Wednesday, September 18, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When I went to the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in 1999, two of the presenters were Dayton Hyde and Gary Blackwood. I attended their sessions on the same day.

Dayton told how he begins a novel. He said, “I create a character and see where he takes me.” The character leads the way and helps Dayton come up with the rest of the story.
Dayton Hyde, author of Don Coyote and other books celebrating the Great Outdoors and environmental responsibility.

Gary Blackwood drew it out on a chart. He told us he carefully plots out a novel before he begins, making sure that a certain element occurs by the one-quarter mark, another by the one-half mark, and another by the three-quarter mark.
Gary L. Blackwood
Gary Blackwood, author of The Shakespeare Stealer series, sold his first story at age 19.
I have heard these same methods called “Pantser” (one who flies by the seat of his pants) and “Plotter” (one who carefully plots). So which is the right way? Neither Dayton nor Gary said, “This is the way to do it.” They both just told us how they do it.

My system falls somewhere in between. My stories are usually character-driven, so I take great care in creating my main character, just as Dayton Hyde does. And I have to hear the character’s Voice before I begin. The character has to feel alive to me before I can tell his/her story. But I can’t fly totally by the seat of my pants. I have to know in advance where my story is heading. I don’t always have the exact ending figured out (though often I do), but I have a general idea of the direction the story is going to take.

Since I write a lot of historical fiction, my story is often driven in a particular direction by the historical facts. I can manipulate the fiction, but not the history. So part of my plot is already set in stone.

I know many writers who are the NaNoWriMo type of writer, who can spew a rough draft of 50,000 words onto the page in a month. Not me. I write slowly, thinking over the exact words I want, and rewriting chapter by chapter as I go, sometimes even sentence by sentence. Of course, this also means when I finish a novel, the first half has been rewritten many times and is usually quite polished; the second half, not so much. But revising is my favorite part of the process, so I don’t mind going back over and over and over it.

I also sometimes jump ahead as I go. If, as I work on Chapter 3, a scene that won’t occur until Chapter 15 drops clearly into my mind, I write it. It’s a great feeling to reach Chapter 15 and have some of the work already done when I get there. In my most recent novel, I wrote the final four chapters long before I got that far. When I reached them, they were ready to be revised and polished and tweaked, which I find much easier than roughing them out.

My method works for me. That doesn’t mean it’s best for you. You might prefer to write like Dayton. Or maybe you’re more like Gary. Every writer has to find his own way, and it might take several attempts before you settle in to the right one for you. Or maybe you’ll do it one way for one story and another way for the next. Like Dayton and Gary, I won’t tell you how to do it. Find your own way, and get busy.

Do it your way.  


  1. I wasn't familiar with these two authors, and so I did a little independent research and was duly impressed. Very talented guys. Dayton Hyde's also a rodeo photographer!

    1. And Gary's The Shakespeare Stealer books are great! Both men made an impression on how I view the writing process. Obviously, since I still remember those sessions after 14 years.

  2. I was in both of those sessions! Great piece, Kathy

    1. Thanks, Rich. I didn't know you yet then. I was there to learn everything I could, & there was so much to take in. It can be tough to sort out which advice to follow & which to take with a grain of salt, but it's all part of the journey.

  3. Another event that sounds enlightening and fun!

    1. Thanks, Patty. The programs offered by the Highlights Foundation have been some of the best I've found.