Notes Of A Storyteller: Spontaneous Storytelling Is Not As Awesome As It Sounds

When I was writing The Quest, I was a big believer in spontaneous storytelling. I’m still guilty of it from time to time, and I do still think it helps, but it wound up wasting precious time for me.

By spontaneous storytelling, I mean writing without a plan. I have a tendency to get a random idea when I’m writing a story. Usually it leads me in a different direction with the passage I’m writing. I’ll sit down, intending to write about a unicorn galumphing down a field, and then get a cool idea and have the unicorn make a detour to visit a family of leprechauns, to show off his character traits.

Needless to say, this method soon backfired on me.

When I wrote the rough draft for The Quest, I wrote a 15,000-word detour for Arman and his friends that had absolutely no point. They went around these little kingdoms giving the same message that they had given in previous chapters (boring), they met characters that never appear again in the darned trilogy (boring), and they pulled a prank on some warriors that didn’t make any sense, in order to reveal character traits that had already been established (BORING).

It is with great reluctance that I show you the beginning lines of this detour…

   Over a month, as spring burst into its resplendence, and began to mature towards what another few weeks would make a summer, Hiriam led his charges through what Arman at least considered to be the most eye-opening leg of the journey so far.

In Horoan’s toungue this is known as the Plain of Treachery,” said Hiriam, with a slight contempt.

     “We simply dubbed it the Land of Many Crowns,” said Vertaen matter-of-factly.

     “We call it,” said Larsor, with a peculiar gravity, “The Sea of Kingdoms.”

     Although they had long and lengthy arguments upon which of those names held the greatest prominence, Arman, though he joined in them gladly, secretly lodged thoughts that all of them and others unsaid would be a more apt expression of the land they travelled through.”

Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. All you learned from that could have been used in one freaking sentence. Our heroes are travelling through a hodgepodge of tiny little kingdoms.


Eventually, I did. In fact, when I began editing in earnest in the summer of 2011, I cut the whole detour. I hadn’t planned for it at all in my outline, and it wound up wasting my time. There were other places where writing with my whims helped. They helped greatly with details like how exactly people talk to each other, or what they’re holding in their hands when they’re thinking about a problem. I can improvise stuff like that quickly and effectly.

But I can’t improvise basic plot points, and neither should you. Learn from me. Think long and hard before making significant changes to your plot, especially while you’re writing it. If you make a sudden change because it just feels right, you risk writing something really bad, and something which causes disharmony in your story. Oh, and you’ll make Sorcerer Tim up there angry. You should always trust his judgement.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from The Quest as it is today, from about the same point where the detour used to be.


“No, not yet, Larsor!”

Arman woke to see Larsor and Vertaen standing at the cave mouth, and Oarath sitting next to him.

“You should sleep some more while you can,” said Oarath, “We leave in a few minutes, while we still have the cover of darkness.”

Arman nestled his head back onto his arm.

“I hear bootsteps,” he mumbled. “Lots of them. Another army?”

“The same as before. The orcs are still with them. They’ve won a victory of some kind.”


Isn’t that better?


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