A Letter To The Editor

I don’t write to national newspapers, not any more.

I used to, occasionally, and then I had a short letter published a couple of years ago. An opinion piece, of course.

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And it will not have altered how even one single person thought about that particular issue.

Guardian readers write to the Guardian. Telegraph readers write to the Telegraph. What good does that actually do?

You can open any one one of the daily papers, and be fairly certain of the point of view of a writer to the letters page. There may be differences of detail, but usually not of any substance. It is possible that in some newspapers, the editorial process rejects any letters that go against their particular outlook. I don’t know. I suspect that at least ninety nine percent of the letters they receive agree with what they have printed, in any case.

And to save the bother of reading the letters, you might as well just read the opinion pieces in the newspaper the day before.

I would argue that the letters page is a complete waste of time.

When someone writes to the letters page of their chosen national newspaper, they are doing two things: First, they are preaching to the converted and, second, they are failing to hear any counter argument.

Listening to the counter argument allows us to identify flaws in our thinking, and countering it allows us to strengthen our position, hopefully influencing the opinions of those with whom we hold a discussion. That does not happen in national newspapers, however.

Of course, I am quite prepared to learn that there are some national newspapers that break this mould; I have not read them all, not even in the UK (at least, not for some years, now).

Social media, though. This is where you will reach those who think differently to you. And there are additional advantages in that you can publish your opinions without having to get them through a selection process, and there is always the possibility that many people will share them, so they might reach a very wide audience.

And, naturally, by doing so, you run the risk of having your opinions and theories ripped to pieces and shot down. Assuming that this happens in a respectful way, you then have the option to examine the opposing view and either accept it or counter it.

Where am I going with this? Well, it’s my opinion…

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?