By Writing Excuses | May 16, 2010 - 8:00 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

In previous episodes we’ve established the dichotomy between discovery writing and outline writing. In our ‘casts about process, we’ve mostly talked about outlining, working from an outline, and the worldbuilding that goes behind all of that. We’ve never talked much about the process of discovery writing, though.

It is time for us to correct that egregious oversight.

In this installment your hosts muse upon the pros and cons of discovery writing, and how we handle the discovery writing process. We discuss false starts, and how they may not be false at all. We cover dialog, which is always a fun place to start writing, and we offer up some structures that discovery writers may begin with in order to provide themselves direction.

We also tackle endings, which are where most discovery writers have their largest problems.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Way of the Wolf, by E.E. Knight, who has been called the best fantasy author you’ve never heard of.

Writing Prompt: Look around. Now, pick six unrelated items and weave them together in the first chapter. Two of them are Chekov’s Guns.

Abrupt Ending That Came Not Quite Abruptly Enough: 17 minutes and 52 seconds, with screams.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 16th, 2010 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

51 Comments

  1. May 16, 2010 @ 8:34 pm


    I found out I was a discovery writer through NaNoWriMo. I had always tried before to use outlines and failed miserably each time.

    Endings have always been a struggle for me, which is why I usually have to do several. “The Dragon War Relic” had five before I settled on the final one, but it gave me a chance to work through several ideas.

    One problem I found when I tried to discovery write my sequel was that I sometimes ended up with a book with no salvageable plot. I had two false starts. On my third attempt (which will hopefully go to my publisher next week), I went about halfway through the book (like Dan suggested) and then wrote an outline for the rest of the book. Every three chapters or so I would have to do it again because I couldn’t stay on the outline very well, but it at least gave me a direction so that by the time I reached the end, I had a functional plot.

    Anyway, I love discovery writing because it freed up my inner muse and made writing fun for me. It’s always exciting to sit down for a day of writing and think, “I wonder what mischief my characters will get into today?”

    Posted by Berin Stephens
  2. May 16, 2010 @ 8:53 pm


    Discovery writing is definitely my style. Outlining never worked for me. I wrote the first paragraph of a story of which I had no concept of what it was even going to be about. That paragraph gave me the title: “Dead Stranger in the Kitchen.” Another three paragraphs and I knew the direction of the story. Still, much of it came as I wrote it.

    The idea of writing the first half with the discovery method, then outlining the balance sounds like something to try. Thanks for the idea.

    Posted by Derby
  3. May 16, 2010 @ 10:38 pm


    This was a great episode! I especially appreciated the bit of advice on “fixing it in post”. Good one, guys!

    Posted by PJ
  4. May 16, 2010 @ 10:53 pm


    I’m definitely a discovery writer.

    What’s funny is that I’ve found that I do pretty much the same thing when I draw. I start with a couple of lines here and there, try to decide what it is that I’m looking at, and then work from there. I’ve found that when I just “discovery Draw,” so to speak, and keep doing things for that newness factor, that it ends up as something abstract and not really there, but if I decide on what it is and stick with it, I generally end up with something really good.

    What I need to work on now is to apply the same thing to my writing. It sounds kind of like Dan’s discovery writing the first half, then outlining the rest.

    I’ve also noticed (and this might be why many discovery writers love revisions so much) that it’s much easier for me to tweak something that’s already there, rather than to create and plan and outline something from scratch. I do the discovery part so that I’ve got something to tweak. I do fall into that trap of endless revisions, and I think the “I’ll fix it in post” mentality has helped with that somewhat.

    Posted by CID Farwin
  5. May 16, 2010 @ 11:02 pm


    I used techniques that both Dan and Howard mentioned to finish the first draft of my first novel. I discovery wrote the first 2/3 and planned the last third, and then when the ending got too terrifying I went back and made a list of all the conflicts that needed to be resolved. Sometimes I list thematic threads that need to be further explored. Or whatever. I didn’t workshop the outline for my ending as Howard did, but just having an actual written list made it feel a little more manageable.

    Oh, and for the record? I’m a discovery writer–well, except for when I’m not–and I HATE revising. ;)

    Posted by Raethe
  6. May 16, 2010 @ 11:11 pm


    I have to say, I kind of envy discovery writers. I tried and tried and tried it, and always failed. I don’t necessarily hardcore outline, but the more I outline the better I like what I did and/or the farther along I get.

    The first time I actually broke the 50k mark in NaNoWriMo was year before this last one thanks to about a week’s worth of basic outlining. I tried to write something else in between without outlining and it just fell apart for me 20k words in (to the point I didn’t want to write it at all without starting over, my assumptions about the characters had made the story so utterly full of plot holes and nonsense what I had felt pointless).

