Pitfalls for Writers – 5) The Hijack

Pitfalls for Writers, an occasional series; 5) – The Hijack

I think that I will frame this in the form of a question.

But before we get to ‘this’ question, which is the one that I really want to ask, I have a preliminary question: Are you a Planner or a Pantser?

Planners, of course, plan their stories in detail; the characters, the plot, the backstories, etcetera. Some may just have a rough map of the journey, but it is a map nonetheless; it shows the route from the very beginning of the first chapter, all the way through to the end.

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Others will have minutely detailed plans of the whole story:

They will work out full details of each character, complete with likes and dislikes, quirks, friends, family, hobbies and anything else that you might care to want to know.

They will locate pictures of every location that the story references, with any relevant information that might be needed. Perhaps they will visit these locations (if possible) and take notes and photos, otherwise they might spend ages scanning YouTube videos.

There will be timetables ensuring that the continuity of the story is flawless.

They will research all historical/geographical/economic/etcetera details in advance, and then have them, neatly tabulated, close at hand.

Then there are the Pantsers.

Just like myself, I freely admit. We tend to sit down in front of a blank page and then start with a sort of ‘Ooh, that’s a good opening line. I wonder what will happen next? I did have an idea a few weeks ago that might fit in with that. Now, I wonder where I wrote that down?’ approach.

Personally, I do have, at the very least, a vague idea of where the story is going, and sometimes I even have the ending already written down (somewhere!), although it is subject to change as the story grows. Rarely do I plan in much more detail than that.

And then occasionally, as all writers know, a character might hijack the plot by refusing to do what I had intended them to do, and consequently to alter the whole storyline. But is that just us Pantsers?

So, ‘this’ question, then, is for the Planners:

Do you occasionally find that, as you are writing, you suddenly get the idea for a plot twist, or a really interesting character who fits into the story so well, and this despite your detailed plans, that you feel you have to alter your plan to include it? Even if you have spent three months on said plan and consider it inviolable?

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27 thoughts on “Pitfalls for Writers – 5) The Hijack

  1. I think you have to change your route if that’s what the story tells you must be done. And that’s a drag if you’ve spent a lot of time mapping it all out beforehand. However, I feel that time is not wasted if it has given you familiarity with your story’s characters and setting. Perhaps that intimate knowledge is the reason the new route has presented itself. You just have to have the willingness to part ways with your plan.

    Personally, I suffer from pre-planning in the highest order. It’s a form of procrastination that feeds on perfectionism and often leaves me in despair. Which is why my blog doesn’t have regular posts.

    My method looks like this: plan, plan, plan. Plan some more. Write some. Abandon plan. Start over.

    Which is why I don’t keep a loaded gun in my house.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! At least your procrastination is productive! Mine takes the form of finding things to do that are nothing to do with writing.
      But, I’m sure that you’re right. We all say that our characters refuse to do as they’re told, but that’s really because of how we have imagined them and the scenes we’ve asked them to act out. What made sense in our heads often doesn’t actually work once it gets down on paper (or at least leaks into cyberspace). Thanks, Monica!

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    2. Very wise of You Not to keep that Gun, my Dear Monica! 🙂 …As for me, I have not touched my Novel in ages. It is not procrastination, but lack to time and energy. I have the plan in my head, – not written down! – and I do do some research. …All the Best in Your work. Regards.

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    1. That sounds much like me, Geoff, although I’m more like 95% pantser (although if you really meant pants rather than pantser, then that’s another conversation!). And despite what I wrote, I sometimes wonder: if I have no plan, then how can it be hijacked?

