Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Home » » Are There Rules for Writing Seat-of-the-Pants?
Tuesday, July 02, 2013 19 comments
I'm currently half way through a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink.
(If the name sounds familiar, it's because he also wrote the The Tipping Point, a study on why little things can make a big difference. A must read for authors working to bring exposure to their books!)
In Blink, Malcolm discusses the psychology behind the choices we seemingly make in an instant and why some of us are better at it than others. In the book, Malcolm discusses a successful Improv Comedy Team to illustrate The Structure of Spontaneity.
If you've ever seen Whose Line is it Anyway? hosted by Drew Carey, where actors are given a subject and then must improvise a scene on the spot, you know what their work is like. The main difference is that this particular Comedy Team manages to put together a full half-hour play, story arc and all, right before the audience.
It seems random, but as Malcolm explains further, the reader learns that, "[improv] isn't random and chaotic at all." It too follows rules. Like memorized plays, it requires discipline and work. The actors practice for hours and then critique each other. They analyze why something flopped, working to figure out which unspoken rule had been broken.
One of the rules (and fiction writers will instantly recognize it) is to make something happen to the character that the character would dread. Another rule is that "no suggestion can be denied." Basically, if it gets said on-stage, the actors must run with it.
Those two rules combined made me realize that as a seat-of-the-pants writer I adhere to rules, too. My first rule is to always to write my character into an inescapable box. I have no idea how I'm going to get him or her out, nor do I care. I'm far too busy making sure the box is sealed tight with no plausible escape. Then, once my character is trapped, I put all my energy into figuring out how to get them out alive again. My second rule is that I can't make changes to the box. I have to figure out a solution while adhering to the way I wrote it.
Are there any other seat-of-the-panters who adhere to this rule? Or do you have your own set of rules?