Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

SOTP or Not?

A debate goes on within the writing community (Christian and non-Christian) as to the "correct" way to write a novel. Do you do it spontaneously, sitting down in front of your keyboard and letting the Holy Spirit (or Muse, if you will) simply carry you as the story unfolds? Or do you plot everything before hand, using Excel spreadsheets, character worksheets, graphs, charts, complicated writers' software, etc. to plan out every last detail of your book?

They call the first group SOTP (Seat of the Pants) writers and the second group, well ... organized? Actually, either way is the right way as long as it works for you. I wrote my first novel after doing some character plotting and minimal initial plotting. I made it through, but really ended up with a mess toward the end because I had no idea where I was going. For me, the go-with-the-flow didn't work all that well.

However, I don't subscribe to the plot-out-every-last-detail either. Robert McKee, in his superb book Story, tells screenplay writers to think through in excruciating detail every scene before one word is written. I couldn't do that. I use a method taken from Randall Ingermanson called the Snowflake Method, but (as he suggests) modify it for my own use. So I do character studies and search for pictures of my characters (Here’s a tip: use on-line photography sites that offer head-shot services for great pictures of real people, like this one). I know what my major plot points will be. I even (on the novel I'm writing now) laid out scenes in a spreadsheet. But it's done loosely, with the knowledge that it will (and does) change along the way. For me, that works beautifully because it gives me the structure I need to set up the novel without killing all the spontaneity. Each writer, though, has to find her own balance.