    Then I outlined again and come NaNo this past year got past 50k… of course I discovered I got sick of writing a certain kind of scene so that one stalled, but I still think I can salvage that one…

    Posted by Patrick Sullivan
  7. May 17, 2010 @ 3:10 am


    I do envy the discovery writer, able to march free wherever their heart leads them. I am not one, I am an outliner from H E double hockey-sticks. I have to know every single little detail of the story before I type out the opening sentence. In a Jim Butcher interview I watched on Youtube.com he said he did the same thing so in that respect I guess I am in good company as he is still my hero. I often end up with a 10,000 to 15,000 word outline before I write my first real line. Also in my first draft the world building and descriptions are kept to a minimum. I only write the narrative and the dialogue and I do this until The End. The second draft is where I start to allow myself to do some measure of discovery writing with the descriptions, world building and embellishing the narrative. I always get complements from friends for having rich, well developed characters because they have lived with me in my mind for a couple of months before I ever put them on the written page. Without this strict method of writing my imagination is too wild and wonders aimlessly like a dog in the park without a leash and nothing ever gets done. If you are a discovery writer I salute you. However, if anyone out there has tried to do discovery writing and failed you might want to give my method a try and see if it works for you.

    Posted by Brenna
  8. May 17, 2010 @ 4:07 am


    I use a hybrid approach, what I call the “inner outline”. I start by making some notes to sketch the idea such topic as:

    Setting: Time, Place, and related notes
    Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy Contemporary
    General Rules of the world/universe: tech level, the basics of magic

    And so on, no more than a paragraph worth of questions and answers.

    That tells me if the idea is viable. Then I free-write the opening scene, which can be a joy when I get it right, a nightmare if I don’t (and that will quickly deep-six any project, can’t jump into the pool if the diving board is broken). As I write, I “interrogate” my writing in a series of line notes (on the margins of my legal pad or in a section below my latest entry). These questions are something like this:

    Characters: Write the first word that comes to mind (goes to character theme and concept).
    Themes: How many have popped up so far.
    Will their be a romantic sub-plot/relationship?
    Will their be a happy ending? Bittersweet? Tragic?
    Are the characters actions consistent? Logical (inner logic)? Plausible (within in-universe mechanics)?
    Next?

    One problem I don’t have with discovery writing is the ending, that one has been on my mind for awhile (I can’t write without some idea of how it is going to end, although the details are very fuzzy and liable to change), but either leaving stuff out that I will have to add later or writing entire scenes that while interesting on their own have no baring on the on-going story.

    Of course you can’t discovery write if you don’t embrace the concept of multiple drafts, otherwise you will spin your wheels trying to “get it right” the first time and never get it done. It is about getting your story written down as much as writing it well.

    I do like to free write my short stories and I can’t think of a reason to outline those in any way shape or form. Kind of defeats the purpose.

    Great podcast!

    P.S. Using a notebook where you can erase or draw lines over entire sections of text is also a good idea, in essence you are multiple-drafting smaller chunks plus if any questions or ideas pop up you can write them at the margins or simply write a line under whatever your writing, write those ideas down, and then push on.

    Posted by Rafael
  9. May 17, 2010 @ 10:19 am


    I don’t understand how anyone can be just a pure discovery writer. Certainly, you must have some idea of where you want the story to go.

    As for me, I always write (or at least plan) the ending first. I believe I acquired this habit from video games, where the final boss battle is always the biggest, most elaborate and detailed scene in the entire game. I always plan the final conflict of each book in my mind in elaborate detail, even to the point of memorizing the dialogue word-for-word. Then, when I finally get around to putting the ending on paper, it just kind of flows out onto the page, pre-written and pretty much exactly how I wanted it to look. And of course, it has to be the most emotionally charged, the most life-threatening, and the most mind-blowing part of the entire story. I want it to be dessert for the reader, and it’s certainly the sweetest part of the book for me to write.

    So, to anyone who is having a problem with endings, I would recommend that you

    a.) Think of the perfect place to have the last conflict in the story (i.e. On the Titanic while it is sinking, in the middle of a graveyard where all the headstones are fifteen feet tall, on the edge of a star that is minutes away from becoming a supernova, in the ninth circle of hell, etc.)

    b.) If the conflict is violent (not all final conflicts have to be), put on some earphones and listen to the final boss battle music from your favorite video game AT FULL BLAST while you write.

    c.) Put the protagonist at every possible disadvantage (i.e. He just had his legs amputated, his true love will die in fifteen minutes, his magic has stopped working, he had a few martinis before the final battle and now he’s too drunk to fight, etc.)

    d.) And then just let the rest write itself.

