Rebecca G. Aguilar | Writer

SCBWI

Notes | Learning to Write More Dangerously

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on October 5, 2014

What can you learn from an improv writing panel at Comicpalooza?

A group of fantasy writers at this comic convention in May 2014 may have nudged me toward a new nonfiction writing approach. Bound by the idea that the research will form the structure, content and tone, I happened to learn a few things about writing more creatively and more dangerously.

Moderated by Jacqueline Patricks and Kimberly Frost, the improvisational writing panel focused on the problem of writing as a pantser versus writing as a plotter.

Pantser/plotter methods were first discussed in writing forums among participants of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A pantser creates with no outline and simply responds to wherever a prompt takes the writing—by the seat of her pants. A plotter relies heavily on an outline and has a plan for where the writing is headed.

Writing without a road map seems like a reckless start for nonfiction writing, but what if everything veers off course despite a well-conceived outline? Can a nonfiction writer plan for every contingency? Or is there something exciting about not knowing where you’re going?

As a beginning writer of nonfiction, I’ll actually be starting with little more than a thesis. I’ll be discovering the unknown anyway and my best bet might be to combine the methods of both a pantser and a plotter.

First, I’ll need to trust my subconscious… working past outlining and relying on patterns tucked away in the folds of my cerebral cortex. Yes. Narrative has a place in nonfiction along with a glossary, bibliography, index, timeline and author notes.

Learning from storytellers who work with three-act structures, I’ve considered how a basic premise, a conflict, major turning points and an ending might move readers to read further. To keep the story going, the plot has to undergo some logical twist that dovetails with the narrative.

The essential challenge in writing: “How can I surprise the reader?”

I was given the opportunity to write a short premise for a character based on questions from the panel and Murphy’s law of writing: “Anything that could go wrong, should go wrong.”

“What does your character want? Why? How will she achieve it? What’s going to stop her?”

Because I’m neither abundantly creative nor lavishly spontaneous, I wrote simply: “An office worker just wants to decide what to have for lunch.”

The generous feedback from the panel:

Is it her last meal? Is she stranded in the Andes and her only choice for a meal is Robert or Carmen? Is she on anti-psychotic meds and can’t decide anything?

Why is deciding what to have for lunch going to be a big deal?

Think absurd consequences. What can go absolutely array?

Comicpalooza is Texas’ very own international comic convention held in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Category: Writing

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