A friend and fellow writer, Doug Danielson, recently asked if I minded him referring to me as an ‘organic writer’ in his blog. I told him I’d been called worse and gave my assent. Then I looked it up, not having a clue what it meant. Turns out the term was accurate as applied to me; an organic writer is one who writes without an outline, following his story where it leads him. It is often called ‘writing by the seat of the pants.’ That’s pretty much my style. I find no fault with those who prefer to outline their fiction before writing, and I can see a good deal of merit to the method. But it’s not for me. Not in the least.
I write thriller fiction. That requires of course at least a loose conception of a plot. And to insert a theme which may certainly invite debate – and a future blog – I believe that a thriller by its nature is plot driven, not character driven. The characters are revealed and enriched by their reactions to dangerous deeds done by dastardly dudes, but the plot drives the action. Opposing opinions invited.
But back to the organic stuff. When I begin a novel, I have an idea for the premise. If the premise involves science, technology or geopolitics, I will have researched the topic to know something about it and to make sure it will serve the plot. Beyond that, I generally am fortunate to have a very clear image of the beginning – the first five to ten pages – a general idea of the end, but little or no idea what will happen between the two. For that great fuzzy 300 – 400 pages of in between, I rely not on ‘seat of the pants’ but rather ‘keeping butt in seat.’ It’s discipline. It’s working daily to reach a word count. Some days the work is easy and productive, other days it’s pure hell to drag out a thousand words. Maybe outliners avoid the hellish days. I wonder.
With the organic method, you don’t have a road map and may write yourself into a corner, or worse, a dead end. Well, that’s what re-writing is for. Maybe outliners do less re-writing. I wonder.
Let me give you a ‘for instance’ of organic writing working well for me.
I’m at work on the second novel in my Jock Boucher series. If you’ve read Ice Fire, the first in the series, you know of the friendship between our hero Judge Jock Boucher and Detective Fitch of the New Orleans Police Department. Early in the second novel, Fitch picks up Boucher at his home to take him fishing. There’s a hubcap missing on Fitch’s car. I had no idea why I included that detail. Pages later Fitch, who lost his wife to Katrina, tells Boucher he has met a woman. In a parking lot she pointed out the missing hubcap, he cursed, she chastized him for his foul language, he apologized and asked her for coffee. I had no intention introducing this minor character beyond giving the crusty old cop a little human interest, then it turns out the sweet, innocuous matron he’s just met plays a major role in tracking down an assassin. No one was more surprised at her role than I, and I can’t conceive how she might have appeared in an outline. But then I’m no good at outlines.
But I can tell you what a pleasure it is when such revelations come; those turning points you were writing toward guided only by your subconscious. For me it’s one of the highs of the creative process and I don’t want the surprise ruined by some dry, mathmatical outline that I’m following like a soldier slugging through a muddy field.
I know not what course others may take, but I’ll take the organic route. Every time.