    Sorry for the long post, but I just hear so much about how people are having problems with endings, and I never have problems with endings so I want to give them all the help that I can.

    Posted by AlanHorne
  10. May 17, 2010 @ 10:22 am


    Something else I’ve been experimenting with is “discovery outlining”. This is where I sit down and spend several days mentally role-playing and writing down the sequence of events. It keeps the improvisatory nature of discovery writing alive and lets me know if the idea is a clunker without investing months into the story. It also frees me up to re-do large chunks of the story if it’s not working. When snippets of dialog or jokes occur to me, I put them down. In the end, I have about 20 pages of outline.

    Posted by Berin Stephens
  11. May 17, 2010 @ 10:25 am


    I am a 90% discovery man, myself. For all of my short work (average 6K to 18K words) I generally start with a basic “idea” and a single, main character, but beyond that, it’s a thoroughly evolutionary process. I don’t really know where the story is going to go, necessarily. In fact, any time I catch myself turning on the ‘targetting computer’ as it were, things tend to grind to a stop and the story dies. So I just keep the targetting computer off and “use the force.”

    I know some writers find that such a chaotic concept, it would never work for them. For me? At least at short length, I can’t really do it any other way.

    This is why novels are a huge challenge for me. Because discovery writing — at least for me — only gets me out to about 30K or 40K words, and then I grind to a halt. I like Dan’s idea of doing discovery out through the first half, then mapping the second half. For my two novels I’m writing (have written) this year, I’d tried that process, and it’s working so far, though I still find my plots and characters “off-roading” a lot through the second, mapped half.

    Posted by Brad R. Torgersen
  12. May 17, 2010 @ 10:58 am


    Great Topic!

    I found out I was a discovery writer from listening to this podcast over the past year (thanks Brandon, Howard, & Dan!) I knew my process I just didn’t have a term for it.

    What Dan said about people being shades along the scale is quite true. I do have outlines, and I keep an inordinate amount of planning in my head, but the characters have a will of their own and watching their stories expand is one of the joys of writing. Of course, I have a destination in mind and frequently I find myself reacting to them so I can get them back on course.

    Probably the single most blatant form of discovery story-telling that exists is Role-playing games, where one person is the GM and the others are all player characters. I’ve always been the GM. Mainly because my friends didn’t want to be and I was just good at it. I think I honed my discovery writing skills by allowing the characters to do their thing and yet steering them toward the final destination. All my campaigns had an ending that I was trying to get to, and the campaigns were their absolute best when we got there with a bang and it made sense.

    Posted by Jeremy Toburen
  13. May 17, 2010 @ 12:45 pm


    I started as a discovery writer with only a vague idea of where my first novel was going. Many drafts later, I finished a novel I couldn’ sell because it lacked some necessary plot points (See Larry Brooks’ StoryFix for excellent info on those).

    Over time, I’ve slid down the scale until I’m probably half and half. I’m doing much better outlines, but when I sit down to write scenes, I still do a fair amount of discovery within the scenes and the oveall structural boundaries I placed around them, which has produced some wonderful improvements to the story.

    For discovery writers, I think it’s key to understand the plot elements that must exist when you’re finished your last draft. Otherwise it’s almost like a blind man painting in a hurricane: might produce something viable, but chances are slim.

    Posted by Frank Morin
  14. May 17, 2010 @ 12:54 pm


    […] was listening to the discovery writing podcast from Writing Excuses when I realized that they were describing […]

  15. May 17, 2010 @ 3:09 pm


    Can I call myself a hybrid? ;)

    Some stories for me come through the discovery writing process (and it’s so much fun), others I find that I have to outline (which I find is fun as well), especially when it’s a more complex story. If I have a story in my head and I need to structure it, I have to use an outline. I can very well do both, but usually I don’t do it at the same time, it’s a process. You guys kick butt for doing a podcast on this, loved it this week. One of the things Dan mentioned is something I completely agree with – it’s not two types of writers as much as it is two different methods and most fall somewhere between. There are many writers who use one method far more than another though.

    As for what method I use more these days – I discovery write for about the first half and then outline for the last.

    Posted by Rose
  16. May 17, 2010 @ 5:46 pm


    Personally, I do mostly discovery writing myself. I’ll start with a few characters (it’s not often that it’s only one) and an idea for a scene, and I’ll be off at the races. I’ll have basic world questions answered, as well as basic character questions, and maybe a few additional notes. When I outline, I usually have three to four paragraphs total, each supposedly being equal to 1/3 or 1/4 of the book.

