Mixing surprise and planning while writing a story

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
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“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” (Robert Frost)

I have found this for myself: I have been writing with a vague outline, and then my characters do an unexpected thing and/or my plot takes an unexpected turn. This is a source of great joy for me, though I do not know if this really translates to joy in the reader. However, now what happens is that I have to redo my outline and iron out the seams in the story. My big fear is that this ironing out of the seams will make those bits of the story seem contrived.

How do you lot balance this stuff?
 
I found I have to ditch even the vague outline and let the characters write the story, which they do. It is a kind of magic which I agree is a joy.
Yet, despite the apparently free rein, a plot structure always forms because, it seems, they know where it is going and how to pace it, even if I don't.
 
I just skip that whole first step of outlining things -- then I don't need to go back and correct it when i take a hard jog in an unexpected direction!

That sounds a bit jokey, but I'm about 99% serious. The totality of my original notes for my first novel was a 6x8 inch card. My second novel fit on a single page of a Moleskine, and it was mostly a Harmon story circle. I find the story in the moment. My 1% of planning is deciding, This is stand-alone, or, This needs to continue so some people should survive. Stand alone is easier because, "and no one survived" is a viable ending. If I want it to continue then I'm looking for a landing pad--what is the end of this arc? What is the end of this story?

But as I'm writing, I'm focused on:
  1. Are my characters growing/changing?
  2. Are there stakes and are they changing/growing/resolving?
  3. Is this interesting?
For my own writing, I've found that if I focus on hitting specific beats then I strangle my creativity-- I'm too busy steering the ship in a specific direction then I miss cool sights and twists. I learned that I need to get a first draft done, not worry about the seams, and then go back, stitch it all together and I'll not only enjoy the writing more, but my plot, characters and twists will be better and more creative.

That said, I track things fastidiously. Character details, plot points, names, locations, slang, etc, all of it goes in my notes file, which is labeled and broken into sections for easy reference and searching.

And all that, I'm trying something different for NaNoWriMo, so we'll see how it goes!
 
Outline? What outline :LOL: . I'm a shameless pantser, I don't outline anything. I do sometimes do a bit of brainstorming and jot down general ideas and disjointed thoughts on a project (especially if I'm doing a retelling), but that's as close to any sort of planning as I get. If I try and plan, my brain just freezes up on me so I don't. I get my initial concept and just start writing and do the rest of my plotting as I go and see what's needed and where the story itself is leading.
 
I don't plan much either other than an arbitrary goal -current novel has to be 56 chapters, next one will be 113. I don't edit but modify the story as I narrate, so fully on the unplanned side of things. I get that editing is necessary but my head doesn't work that way and anytime I do it seems to kill the buzz and sound contrived (like mentioned in the OP).
It's hard to know what is best -one of the things I like with creative writing is that there are no rules ...there are typical patterns and forms but stories always seem to find their way into them, like @Astro Pen pointed out :unsure:
 
I don't plan much either other than an arbitrary goal -current novel has to be 56 chapters, next one will be 113. I don't edit but modify the story as I narrate, so fully on the unplanned side of things. I get that editing is necessary but my head doesn't work that way and anytime I do it seems to kill the buzz and sound contrived (like mentioned in the OP).
It's hard to know what is best -one of the things I like with creative writing is that there are no rules ...there are typical patterns and forms but stories always seem to find their way into them, like @Astro Pen pointed out :unsure:
… why 56 and 113 chapters? Is that significant from an audio standpoint (IIRC, you do a lot of live audio, right?)? Are 56-113 important numbers in your life? Lottery numbers? Children born on May 3rd/March 4th and November 3rd/March 11th?

I've never heard someone say, The one thing i specifically must do with this book is have ## of chapters and I'm reeling with possibilities.
 
I tried to plan a novel once and I was so bored I gave up when I got about 80k words in. I need to be surprised and sort of discover the story for it to hold any joy for me.

However, writing without a plan introduces other hardships and things can slip away resulting in a shaggy dog story.
 
I often write very detailed outlines (as in what will happen chapter by chapter—a page or two per chapter), as I find that a useful way to generate ideas in the beginning, when I come to the story comparatively cold. But once I have the outline I have no trouble at all drifting away from it as needed, as and when better ideas develop or the characters start taking over the story.

I just have to remember that I wrote the outline, that it has no authority over me. And that I made no commitment to follow it when I wrote it down.

As Astro Pen describes, a plot structure then develops in the process of writing. And because it developed organically in the course of writing, it doesn't feel like something I contrived, but like something that evolved naturally, and far more intricate and shapely than anything I could have imagined in the beginning.
 
