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whatever happens

April 2017

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whatever happens

A bit of writer's musing, put under a cut so that you non-writers can ignore it:

I'm busily re-reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, which is considered by most of those who write about the craft of writing to be the best, even the definitive, book on story structure. I'm studying it like a college text, taking notes, which I'm putting into a template in Scrivener so I can use it easily when I start writing again.

I won't bore you with details, but Brooks' concept of story structure is like the frame of a house - everything else is placed within it and hung on it. It's strict, but it's just the framework, not the art. However, without that framework, no matter how good your characters are or how skillful and poetic your voice is, you won't have a publishable story. He uses many examples from bestselling novels (The DaVinci Code for one), and many more from film (Star Wars is classic). He sets out this structure clearly, point by point.

(Incidentally, he didn't invent this structure - it goes all the way back to ancient Greece - and many other craft-writers have written books about it. I own a lot of those books. Brooks' book is the one that, in my reading, is the one most referenced by the other craft-writers.)

The thing I've been musing on, however, is something that he says about "pantsers", i.e., those who just sit down and start writing away without a plan, by the seat of their pants. The opposite of a pantser is an outliner, one who has pages and pages of outline, with every scene mapped out, before he begins to write. Brooks makes his system viable for both types, and also for those who are in the middle of that bell curve, such as yours truly. He claims that all good stories follow the structure that he describes. (The few artsy types who break the structure do so with knowledge of what they're doing, and besides, as he's too polite to say, how many people read James Joyce as compared to J.K. Rowling?) Screenwriters follow the structure religiously, with the plot points at specific pages (seriously) in the script. Brooks claims that successful writers who claim to be pantsers, Stephen King being a great example, have an intuitive knowledge of the structure, and therefore, even if they don't plan ahead, they still reach the same points at the same places in their books.

The completely trivial thing that I'm trying to say is: no study has been done on this, but I'd be willing to bet good money that these "intuitive" pantsers have soaked up the structure by watching movies, lots of movies. Other places that structure is strongly present is in media such as comic books, and in genre fiction, but it's most prevalent in movies. I'm not familiar with any other pantsers than King, but I know from what he's written that he grew up on a steady diet of comics, and he is a movie buff. If I weren't so lazy, I'd look into the backgrounds, especially the childhoods, of other famous pantsers, and, as I said, I would bet that I'd find something similar.

Yeah, the things that interest me are weird and varied.


I love hearing you talk about writing! I don't know anyone else who actually reads about how to write. However, I do know people who outline. But I would say, by and large, all of the (non-professional) writers I know are "pantsers", including me, although I usually write up a summary beforehand so I don't forget what I want to include, especially since I sometimes go long periods between writing, and I, um, sometimes tend to forget what I was writing about! And that is the most aggravating thing in the world - to have a good idea for a story and then lose it because you didn't take the time to make notes!

I agree with you that most of the "intuitive pantsers" have most likely learned the structure by osmosis, at least the good ones. ^_^
Actually, you're not a pantser. You're between the two, but yes, on the pantser side. I actually don't outline a lot more than you do - I'm further along the edge of that bell curve than you, but not much. I'm trying to train myself to do more of an outline, but it's tough. The only story I've done with a full outline has been my weakest one. But I'm trying!

btw, Prelude has a rudimentary outline, if you're curious. I think once I get the whole story structure thing down, I'll write in a similar way to how I did Prelude, with a rough, brief, one-page outline and a lot of notes for scenes to be included.

Must stop this babble. The only thing I love to talk about more than sex is writing, and I can go on and on and on!