    Unfortunately, I have the same type of problem that Dan mentioned… I’ll 3/4 of the way into the book, and then get bored of it.

    I think (since I’m stuck at just that point on my latest book), that I’ll give Dan’s suggestion of outling the end a try. It can’t hurt right? And if I find something that works better for me than what I’m doing now, I would b e ecstatic!

    Posted by BA Matthews
  17. May 17, 2010 @ 5:49 pm


    I always tried to discovery write because that’s what my idols were doing. I loved the way their stories felt so organic and lifelike. I always thought that was the way that writing was supposed to happen to be “GOOD”. After years and years of learning more about the creative process, I found that the outline could help and the more extensive the outline, the more I could get done.

    I’m a planner but it’s the little nooks and crannies of the characters’ personalities and actions come solely from discovery. I know that discovery has to have a place in my writing or it can’t breathe deeply and live. Without the outline and planning though, the writing can’t get to the finish line and show the rest of the world that it’s alive.

    Posted by Jay Randall
  18. May 17, 2010 @ 8:37 pm


    Alas, I’m no good at discovery writing. Nor can I write an outline. :( Yeah, I’m still on my first WIP, so maybe I’ll learn one or the other eventually, but when I try to discovery write, everything goes along swimmingly until it suddenly becomes very boring, I’ve written my characters into a gorgon knot, and I have no idea what happens next–or I do, but not even I care enough to write it down. So I delete the last few chapters and throw darts at my characters until they travel in a more interesting direction (which hopefully also leads toward the ending I want). When I outline, it gets boring even faster. How can I possibly know what happens next if I can’t watch my characters dodge the darts?

    So I’m stuck with a hybrid. I can set benchmark goals to drive my characters toward, but can only actually plan a chapter or two ahead of where I’m writing.

    Posted by Robin
  19. May 18, 2010 @ 11:06 am


    A bit of both for me. I outline and I have to know the ending before I start, so I know what I’m aiming for. But I leave a lot of things open to discover along the way – “Oh, I’ll figure that out when I get there” – and even with events I planned, I can wind up doing something completely different that accomplishes the same thing. Characters will take different directions – not my main characters, because I know them too well, but side characters will refuse to do what I thought they would and other characters step forward instead.

    Kind of like planning a road trip across the country – I know the destination, and I’ll mark the major highways and the places I want to pass through, but I wind up taking a lot of side streets and detours on the way that make the journey much more complicated and interesting.

    On the other hand, whenever I come to a scene where I’m stuck, I’ll do an extensive outline for it. I brainstorm and ask myself questions and decide on the goals and exactly what has to happen for that scene and plot each move. There’s still more to discover when I write it down, especially dialogue, but I’ll have it heavily mapped out.

    Posted by Laurie
  20. May 18, 2010 @ 1:03 pm


    YES! Love the Monty Python reference. Our father used to wake us up half an hour before we went to bed.

    Enjoyed the rest of the podcast, too.

    Posted by Jared Garrett
  21. May 18, 2010 @ 11:48 pm


    As I have been listening to this podcast, I have learned a lot about my style of writing. I am definitely a discovery writer, but because I have adult ADHD, I find that all the problems that discovery writers tend to have are greatly magnified by my own situation. I often have a hard time seeing scenes through, and switch between different parts of the book quite often. I jump between projects way too often, and it has always been a struggle with my writing.

    What I have found is that I need the structure of an outline in order to keep myself on task, as well as to serve as a map so that I can go between different scenes without losing myself. I have started outlining extensively, and it has helped a lot. But, I do my best work when I am discovery writing. So I often find myself doing an elaborate dance between outline and discovery. While this is difficult, and I definitely see it as weakness, I have found that it makes my writing very versatile and powerful. Essentially, I get all the best of both worlds. It makes the work harder, but it makes the end product that much richer.

    Posted by Matthew Watkins
  22. May 19, 2010 @ 8:43 am


    Hey, Matthew, just because you write an outline doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. ;-)

    Posted by Laurie
  23. May 19, 2010 @ 6:58 pm


    Exactly. I never used to bother writing outlines at all, because I knew from experience that I just don’t stick to them. I’ve started writing outlines again, though (well, when I feel like it, anyway XP) and I find it useful as an exercise…even though I still never stick to them.