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  2. Of course, you can’t generalize, Mick. As you know, I am a pedantic planner. I plot every scene in advance. And yet… when time comes to write the darn thing, I find my best scenes have vanished and wholly new plot threads have crept in. Sometimes a single line can prompt an entire story. One morning, my wife was vexing me so I cried – in mock fury – “Woman, get thee to a nunnery!” What a great closing line, I thought, but where’s the story? It grew into a 400-word flash fiction tale, The Novice, that I posted recently on my blog. I hadn’t a clue where it was going. It wrote itself. No, you don’t (always) need to plan. Just find a vexatious spouse…

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    1. Exactly what I was talking about, John. And so do you go with these new plot lines? Or do you mutter cryptic oaths beneath your breath and force the wretched tale and characters down the path that you have chosen for them?

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  3. I’ve asked this question too, Mike, and concluded that I’m smack in the middle. I do my world-building, create my bios, and loosely create an outline. Then as I write the characters grow into themselves. The story doesn’t change, but how the characters navigate the obstacles and reach the goals fleshes out and I respect their natures. I’m constant revising my outline to accommodate the changes. For me, it allows for creativity but reduced the hijacks 🙂

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      1. I don’t sit down without having done some work ahead of time, so I call myself a planner. I wrote one book as a pantser (without any idea at all where the story was going) and I ended up needing two years to get it fit for publishing. Never again! Ha ha.

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  4. I haven’t written fiction, and doubt I have the aptitude for it, but for what it’s worth: when I wrote the Business Intelligence book it was all outlined up front, but when I write a piece for the blog it’s more “pantsing”, if I understand what you mean by the term. (Flying by the seat of your pants?) I suspect if I were to attempt fiction I’d be a planner for the broad/mid level strokes and wing it for the rest.

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  5. I’m definitely a planner. I attribute this to laziness. I couldn’t start writing a story before I know how it ends, because I hate the thought of getting halfway through a project and then having to abandon it because it wasn’t working. And I hate the idea of having to do a lot of rewrites.

    So I plan it in my head first. This comes easiest when I’m active – walking around town or working in the garden. I write down an outline, and then plow into the product. Of course, it’s not all plain sailing – what worked in my head doesn’t always work on the page. And fresh ideas pop up along the way, but they’re always in sync with what I’ve planned – no big surprises. I find having the outline invaluable. When I get into “what comes next” mood, I go back to the outline and there’s the direction.

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    1. Does this mean that Gib’s travails are all planned out and there is an ending?
      And does that mean that your characters never attempt to hijack the plot? I should imagine the Mad Cat might like to take it upon himself to do so…

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  6. Ah. As I’m transcribing Gib’s memoirs, I will, eventually, have worked my way through the stack of papers I found at my neighbour’s house. I believe there may be another literate cat to come, because the later papers appear to be written in a slightly different style.

    As for the Mad Cat – yes, on occasions he has surprised me as he’s surprised the other cats, but that’s puritans for you. He is, however, getting old…

    I suspect the wannabe hijacker is Nero, but Gib is pretty good at blocking him.

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  7. Personally, when I’m writing fiction, I plan out the plot and think about the character so that I feel as if I know them, and try to visualize the setting. But that’s the extent of my planning (sort of an outline) and once I begin the story, I don’t always stick to it. I find that a character will have traits I didn’t foresee, and the plot I had envisioned begins to feel a bit forced, so I go in a slightly different direction. My planning helps me know what story I am writing, but it doesn’t dictate the final result.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, stroppy characters. Great. I wonder why they seem to develop these traits as we write? I suspect that either we identify with them more strongly than we intended to when we began to plan their characters, or they begin to remind us of others; possibly without us realising it. Thanks, Ann.

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  8. My Dear Mick, as I wrote in reply to Monica, I plan, a little. It is actually Not much of a plan either. It is a story of generations based on real incidents, so i know how it will flow.

    I wonder if it would not be a good Idea to Use New thoughts on separate writings, maybe Novelettes. 🙂

    All the Best in Your Work, and Kudos in Your having reached the final stages. Also, it is a Great topic You have taken up.

    Regards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes, lots of the new thoughts get put aside for later use, but the problem comes with those that just turn up and as soon as you see them, they seem quite at home in the work that had been all planned out, and you haven’t the heart to evict them!

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