Keeping Those Words Under Control

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“A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance,” reminds Jane Burroway in “Short Story Tips.”  Her reminder was a good one for me.  Too often do I just sit down at the computer and type whatever pops into my head.  No pre-planning, no thought, I just write.  And while that can be good for getting ideas, there should be more to writing than getting lucky over whatever your fingers type.  Writers need to think, to plan, and sculpt.  This quote reminded me that the writer needs to control his/her writing, and not the other way around.


I'm glad you're coming to this realization. For some authors, important character-building scenes do just flow from their fingers, J.R.R. Tolkien created whole mythologies for the various races in his mythology, including whole languages (with invented rules of grammar, invented letters, etc.). Only once he had his imaginary world firmly in his mind could he tell stories that were set in that world. Rowling knew where most of her characters would end up, but she couldn't bring herself to kill one character she had originally intended to die, so in a later book she killed some different characters. But the central conflict between Harry and Voldemort, and the mystery behind Snape's motives, were so carefully woven into the plot from a very early stage.

Good writers are good not because writing comes easily for them. They have to sweat over every paragraph so the end result is easy to read, with no rough edges or dead ends, and no unnecessary details. That's hard work.

Stephanie Wytovich said:

This is why I get frustrated over the saying that "everyone can write." True, anyone can write sentences on a piece of paper and call themselves a writer, but it takes serious concentration, planning, and mapping to be able to create something amazing.

Ally Hall said:

I completely agree. Normally, I just sit down at my computer and write. However, as I was rereading my now-finished attempt at a novel, I realized how many errors and incongruities there are amongst plot, character descriptions, and even something as basic (but so important) as a name. I realized half way through reading my draft that I changed the main character's last name at least twice. And this was all because I didn't take the time out to write character descriptions, plot summaries, descriptions of the town, etc down somewhere where I could look back and remember. Now I know better, and now I have some serious revising to do.

I have the same problem. I usually don't do any prewriting for a writing assignment, I just sit down in my chair and type whatever comes to mind.

Madrigal said:

This is too simple. Writers need to plan, obviously, but they also need to sit down and spontaneously create. The second part of the process is much more important than the first. If a writer merely fills out his or her plan, the whole process becomes didactic. It's then akin to propaganda: "I know what I want to say and how to say it, so let's just fill in the blanks as entertainingly and convincingly as possible."

Some very successful writers have operated this way, generally the most prolific and popular ones. It's known as formula writing.

But great writers never know in advance precisely where their writing will take them, and whether they'll have to kill off a character or not. They don't set out to convince anybody of anything, they just have an honest story to tell, and find a way to present their perceptions, tastes and values weaved through the story rather than imposed on it.

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