    Posted by Raethe
  24. May 20, 2010 @ 8:10 am


    I’m very much a discovery writer. I try to not be at times, but it never works. In my current project ShadowChildren I took the time to outline the series, but when I started actually writing the characters went and did different things, including stopping being dead and one appeared that I didn’t even plan on. I tried writing that second character out but she refused to go away. When I got to part 12 of the series (This is going to be an animated vampire drama series) I realized that I needed her. I guess my subconscious is a bit smarter than me.

    Did any of you 3 guys have something like that happen?

    Posted by B. Byron Whitten
  25. May 21, 2010 @ 12:12 am


    Not sure about the term ‘Discovery Writer’ – prefer ‘Pantser’ myself. Someone who flies by the seat of their pants.

    I’ve never been a Plotter and suffer the same what-the-heck-will-my-ending-be symptoms as most Pantsers, but it seems that I’m evolving (or de-evolving?) towards actually plotting some of my stories… it’s nice to at least have an inkling as to what the ending might be about. :-)

    Posted by Gumption Brash
  26. May 21, 2010 @ 9:03 am


    The way I seem to work well is a mixture of the two methods. The outline is of course an important tool. Yet, to me it is just that a tool. And if the tool no longer suits the situation it must be thrown aside for something better.
    As for the ending, the best piece of advice I have ever been given was to write the ending before you actually get there. It can always be changed.

    Posted by Morid
  27. May 21, 2010 @ 12:28 pm


    If you’re having problems finding an ending as a Discovery writer, consider that your beginning isn’t that great. The seeds of the ending are in the beginning of a good story. The protag has a need/want, and there’s a major obstacle/antagonist in his/her way–that’s established in the beginning. Either he’ll overcome it (happy ending), won’t (sad ending), or it will be the mix of the two.

    Posted by Dizz
  28. May 21, 2010 @ 2:15 pm


    I don’t think there’s really any difference between discovery writers and outliners.

    Dan expressed this idea in the podcast when he said something along the lines of “the discovery draft is really just an extensive outline.”

    When Brandon takes a number of months to write up his outline and build his world, he’s discovering. He’s just doing it in mostly a non-draft form. But it’s discovery. The story’s coming to life in his mind. He still needs draft for the characters to fully waken, but I’d argue it’s all discovery.

    When Dan writes his multiple false starts though half the book, I’d argue he’s outlining, trying to find the story, the essence, etc. In fact, some discovery writers like Mette Harrison write a whole draft of a novel or three as they try to find the story. But it’s the same thing Brandon is doing when he outlines–stimulus/response, story problem, resolution.

    I could be wrong. But the outliners and discovery folks seem to both be doing the same thing. They just use different tools. Maybe that’s the point, but I think if we focus too much on the tool instead of the thing the tool is supposed to help us do we become less productive. Less-productive because we might be less willing to pick up a different tool when the one we have in our hand isn’t doing the job.

    Ultimately, I wonder if it’s counter-productive to label myself as an outliner or discovery writer. I think I’d rather be a writer who knows he favors some tools but also knows the pros, cons, and uses of other tools and can use an assortment of them, whatever it takes, to get the job done.

    BTW, here are some tools I’ve used on various projects.

    * Outlines or step sheets
    * Exploratory drafts
    * Free writing
    * Lists
    * History timelines or backstories
    * Maps
    * Drawings or images
    * Key questions
    * Key element checklists for characters, plots, scenes
    * Patterns for scenes, plots, and characters taken from other stories
    * Individual and group brain storms
    * Improvisation in character
    * Taking a familiar story and twisting it

    All of these tools are effective but don’t seem to be effective in every situation. I would never want to peg myself an mapper or freewriter or improv guy. Because maps don’t always work. Improvisation doesn’t always work. Free writes sometimes are the exact wrong thing.

    There are a lot of techniques and tools for getting from point a to point b. Maybe what writers need is the ability to carry a few more tools on their utility belts instead of defining themselves as a specific type of tool user.

    Or maybe I’m full of salami.

    Posted by John Brown
  29. May 21, 2010 @ 3:10 pm


    The big difference between actual discovery writing, and outlining is the fact it’s much harder to change a draft than an outline. If you realize halfway through some important detail back in chapter 3 doesn’t make sense to the logical flow of the story the way it’s going now, you have to clean up all actual references to it in the text, vs the subtle ones in a 3-5 page outline or the like.

    Posted by Patrick Sullivan
  30. May 21, 2010 @ 4:46 pm


    @Patrick, that is certainly true. Although I find that sometimes during drafting I realize that something I came up with in my outline suddenly doesn’t work. There was no way to avoid it. I don’t think I could have seen it until I was into draft.

