Saturday, February 11, 2012

Character Writing and Genre Writing

Okay, things have been a little busy lately. College, work, reforming the writing club. And along with all that, rewriting a story that's turning out to be something completely different from the original draft. However, I'm okay with this, I always like when my characters dance to a different tune than I expect them too. Which brings me to my current blog post.

Remember when I wrote there were two different types of writers? The one who does, and the other who talks? Within the realm of a writer who does, there are two types of writers in that. I once read an article about how some writers plot out everything before they write and others who simply go with the flow. A good example of the latter is Stephen King. Several times has he mentioned some of his stories were built from a single question. What if? Cujo was a story like this, Bag of Bones as well, The Running Man too (as Richard Bachman). There are others, but I can't remember them off the top of my head. But he said the stories built from the what if? turn out to be some of the best works he's done.

As I expose myself to more writers, I'm coming to see the two prominent styles coming through. I personally know a writer who has to have everything written out in detail before she begins. She has to know everything about her characters, has to know what the underlying message is, has to know what the ending will be. So by the time she sits down to write her new story, the only thing she is doing is filling in the blanks. I always referred to it as the "filler" of the story. Very rarely, she told me, does a story get away from what she originally intended. I found her style extremely interesting because it is the exact opposite of what I do.

But to put this in a broader scale, let's think of a genre. We'll go with fantasy, just cause it's cool. :)

A fantasy writer will sit down and plan out what he/she is going to write. Genres have a formula, a way stories are written so they can adhere to the genre. These writers tend to plot out much more so they know what is going to happen in their fantasy plot line. This makes me think of the Harry Potter series. The stories are fantastic, but anybody who's anybody can tell the stories are formulaic (with the exception of Deathly Hallows). Usually, characters of a genre writer will not stand out as much as a character writer.

Denis Lehane, Stephen King, and William Peter Blatty are three writers I enjoy a lot because their stories revolve around the characters. Blatty rarely describes how his characters look, the voice of his characters paint a picture for how they appear. King has said: "I come up with an idea. I develop characters for the story, put them in a situation and see how they come out of it." Lehane said in an interview, "When I come up with an idea, I usually know something in the beginning, something that would happen in the middle, a what could happen at the end." The exception for Lehane was Shutter Island. Character writers tend to not plot as much, because it's more about playing the characters, becoming them as they write and then reacting to a situation when it arrives.

There is plotting all around of course. I do it myself. I usually want to know who the characters are, the plot, and the general direction I'm going when I write. But how I get there is the fun of writing.

So dear reader, how do you write? Do you "wing it"? Or do you plot everything out?

Keep Writing.



  1. I'm a complete and utter pantser for my first draft, but I plot for the rewrite so that I can keep building on the story I've written.

    Just stopped by to say hi from the fantasy Campaign group. :-)

  2. "As I expose myself to more writers"

    hee hee hee...double entendre!

    I was watching a movie this morning called "Paper Man" where Jeff Daniels plays a struggling author with writer's block. He spends a lot of time just staring at the blank page on the typewriter. Which is usually why I try to figure out a lot of stuff beforehand.

  3. I remember when I started writing on my very first novel. I ended up scrapping it and starting over multiple times until I figured out what the story plot was. It seems that that was when my characters began to make more sense. So overall I guess I'm one of those that need a general direction for my story although there have been many times that my story has taken some unexpected turns.
    I'd be interested to read some of your stuff. You wouldn't happen to have any excerpts on here would you?

    1. I do actually, they are teasers of future projects I intend to work on. I wrote them so I could get a taste of the style I was wanting to write them in.

      Hope you enjoy them!

  4. Hey fellow campaigner! I see we're both in the short story group so wanted to stop by your blog and say 'hello.'

    There are so many different types of writers it's amazing. I also very much enjoy Lehane and find his work amazing. The length of his work especially "The Given Day" and can only imagine how much he had to plot and such to maintain everything that was going on in that text.

    The collection and novel I'm writing concurrently have both changed very much from what I planned. My novel I needed to know people and such and yes they changed but I needed an outline to be able to follow and alter as necessary. For the collection it's changed steadily and all I could plan was how characters looked while allowing the stories to evolve themselves and then see how they connected.

    Wishing you all the best with your projects and looking forward to hearing more about your process.

  5. Writing methods, oh boy!

    I'm sort of odd . . . I write genre, generally, but I rarely follow form.

    I would say my stories rely on character AND plot, not exclusively one or the other.

    I rarely know everything about my characters or my story when I start writing. What I do have to know is their motivation, and the major plot points.

    I'm consider myself strange in my methods, because I rarely come up with my stories 'on my own'. They almost always come to me as images (I've only met a handful of other writers who are like this as well), and usually that image of is something happening to someone, and I have to find out who they are and what is happening, and why. The characters are always fully formed, I just get to know them on the journey.

    So, I feel that my stories are usually character & plot driven for that reason.

  6. Hi Jacob. Greetings from the campaign trail. Nice blog you have here, your enthusiasm comes through loud and clear. Also, great look to the blog too.


  7. Hi! I'm a fellow campaigner in your short story group. I can't wait to read your posts :)

    I do a little bit of both, if that makes any sense. There are certain aspects that I absolutely have to have planned out. Sometimes it's the ending that I'm certain of, other times it's various descriptions of my characters. I keep the certainties in mind while I'm writing and from there I just write whatever I'm feeling.

    Writing Through College

  8. I've done both. I've yet to decide which works better. Mostly, I just keep plugging away until I get it all down.

    Great post. I really like your blog.

  9. P.S. Are those the Cliff of Moher? That's my favorite place I've ever been.

    1. I don't know actually, I just picked it because it looked pretty. :P