Finding Your Writing Style - Plot Driven Vs. Situation Driven Stories
I retired from a career in computer/software sales and marketing about five years ago. About that same time, I put together my bucket list. After some contemplation, I scratched out the third item on my list, spelunking, and elevated write-a-novel to that spot. Somehow, in light of my uneasiness with close places, it seemed to make good sense.
Two years ago, I started working on Bryant’s Gap, a mystery set in 1947. I had conceived the idea for the story about ten years earlier; it was sparked by an article my wife had found while doing genealogical research. I wrote nearly five chapters, then stopped to search for Warriner’s book, English Grammar and Composition. I felt I needed to brush up on my grammatical skills a bit; it had been a long time since I had sat in an English class. While rummaging through a box in the attic, I ran across a book by Stephen King, On Writing–A memoir of the Craft. When I opened the book, I found an inscription by my sister. She had given the book to me on my birthday in 2004. I had mentioned to her that, someday, I hoped to write my novel, and being the kind and thoughtful person she was, she spotted the book and bought it for me. She was one of my biggest supporters. It was a busy time in my life, so I put the book aside to read at a later date. I had forgotten the book was there, but when I rediscovered it, I interrupted my writing and read it cover to cover. For those who haven’t read it, I would recommend you do so. It is an entertaining and inspiring work.
In Chapter five, King states, “. . . stories are found things, like fossils in the ground . . . It is the writer’s job to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” He goes on to liken the plot-driven story to the liberation of the fossil using a jackhammer, a technique that is going to “break almost as much stuff as it liberates.” Instead, he suggests the writer should let the characters drive the plot, take the story where it wants to go. Through this type of “careful excavation,” more details will remain intact, resulting in a story that is more authentic and flowing.
Initially, when I decided to write my novel, I began by developing a plot outline and character profiles, but I soon found myself getting bogged down in the process. It was at that point I decided to simply start writing and see where it took me. The point is, without knowing it, I had adopted the “situation driven” approach that King had described in his book. Of course, as the story developed, I created notes and reference files to keep track of characters, dates, places, etc., but the characters were indeed driving the plot. Needless to say, as a writer working on my first novel, I was elated when I realized I was in good company with my writing approach.
If you are an aspiring writer, I suggest you learn all you can about the methods other authors employ, but when you sit down to write, keep an open mind and find the style that works for you.
On a separate note, new writers need all the encouragement they can get. When I began to write, my family was very supportive. As I mentioned earlier, my sister was particularly interested and offered a lot of support throughout the effort. Sadly, she didn’t get to read Bryant’s Gap; she passed away suddenly last year, before I completed the novel. I know she would have been proud of me. I miss her immensely.
Michael E. Burge learned to play the piano in his forties, golf in his fifties, and now, recently retired from a career in marketing, has gone on to publish his first novel—Bryant’s Gap. Set in 1947, the story is peppered with childhood memories of the locations where he grew up; a small town on the Wabash River and the suburbs of Chicago.