    In fact, I seriously question whether there’s a writer out there who doesn’t do a lot of discovery while in draft? I know Brandon said his characters don’t surprise him, but I would be very surprised if he isn’t discovering all sorts of stuff while in draft. In fact, he said himself that his first chapters are discovery and that one of the things he had to learn was drafting. That implies discovery. I can’t imagine anyone imagining everything up front and then simply recording it.

    For example, in my current project I’ve used outlines heavily (and revised them heavily), BUT I’m still discovering ramifications of magic etc. right up until the end. I’m writing the freaking last battle, the climax, and realizing that some of the magic means I’m going to have to change my fortifications. Maybe this means I didn’t ask enough questions during my pre-draft discovery or maybe it just means that sometimes the questions don’t arise until later, i.e. discovery leads to question leads to discovery leads to question leads to discovery from pre-draft discovery up through the end of that first draft.

    You don’t get to the last discoveries until you get there. Maybe because it takes a chain of discoveries. Maybe because you can only focus on so much at one time.

    But it seems to me that discovery happens all the way along. It’s not prescribed by a specific tool. Which leads me to think that “discovery writing” versus “outline writing” may be a false dichotomy. Because both are tools used to discover.

    Posted by John Brown
  31. May 21, 2010 @ 6:23 pm


    And another one turns into text — transcript’s up!

    http://mbarker.livejournal.com/153170.html

    Posted by Mike Barker
  32. May 21, 2010 @ 9:37 pm


    @John Brown: True, there’s always a… risk seems the wrong word… chance maybe? Possibility? I dunno, I’ll use the last one. Yeah there’s always the possibility no matter how much you outline, you’ll realize during the final writing phase something doesn’t fit, and it wasn’t obvious until the nity gritty. I haven’t written THAT much by comparison to a lot of people here, but even I’ve run into it.

    Maybe I’m just looking at it from my day job perspective of writing software. The more planning you do before hand, the less likely you are to screw yourself at the end of the design, but nothing’s guaranteed.

    To some degree at least I do agree with you in the end, in that from the final perspective if you know HOW to build a good story (from back story to tension to etc etc etc) you will get there in the end, and it’s all about doing whatever works for you.

    Posted by Patrick Sullivan
  33. May 22, 2010 @ 12:11 am


    @Patrick, I agree with you. That’s been my experience.

    Posted by John Brown
  34. May 22, 2010 @ 8:23 pm


    I vote with John, but it’s hard to say because I have only actually finished a few short books.
    I tend to plot the first couple chapters of my story then have to randomly take it from there because my story isn’t big enough. No wonder I have trouble with endings! However, once I know where I’m going I make a list of the scenes, mainly because it feels good to write it and get to check it off my list. I am the kind of person who HAS to see progress, otherwise I give up. I also have a tone of trouble rewriting. This means I normally plan each scene in my head for days and says until I have it the way I want it, then write it down hoping I won’t have to rewrite it much. (Ya, nice try.)

    Thanks for the podcast guys, I listened to season one for like…two hours on the way home today.
    Thanks a ton!

    Posted by CM
  35. May 22, 2010 @ 8:28 pm


    Gosh, sorry about all the errors in that previous post. I was typing too fast. Oh… AND watching TV. Guess I’m not a multi-tasker.

    Posted by CM
  36. May 24, 2010 @ 7:50 pm


    For writing…

    There is improvisation/Pantser (Mur Lafferty)/ Discovery Writing.

    There is the outliner. (Two varieties, the strict outline and the rough outline.)

    And then there is the milestoner. The person that milestones is Holly Lisle. She talked about it. It’s where you may say, title your chapters and figure out major events, write those and then fill in the middles. This is not outlining, per se, but writing such that the book has structure.

    Beyond that you can also have a person that writes linear forwards, linear backwards and skips around.

    Then you also have to writers who are multi-project, single project and targeted projects (One in writing, one in editing and one out to publish).

    But then there are a few writers that mix and match all these methods to do anything to get the story to complete.

    I can tell you off hand which writers use which method by reading their writing. I’m pretty good at this game. If I listen or read a single book, usually I nail it on the head right away and then I can predict the majority of the book. It’s annoying and part of being a writer.

    I can tell you that certain genres are BETTER written in certain ways and the way you write the book will leave a different impression on the reader as well as the types of stories you can write.

    For example, if I were to write a fatalistic book, I would write it linear backwards from the end to the beginning, then edit it forwards. This is because fatalistic books have a definite and solid ending, often with a lot of foreshadowing. So I really want to make sure that I can write all the clues in, but still keep the suspense. Often if the writer doesn’t know what’s happening, neither does the reader.

