Getting To Know The Other You

I’ve been reading Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson aka The Plot Whisperer to prepare for next Wednesday’s book review and interview with the author.

I won’t spoil that post but I will say that if you have not commented to win a copy of this book, you are doing yourself an injustice. Unless you plan on buying it anyway. Because you need it. It’s like a writing Bible. Seriously.

One of the things that the book made me ponder was how much I’ve changed since I started writing. And then that question made me ponder whether or not I changed at all. Maybe I just got to know the other side of myself.

Think about it. Martha points out that most people’s tendencies are dominated by either the left or right hemisphere of their brain. I loved that she included this in her book…psychology was my minor in college.


Left brained writers tend to be more analytical with their writing. They focus on details and think in language more than pictures. They like to write action, and writing in a linear fashion comes naturally. These thinkers like structure. They are plotters by nature.

Right brained writers see the big picture but have a hard time breaking a story into its parts. They think in pictures and much of their writing centers around developing characters and emotion. These thinkers despise pre-plotting. They tend to work things out as they go…they are pantsers by nature.

Now…even though one side of our brain may dominate and our nature may be one way or the other, we have to remember that we do indeed have that other side. Some of us are a good mix of those two sides. BUT… if one side dominates, we have to be able to tap into the resource that is the other half of our MIND.

A while back I posted about how I was a pantser by nature and a plotter by necessity. Never has a statement been so true.

When I started writing, I definitely thought in pictures. I wrote thousands of words of backstory on my characters to aid in their development. The idea of plotting made me kinda queasy…and not because I really believed it would limit my creative ability.

I was lazy.

But then I started studying story structure in depth and the truth hit me in the face. Kristen Lamb says it best:

Say I want to make chocolate cake. My end goal is a chocolate cake. So I set out cooking, but I don’t want to use butter, and I don’t like eggs, and definitely no flour and I just can’t bring myself to use chocolate. Instead, I want to use vanilla pudding, and slices of bananas and top it off with vanilla wafer cookies and LOTS of whipped cream.
So you say, “Wait, but you aren’t making chocolate cake.”
And I say, “Well this is how I make chocolate cake.”
And you say, “But, you just made banana pudding. That’s NOT chocolate cake.”
And I get huffy and reply, “Stop judging me. Maybe YOU make chocolate cake differently, but everyone needs to do what works for them.”
You would think I was a lunatic. Yes, I made a dessert….but I didn’t make a chocolate cake.

I wasn’t making chocolate cake. My novel did not have the story structure seen in thousands of published novels. Many writing rules can be bent if you know when and when not to bend them. But not this one. Unless you get really lucky or happen to be Cormac McCarthy or Stephen King, stick to the rules. Basic story structure IS important – like it or not.

Can you write a book without it? Sure. But think about books that you read and put down only to leave them to collect an eternal amount of dust. Often times the stories that don’t sync with us are the ones with a weak structure.

NOTE: Being a pantser does not necessarily equal weak structured writing. I know pantsers with an internal storytelling mechanism that automatically puts that structure in their writing. I’m envious. I have to work at mine.

SO! For me, the task became to learn structure and actually apply it. I guess you could say I balanced my brain LOL. Most people would disagree.

Here are two more quotes by Bill Phillips from a previous post I wrote. I LOVE THESE QUOTES.

I had to tap into the left side of my brain because that seat of my pants part of my mind was dominating and causing me to create one big mess of words I couldn’t make heads or tails of. It’s the left side that makes me so analytical. It’s that side that allows me to write dialogue with ease (as long as it’s in 1st person).  It also makes me a perfectionist with my writing, a characteristic of the left I need to tone down because my inner editor annoys the hell out of me. 
With my right side running the show, I wrote in sporadic scenes. I still struggle with that. The details were in the background. The big picture blocked my view of all the little parts that make it up. Now I have to work to focus on those little details because they are all the parts of the whole. 
I like where this journey is taking me. My novel morphed once I began incorporating a little structure. Plotting may not be for everyone, but I needed it – for my sanity and to help me finish this book.
What about you? What kind of writer do you think you are? Left brain or right brain? Both? What’s your take on structure?

Don’t forget to comment to enter to win a copy of the book!! You can comment on this post, next week’s interview/review post or here. I’m also giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card…You can add to your writing craft book collection 🙂 

7 Comments

  1. Great post! I am definitely a plotter. I tried doing the pants thing with my first novel and it took years to finish it because I kept losing track of my story.

    Oddly enough, my work as a technical writer made me a better fiction writer. In technical writing, I am required to plan the scope of my projects and then deliver to that plan. I adapted a similar approach for my novels and suddenly, I was finishing books in months rather than years.

  2. Hi Charissa – This post definitely hits home for me as I work on novel revisions. I'm a right brainer who struggles with structure. It's not something I gravitate towards from the get-go but I do make stops to assess where I am going with my story. I can easily get caught up writing tons that amounts to backstory. The trick has been understanding what I need to know vs what the reader needs for a good read. I'm looking foward to your interview with Martha – please put my name in the hat for a free copy of her book.

  3. This is great. I do use both sides of my brain…I think…haha.

    I do see the whole picture and just start writing – panster – but then I go deep into the story after I get several chapters under my belt – plotter.

    Please also put my name in the hat for the drawing.

  4. Right side brains UNITE! LOL, I . . . I . . . just can't do it! As you well know:) A basic outline, sure. I gotchu. Chapter by chapter plotting? Oh hell to the no. I like the strange and surprising things my muse and I discover on the road.

  5. I also believe my brain gravitates towards the right side, I have dozens of scenes in my head but find it difficult linking them up, I just like to dive into the writing and keep going, beginnings can be so tedious.

  6. Hate to admit it–or do I really hate to admit that I'm likely right-brained, to which I'd have to say no, I probably, secretly revel in it. I generally struggle in dealing with structures. They feel like boxes I needlessly trap myself in, so I wander free outside these constraints. Then I find myself wandering too long, a page, a day, weeks, months, and even years too long. Up to this day, I've not strictly followed a recipe, inc my mom's, and I wonder why I could never make my dish as good as hers. But every now and then, chance lets me have my cake and eat it too w/out eggs, or so I do anyway. Lesson I'm learning is I need those markers to direct me sometimes in life, in art, and in my writing.
    Thanks Charissa for this great post.