Thursday, 24 April 2014

By The Seat of My Pants - Cavan Scott

According to writing lore there are two types of writers – pantsers and planners.

Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Well, not literally. Most use pens, pencils or sometimes a keyboard, but you get my meaning - they start a story with a general idea of where it's going and then just make it up as they go along.


I am not a pantser. I am a planner. Before I start a story I can be found brainstorming and note-taking and mind mapping and all other kinds of plannery things. Next, I sit down and write a complete outline, chronicling the story from beginning to end.

Then, and only then, when the outline is done, I make myself a cup of tea, break out the biscuits and start to write.

The idea of making it up as I go along brings me out in a rash. No, don't ask where. You don't want to know.

Seriously, even the very thought of it is giving me the heebie-jeebies right now. It's probably due to the fact that I come from background of writing licensed fiction. Whether I'm writing Doctor Who, Skylanders, Angry Birds or whatever I need extensive outlines to get stories approved before I can start work. I've just got into a habit, which I can't seem to break. Try as I might, my mantra is always:

Outlines = good!

Sitting at my desk waiting to see what happens next = bad!

It's not to say that my stories don't adapt over time. Sometimes the outline needs changing as I work and I am flexible. Again, I have to be when writing licensed stuff. You never know when the licensor is going to throw a curveball when approving a story and you often have to be able to move quickly to make things work.

But when it comes to writing my own stuff the outline is always there; my constant companion, letting me know that everything is going to be all right and I really do know what I'm doing, honest guv.

This is why I am about to launch into a process that on many levels scares me silly. Tomorrow, my latest interactive e-book hits the Fiction Express website.

Snaffles the Cat Burglar,
scaring author Cavan Scott silly!
For those who don't know, Fiction Express is a literacy resource for schools. This Friday, at about 3pm, the first chapter of Snaffles the Cat Burglar goes live, ending with a cliffhanger and three options of where the story could go next.

School children all over the country read the chapter and vote for their favourite option. I get the results of the vote on Tuesday and write what the pupils decided would happen next. Chapter two is published on the Friday, ending with another three options, and the entire process starts again.


It's the second story I've written for Fiction Express. The first was The Gloom Lord at the end of last year, and I found the entire process absolutely fascinating and utterly TERRIFYING!

There was no way I could plan, not really. Yes, I had a general idea of where the story was going, but I was handing the power over to my readers and having to – you guessed it – write by the seat of my pants, depending on what they chose every week. Most of the time I was completely shocked by the decisions they made. There was no way to predict how the vote would go.

I admit, this is a rather extreme way to get over my fear of pantsing, but it's an extremely effective one. The Gloom Lord taught me to 'go with the flow' more when writing, letting the story lead me rather than the other way around. With Snaffles, I'm aiming to take it one step further, throwing in even more random possibilities that will keep everyone – including me – guessing until right to the end.

I think I know what's going to happen to our feline felon, but I can't be sure.

Hopefully, I'll come out of the other end without reducing myself to a gibbering wreck. Or find myself covered in an unsightly rash. I'll let you know - but don't worry, if it's the latter I won't be posting photos.



Cavan Scott is the author of over 60 books and audio dramas including the Sunday Times Bestseller, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany, co-written with Mark Wright.

He's written for Doctor Who, SkylandersJudge Dredd, Angry Birds and Warhammer 40,000 among others. He also writes Roger the Dodger and other popular characters for The Beano  but has yet to buy a black and red striped sweater. It's only a matter of time.

Cavan's website
Cavan's facebook fanpage
Cavan's twitterings


Catherine Butler said...

Good to see you here on ABBA, Cavan - and good lucking flying those pants to a successful landing!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post - and impressive to give yourself such a challenge. A reminder that it's good to step out of your comfort zone from time to time.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Ah, but isn't my rough first draft, thrown-down punster style, just a rather wordy version of your plan?!

Lucy Coats said...

Am also shuddering at the thought of all that pantsing. Welcome to ABBA, Cavan - this is a great post, and fascinating to hear about the licensor end of things. Your Fiction Express project sounds wonderful - and just a bit Dickensian, with those cliffhanger endings. I bet he would have relished the challenge of writing to an audience's choice, however random.

Cavan Scott said...

I've been known to do similar things Carol. I had a fear of heights, so booked myself a flying lesson!

Cavan Scott said...

Pippa, it probably is. And trust me, some of my plans get looooooong!

Cavan Scott said...

Thanks Catherine and Lucy!

I love this idea of serial fiction, especially in this digital age. My friend Jonathan L Howard is currently running a serialised novel where he releases a chapter a month on kindle etc.

Unknown said...

I AM a pantster, though the way you put it makes it sound much more scary! Big pants (a la Bridget Jones) are the answer, I think. And I could never hand over control in the way you are doing - very brave and/or crazy! But excessive planning switches my creative urge off. Have to have some surprises in there for me as well as for the readers.

Cavan Scott said...

I think most of the time I'd worked through the surprises in the outlining stage.

That said, the outline does have a habit of evolving once I start writing!

Emma Barnes said...

Sounds a fantastic project - the kids will love it! What a way to get them into reading.

I aspire to plan, and I do plan, but then it changes when I write so much that I sometimes feel the time planning is a terrible waste of time. It's the worst of both worlds! But I've realised that actually writing the story is part of the process of discovering who the characters are and what they are up to, so I'm learning to live with it a bit more...

Cavan Scott said...

Discovery is a great word for it Emma. Perhaps that's the key to outlining. It provides a map, a guide - but map-reading alone is quite dull.

You need to actually go on the journey to discover what land charted on the map is actually like. And as you follow your route, you suddenly find little diversions on the way, which might lead you to follow a different route than you originally planned.

It's certainly happened on the YA novel I'm writing at the moment. I've got the outline and the chapter breakdown, but one of the characters has completely surprised me. He's become far nastier than I expected him to be - and much more fun to write than I imagined from the 'map'.

Anonymous said...

pretty nice blog, following :)

Unknown said...

Please keep it coming. I look forward to your work and ensure that a lot of my friend read them too .Many thanks
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