    But if I were writing a mystery, I’d have to go for an outline.

    Suspense books I tend to go for improvisation forwards, linear.

    Thematic books I write improvisation out of order. This way the idea behind the book becomes more important than the linear events of the book. (Nanowrimo are a lot easier to write thematic than any other method… from my experience. I ended up with more cohesive books from Nanowrimo when I wrote thematic and finished them in record time.)

    Of course all ways of writing have their weaknesses, for example the outliner is phobic of messing up the book in the outline so they often have a hard time writing. The improvisation writer will have a hard time editing their book and dropping the scenes they don’t need, yet love. (And they will also have a hard time understanding the outliner who takes forever to commit one word to paper yet wants to talk up the book for hours on end. And the outliner can’t understand this “extra scenes” thing.) And the milestone person is more likely to have trouble writing the “boring” events because they get to skip ahead. They have the worst of both worlds–writing and editing phobic.

    And writing linear forwards can leave the manuscript feeling dry and lacking excitement, especially when paired with an outline. I also have a hard time reading books by authors who write linear forwards with an outline because 9 times out of 10 I’ve guessed all the way to the ending by the time I’ve hit the middle of the book. (My inner plotter is a female dog that won’t stop barking up plot points and connecting them together.)

    Improvisation skipping around often leaves very short sections without the longer sections and those who use this method really need to mind stitching the scenes together in appropriate places. (I’m sick because my major tip off for improvisation, is the scene breaks and where people put them. 99% of the time the person that does Improvisation will render the book with short scene paragraphs, like a 3 paragraph that an outliner would abhor because the outliner takes this time to make elaborate spanning scenery and build up character for each scene and try to twist it thinking of every single last possibility for the character, thus end up with really long scenes trying to get towards a particular goal.)

    Anyway, I write all of these methods, because I learned that if you’re bad at something, you really should get better at it and while you are free to hate it, you should understand why exactly you hate it while you are good at it.

    And for the record I have 100% done improvisation where I have no idea where the story is going at all, and am leaning on my characters to do all the work. Nothing planned ahead. So it is possible. And I did end up with a cohesive book.

    I’ve also outlined…

    My ends aren’t that shoddy… I picked up Asian media and other countries’ media to actually improve my middles. I tend to pick the ending and then rewrite it when I get to it.

    BTW, J.K. Rowling said she was an outliner (A&E special), but picked her ending already at the start of book 1. I think she had a hard time touching that old writing because the readers who completed the series complained about a weak ending. Author notes are treasure troves for this type of info. I also keep track of who writes what way and what type of writing they produce as a result as well as reader reactions. Sometimes readers are really good at picking up subconsciously that the writer has changed methods and don’t know it.

    I also kind of want to know what to do about blogs… How do you write a decent writer’s blog? What do you put in and what do you exclude? What kind of content subjects should there be? How grammar perfect should it be? What is the line between boring and dry, professional, friendly and foot-in-mouth syndrome? (I suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome… so I’m phobic of blogging… because I don’t know how to turn it around.) And posting stories, do’s don’ts , etc…

    Posted by Rachel
  37. May 25, 2010 @ 7:47 am


    @Rachel,

    The keys to blogging are be authentic, passionate, and interesting. You can write about whatever jazzes you. Just do it regularly. If you want a few examples, look at Larry Correia, John Scalzi, and Dooce.com.

    Interesting break down of writing modes, btw.

    Posted by John Brown
  38. May 25, 2010 @ 9:20 am


    Great podcast! Just about a month too late. Lol. Interstingly enough, I found myself doing everything you discussed instinctively. I’m currently working on my rewrite and fixing all the issues in the beginning of the book that resulted from discovery writing. I wouldn’t have it any other way! Thanks for the great cast every week, guys! Put in a good word to Moshe for me! ;)

    Posted by Ryan Larsen
  39. May 25, 2010 @ 2:07 pm


    @John Brown

    I tend to be very, very blunt (Foot in Mouth syndrome, as I said)… ^^; So I’m not sure if I should hold that back at all for a website where you are presenting your own face, and trying to attract publishers. Passion is fine, but giving smack downs… I think there is a limit, isn’t there? Passionate/Professional has a line too…

    For example I have a whole schpiel on how there is no such thing as Character-driven v. Plot driven and what it really means, but I’m not sure doing that on a website where I’m trying to presenting my professional face is a good way to go.

    That’s what I mean.

    And certain things shouldn’t make it, like ranting about the evils of agents rejecting you and then naming them (I’m not one of those people, for the record)… etc. ^^; So I’d like that covered as well. Plus ideas on what to talk about as a writer. How much of your projects do you talk about and give away? What topics are “safe” and which are not?

