If You are Serious About it, Writing ain’t Easy


In a post I became aware of on someone’s blog via a link recently, thanks to a blogger friend, its author was talking about whether or not it might be a good idea to employ story-boarding when it comes to writing fiction.

To the uninitiated, it may sound like a sensible suggestion. But, while new writers might wish to employ the technique, writers like myself largely refrain from doing so for the simplest of reasons.

Most full time writers (I include myself in this group) will tell you that writing a story is a dynamic process where ideas constantly change direction during the story’s evolution. By relying rigidly on a mapped out storyline, it is far too easy to literally ‘paint yourself into a corner’. I’m a firm believer in ‘flexibility’ being the key to good writing.

storyboardOne other valid point to consider – story-boarding is just another name for formulaic writing; think pulp fiction, think Mills and Boon, books by Barbara Cartland or perhaps any daytime television soap opera you care to name. Any book written employing the technique, by definition must be highly predictable. While its type may appeal to the brain dead among us, for the vast majority of discerning readers, it is a big turn off. Story-boarding is to be avoided at all costs.

If you had a mapped out storyline in your head and then changed your mind, it becomes extremely difficult to write without elements of that storyline finding their way into your subconscious. If you already know the ending of the story before you have even begun…

It’s far better that you write your story through the eyes of the reader. When they open the book at page one, unless they are one of those people who read the last page wanting to know how the story ends, most normal people enjoy discovering something new within the story on every page. That is how you should write. Write a sentence, stop, take a long hard look at it, and if it appears to fit what you had in mind, move on to the next one. Pretty soon you will have that first paragraph.

I can and have on more than one occasion, spent an entire day deconstructing a paragraph to the point where it bears no resemblance whatsoever to its original draft. While most people say that after reading a book in their favourite genre they could have written something better, I say prove it. Don’t become just another moaning armchair pseudo literary critic on the internet online book sites, writing scathing one star reviews, put your pen where your mouth is and produce a book that people actually want to read. Yes its true that most people do have a book buried somewhere within themselves, but very few have the courage to write it. Even fewer can turn that story into a best seller…

  1. Paula Boer says

    Ah Jack. Here I have to disagree with you. Fundamentally, it comes down to whether you are a plotter (you have a plan, or outline before you begin) or a pantser (you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’). Neither is right or wrong. It is whatever works for the writer in question.

    I am a planner. I develop a broad outline of every chapter before I begin. I want to know where my plot is going so I can include relevant clues along the way for the reader to find. That doesn’t mean to say there are no surprises for me as I write – far from it. Those wonderful lightbulb moments are one of the highlights of writing.

    When it comes to the detail, I feel as if I am watching the scene from the character’s eyes in whose point of view I am writing. What I see, I write down. There are always surprises. The difference is, I know what the scene must achieve by the end to move the plot in the direction I want it to go.

    So, don’t knock planners. There are many ways to achieve an exciting read without becoming formulaic.

  2. Jack Eason says

    Funny thing Paula. If you check out the comments for this same post on my blog, you will find that the great majority agree with me. 🙂

  3. Jack Eason says

    As you say Paula, there is no hard and fast answer. With practice comes technique… 😉

  4. Paula Boer says

    I never was one to fit in with the majority 😉

  5. Hank Quense says

    I’m with Paula. I have to know the ending, how the plot connects the beginning and end of the story, what the character arcs are and a lot of other stuff before I start writing the first draft. I even develop a mind-map for the entire novel to make sure I understand it properly. In effect, the creative part of writing is done before the story is put don on paper. Even so, there is plenty of room for my characters to carry on and get into trouble I didn’t foresee.
    But that’s my way. Every writer has to develop their own way of developing their stories.

  6. Craig Murray says

    I think that while you need a good solid idea of what the story is going to do, making it too in depth, especially to the point of story boarding, would eliminate some of the fluidity that is needed in a good story

  7. Patricia Gitt says

    Thank you Jack for reminding me that each author has to follow their own process for uncovering their story. I have used the “fly by the seat of your pants” method and used an outline. Recently, I found that the fastest route to a concept draft was to outline first… knowing that it will change, often dramatically. However, sometimes the story is so clearly envisioned that simply beginning on page one and developing a chapter a day, works. You might consider this a fleshed out outline, because what follows is a lot of editing for the final manuscript.

  8. Carla Rosselini says

    Thank you all for these in-depth perspectives. I think each of you taught me something useful. Now I should bring them into practice…, and learn how to write for real.

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