. They have an ultimate goal and I keep a few situations up my sleeve to throw at them just to keep it interesting. If we never lose sight of the ultimate goal, things begin to fall into place.
When we finally reach the end, the characters and I can lift up a beer together and say, “What a ride. I never expected that to work.”
And so, I give you Whose Line Is It Anyway