    Posted by Rachel
  40. May 25, 2010 @ 3:50 pm


    @Rachel,

    Are you going to trash authors and editors in your desired genre, or any other genre you might want to work in, by name?

    If so, then you’d be wise to delete all thoughts of a blog.

    Otherwise, I don’t see how being blunt or passionate can hurt you. In fact, read this blog:

    http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/blogging-amazon-what-im-working-on-and-why-apartments-suck/

    Then read this one as an example:

    http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/ms-magazine-vs-iron-man-2/

    And Larry has a fine publisher who loves him.

    The key is that a publisher is going to care most about the quality of your work–if you’ve written something they love. As far as sites go, it’s been my experience they care more about your platform and built-in audience than your opinions unless you’re vile. But then you’ll be perfect for the ones with those same vile opinions. :)

    Posted by John Brown
  41. May 25, 2010 @ 3:53 pm


    Oh, and as for topics and stories, go read Brandon’s blog. See all the stuff he puts up. People have blogged whole novels away.

    But it sounds like you want a podcast from the guys. The good news is I believe Writing Excuses has already done a podcast on this topic. You might want to search the archives.

    Posted by John Brown
  42. May 26, 2010 @ 12:29 am


    Psst? If you’re searching the transcripts, try either:

    http://www.aist-nara.ac.jp/~mbarker/writingexcuses/ top page

    http://mbarker.livejournal.com/tag/writing%20excuses all the transcripts

    There’s a + where there should be a %20 in the link on the Writing Excuses page…

    Posted by Mike Barker
  43. May 26, 2010 @ 12:33 am


    Maybe website marketing for authors — Season 2, Episode 17 or Marketing 101 and Marketing 201 from that Season?

    Posted by Mike Barker
  44. May 26, 2010 @ 7:55 pm


    @Mike Barker Thanks. I missed that episode because the podcatcher will only DL episode 21 from Season 2 and up.

    @John Brown thanks for the links and help.

    *Goes off to learn*

    Posted by Rachel
  45. June 7, 2010 @ 9:27 am


    I must be a really weird discovery writer, because I usually have my ending (or a general idea of it) figured out pretty early on, and I absolutely can’t stand revising. I need to a lot. I just hate doing it.

    Posted by Brenna
  46. December 12, 2010 @ 5:39 pm


    […] 13 December, 2010 in Writing Some fiction writers work better by just jumping in and starting writing, no planning. They’re often called discovery writers (good podcast about DW). […]

  47. February 1, 2011 @ 7:52 am


    Even though I’m not working on writing fiction, it’s always entertaining to listen to you guys. I might just have to come back and do the exercise with the six items I spotted: a roll of duct tape, a backpack, a can of Mt. Dew, a stick of deodorant, a Bible, and a baseball bat. A minister or theology student beating up bad guys with a baseball bat?

    Posted by Jordan
  48. July 29, 2012 @ 7:28 am


    […] good link here is a 20 minute bit of audio from a group of fiction writers. They discusses planning and discovery in relation to plot and characters. Their experience seems […]

  49. July 29, 2012 @ 7:45 am


    […] good link here is a 20 minute bit of audio from a group of fiction writers. They discusses planning and discovery in relation to plot and characters. Their experiences seems […]

  50. July 8, 2013 @ 2:00 am


    This podcast actually got me a bit confused. Before this, I always thought I was an outliner, but now I’m not so sure anymore.
    I write both for NaNoWriMo and outside of NaNoWriMo. When I write for NaNoWriMo, I always make sure I have an outline. This way, I don’t have to think about the plot anymore and I can just write as fast as I can. However, I have no problems diverting from that outline if I feel it’s lacking in some points(like, for example, giving some characters extra time I feel they deserve).
    Outside of NaNoWriMo, I don’t make an outline on paper, but I usually know what the ending’s going to be and I have a vague sense of what I want in every chapter. But during writing, I can end up with a wholly different ending if I feel that it works better. In both cases, the characters have a life of their own, and I can sometimes have a character have a way more prominent role than I originally intended them to have. So, what am I then? On the middle of the scale Dan mentioned, and a bit of both?
    Anyway, great podcast, you guys have been teaching me a lot so far. I listen to one Writing Excuses a day(‘A Writing Excuses a day keeps the plotholes away’) so I hope I’ll be up-to-date in a few months :-)

    Posted by Alexander
  51. October 1, 2013 @ 10:31 am


    […] Writing Excuses podcast episode 4×19: Discovery Writing […]