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” (Robert Frost)

I have found this for myself: I have been writing with a vague outline, and then my characters do an unexpected thing and/or my plot takes an unexpected turn. This is a source of great joy for me, though I do not know if this really translates to joy in the reader. However, now what happens is that I have to redo my outline and iron out the seams in the story. My big fear is that this ironing out of the seams will make those bits of the story seem contrived.

How do you lot balance this stuff?
I can kind of relate. A lot of my stories have evolved from a few details with a twist ending tacked on. Sometimes I'll use what I call the "Ray Bradbury method" and just write titles and based my stories on that. But a lot of people still like my stories when I eventually write them.

Sorry, no words of wisdom. Just an observation about my own stuff.
 
I'll write down an outline of key points in order that I feel they should go, but like others, it's just a guide. I'll hit the points, but most likely not in the order that I first had in mind. How the charters develop, and playout may change the order or even how they come to that key point. This may even change the order of the remaining key points as well. Like they say, 'You don't write the story. The story writes itself.'
 
why 56 and 113 chapters?
They are the distances in miles for the bike leg of middle and long triathlons -with the logic that if ya can handle the middle then a full distance is the next step. It is just something to keep the show on the road -so for example chapters 45 to 50 in the current tale will need to have things at rock bottom with seemingly all hope lost, and then the inhabitants have six to pull redemption out of the bag;) It has nothing to do with audio, I don't know much about the audio format but found people seem to buy into the audio format (I can see from the online stats that whenever someone chances on a chapter they usually go back and plough through 1, 2, 3 etc. and the new releases get a small increased audience).
I'm rubbish at editing and planning so just needed a structure, any structure, to make sure the story got written and the 56/ 113 seemed reasonable.
 
Oh that's interesting and a cool short hand for structure!

They are the distances in miles for the bike leg of middle and long triathlons -with the logic that if ya can handle the middle then a full distance is the next step. It is just something to keep the show on the road -so for example chapters 45 to 50 in the current tale will need to have things at rock bottom with seemingly all hope lost, and then the inhabitants have six to pull redemption out of the bag;) It has nothing to do with audio, I don't know much about the audio format but found people seem to buy into the audio format (I can see from the online stats that whenever someone chances on a chapter they usually go back and plough through 1, 2, 3 etc. and the new releases get a small increased audience).
I'm rubbish at editing and planning so just needed a structure, any structure, to make sure the story got written and the 56/ 113 seemed reasonable.

Not sure if you're familiar with Lewis Black, but this set was a favorite of mine in college and is (a bit) relevant.

 
I would like some clarification from (alleged, self-identified, we-only-have-your-word-for-it) pantsers: You let your characters run amok and the world does what it wants, but how do you get to the conclusion where most of the promises are resolved?
 
I would like some clarification from (alleged, self-identified, we-only-have-your-word-for-it) pantsers: You let your characters run amok and the world does what it wants, but how do you get to the conclusion where most of the promises are resolved?
I figure turn about is fair play. How do planners create a plan that gets to the conclusion where most of the promises are resolved? Isn't the differentiation between creating a plan and pantsing a draft about the amount of detail that goes into the plan or first draft?

What I find when my writing is flowing is that I can bring new characters on stage and have them involved in some event. Each character and event becomes a constraint on what happens next and the interesting part is bringing the characters back together and resolving the threads. Basically answer, why is each character important to the story and how does each character's interaction define the plot line? The early chapters provide focus for the later chapters.
 
I think a story will always resolves itself if ya give the imaginary folk the tools to win the day as they go along. A toe in the backside every once in a while can be good too. For example, I figured the last chapter of Nancy G was heading for a cul de sac and used a blog post you did about stargate -and stuck three of them in a tunnell digging purgatory (next week they'll have to learn something about each other, and escape ...or something).
I reckon there's always a resolution if ya have enough time to look, which is not always the case;)
 
I switch between the plan and the discovery all the time and have to say I've never even though to ask myself the OP's question.

I'm going to prod at it a little but what I will say for now is -

The reader's experience of the book will be real different to yours. They'll have spent less time with it, know less of the underlying logic. Things are generally going to be a lot more surprising and a lot less contrived for them in general.

Also I can't imagine there are many writers who, however they approach their work, don't hit something late on in the book that makes them need to go back and fix things to set up the change. And I don't think I've ever spotted such a late change in someone's writing. I've never gone "wow, this must be the last scene added".

And of course there is just about nothing on this earth to be done that won't stop some reader from reading a big climactic point and going "wow, that feel like a really contrived set up to get here". Because that's all expressions of individual logic and world view. It seems to me that it's better to worry about whether your particular logic has a universal quality than as to how you arrived at the decisions you present in the book.
 

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