The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

If I built you a house, there would be millions of dollars in cost overruns

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

– George R.R. Martin

Cost overruns? Yes. Here’s why. First, I have no house-building skills whatsoever.

But let’s suppose I did. I have no clue how to plan things in advance. When I start doing something, how that goes determines what I do next. What I do next always works for me when it comes to writing. Many of my readers think I write what I write with a plan–perhaps a multi-page outline.  I’m flattered even though the opposite is true.

If I contract with a builder for a new house, I want to see plans. But as a writer, I can't imagine having a plan because the story goes where it wants to go.

If I contract with a builder for a new house, I want to see plans. But as a writer, I can’t imagine having a plan because the story goes where it wants to go.

When I wrote term papers for high school and college English classes that had to be turned in with an outline, I always wrote the outline after I wrote the paper. I didn’t know what I was going to say until after I said it. I did this even before I knew there was a school of thought that says a writer doesn’t really know how he feels about a thing until he writes about it.

Since I don’t know in advance, I can’t create an outline, storyboard, or as Martin says, proceed from an architect’s point of view. There’s no right or wrong about this for writers. Each of us has to do what works.

Diana Gabaldon (Outlander Series) has always said she writes the scenes and chapters of her huge novels out of order. Her books come out great, but writing chapter 42 before writing chapters 1 and 10 and 41 would drive me nuts.

When I’m writing chapter 1, I don’t know anything about chapter 42 or even if I’m going to need a chapter 42. The writing and research for chapter one serve almost like a magic catalyst, opening up ideas for upcoming chapters that I never would have thought of if I’d tried to take the architect’s approach and plot out the whole book in advance.

I find myself writing things in early chapters that I think I might have to cross out later due to lack of relevance. I seldom cross then out because when I get farther into the story, those seemingly odd sentences or scenes suddenly become keys to where the story is going.

This post isn’t a plea for you to try to write this way any more than Diana would try to convince me to write my chapters out of order. Some writers even suggest that the first thing we should to is write the ending of our story or novel. That way, we know where we’re headed. If you can do it that way, go for it.

Sorry, but I don’t want to know where the story is going. I like discovering that as I go along. If I took a writing seminar where we were forced to write the last scene first, I would probably end up crossing it out long before I got there because I was always going some place better.

It’s fun to write as though I’m a reader, being surprised at every new page.


TSSJourneysMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” which is free on Kindle April 6, 7 and 8.


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