Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Writing Myself Into a Box

I kind of feel like I should talk about editing or rewriting or something, since I've been doing editing and rewriting for a couple of months now on several projects, but I need a break from even thinking about such topics. Instead, I'll talk about writing myself into boxes, because I suspect that in a few days when I start my next book, I will write myself into a box or two or twelve.

Here's the thing: I'm more of a "panster" than a "plotter." I know there are people (you may be one of them) who can plot out your WHOLE story and you'll know how each and every scene will go. I can't do that. It makes me feel like I already wrote the whole story, and then I don't want to actually write it. I have some plots points--I have major events that I know I'll need to hit, and I typically know how the story will end, but how I get from one point to another is usually up in the air. I discover it as I write it.

This does mean that from time to time, I write myself into a box.


In some cases, this means backtracking and writing something different, but I never consider it a waste of time or effort. Sometimes, writing something one way shows me how things won't work and I need that to find what will work.

Other times, I don't backtrack. I examine this box I wrote myself into and I try to figure out how in the name of Santa Claus's monkey I'm going to write myself out of it again. This can be frustrating at times, but I find it kind of exciting. There's a solution somewhere in there, and who knows what might happen once I find it?


And then after examining the box from all angles and maybe doing some scribbling on the insides of it, a solution is found.


Writing myself into a box can force me to think of things I might not have otherwise thought of and shapes the story in previously unseen ways. It's given me important storylines and even more important characters that I wouldn't have had otherwise.


Do you write yourself into boxes from time to time? Or do you have everything planned out so you don't get stuck that way? If you do write yourself into a box, how do you handle it?


  1. I'm also a pantser and I've written myself into boxes plenty of times. Like you, I either have to backtrack or I find a way out of the box and, despite the fact that it was a struggle writing that portion, it tends to work out quite well.

    Awesome line: "[...] how in the name of Santa Claus' monkey[...]"

  2. I don't tend to end up in a box, but often the path set down on paper just isn't very interesting. It's too direct or easy and I have to think of other ways to get from A to B that are unexpected or some kind of reversal.

    Moody Writing

  3. I tried once, inspired by Terry Brooks' painstaking detail of outline, doing that very type of outlining for my book. And by the time I finally got to writing the story, I was so bored with it that it just plodded. So now I'm back to my usual cheerful discovering where these characters are taking me as we go. Like you, I have major plot points that I know are coming, and major themes or motifs I know need to be woven through, and I know in what order the plot points are coming, and I know the ending ... but the journey, and the boxes I get to write myself out of, are so much fun that I can't imagine ever wanting to go back to those detailed outlines!

  4. I wrote two novels with a general plan but kind of let it write itself, and the editing process was horrific. Still is - I will be editing them forever I think.

    I decided to do a detailed design on the novel I'm working on now. Immediately after I finished the design, I was sick of it and felt like I was done. But now that I am writing it, it's much more polished than the ones before. I think I will always do a detailed design moving forward. I can take off for weeks and come right back to it without it changing because I forgot where I was going with it.

  5. When I wrote my first novel, I only really knew where I was starting and where I wanted to end up, so I spent a lot of time meandering my way through with no focus.

    The 3 novels I wrote after that were each more planned out than the last, until with the fourth novel, everything was planned in detail and writing it was a total bore.

    It wasn't until my fifth novel that I finally hit my stride. Now I plan out what notes I want to hit in each scene (character development, theme, plot points) so I have a general guideline that will get me where I want to go, but I leave the how of it up in the air. This way I can decide at the time just how I'm going to pull it all off. It also leaves me flexibility to add things in if I want and improvise.

    I guess it's planned pantsing. :)

  6. I do sometimes. I've got that situation with my SciFi WIP. Once I'm done with my current project (Please, God, tell it will be done someday), I need to go back and really look at it (I'm only 50k words into it). I need to work on chapter POVs anyway. But I may have made things to hard for the protagonists. I know we need to make it hard, but when even the mission impossible team would pass, that's a problem. =D

  7. Wow, you and I are so similar it's eerie. My co-author and I are total pansters and the one time we got stumped on SILO was when we plotted out a scene too much. It was claustrophobic LOL!

    FYI, my URL has changed and is now www.lindsayncurrie.webs.com

    Have an awesome day:)

  8. totally did not mean webs.com Sorry, I meant lindsayncurrie.blogspot.com

  9. thats funny!
    even us plotters can let the story take on a mind of its own and end up in a box...just like in life, you cant plan for everything =)

  10. I'm a plotster and I wrote myself into a box with my first novel. I tried to write myself out of it, but the end result is going to require some major rewriting. You are right though, it kind of showed me what doesn't work which helped me figure out what did.

  11. Do you like SpongeBob? He likes boxes too. ;)

    Every writer has got to find what works for themselves. It looks like you enjoy your method, so more power to you!

    Have a great week.

  12. Hi Laura! Just wanted to stop by and say 'thanks' for following my blog. You are # 300! (No door prizes just yet, but you're aces in my book. :-)

    Your blog rocks, btw! I'll be looking forward to more.


  13. Shannon-It's always so nice when things work out after a struggle. Sometimes I look back at what I wrote and what I got through and I have NO idea how I managed it.

    mood-Oh, neat. I've had times when I've had to do the same thing--figure out how to shake things up a bit.

    Elouise-That is exactly how I felt the one time I tried to outline something with all the details!

    Tonja-Oh, how interesting! It's so cool seeing how other writers do it.

    Jacquelyn-Hehe, I do planned pantsing sometimes myself. Sometimes it's all about finding a balance and learning what works as you go. And I've found it can be different from book to book.

    Donna-Aww, it'll be done someday! LOL, now I'm so curious as to what you threw at these characters that the mission impossible team would pass on it!

    Lindsay-Claustrophobic is a good way of describing it! And thanks for your new link!

    Tara-So true! So did you plot out your story in great detail, or just do a general outline?

    Kari-It does sometimes require major rewriting--I think it depends on the book and the situation.

    Michelle-LOL, my kids like Spongebob, but I haven't watched it much--not enough to know he liked boxes. ;)

    E.J.-Aw, thanks! ^_^ Congrats on 300 on your blog; that's awesome!

  14. Would this have anything to do with the plot holes we discussed in Columbus, or is this a different thing entirely?

    Haha! We're so alike, Laur! I always know the beginning and ending, but never the middle.

    You're right, figuring it out as you go along allows you to discover things you otherwise wouldn't have known.

    For the third portion of my Sora and Kairi fanfic, I was really lost with what to do (as we discussed), but I went and wrote it, and discovered that Kairi had lost her Princess of Heart status. After rereading my chapters, I realized she was a bit Darker throughout the story. It's amazing how stories unfold, isn't it? It's like that's the way it was supposed to be all along. If I stuck religiously to an outline, I probably wouldn't have included that.

    Happy third of July! Hope you're having an amazing Independence Day weekend. I'm going to see the fireworks in a bit;)

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in thirteen days... *dies of epic-ness*.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!