Getting Lost in L.A. — An Analogy

Interesting banter happening on Amazon regarding my new book. 

Can’t complain about the reviews, except one (a few readers are complaining for me on that one).  Even one of the 4-star reviewers was put off by my — clearing throat here — enthusiasm and the need to set-up the context and application of the story development strategy I advocate.  Fair enough.  Not the first time I’ve been told to get on with it.

One particular review offers a headline that any writer would kill to see. 

And he mentions that writers like Elmore Leonard do just fine, thank you, beginning the story development process with an idea or a character in their head and then just taking off with it.  They sit down and begin writing.

In other words, pantsing.

That can work.  Maybe it can even work for you.  I hope it does, if that’s your thing.  But look before you leap.  Because the bottom of that barrel is littered with the remains of writers who did so with their eyes closed.

I’ve posted a comment in response to that review, and on this subject, that clarifies why you need to select your story development process carefully.  Or at least in context to being fully informed. 

Here it is.

I love that you mention Leonard and Wodehouse and their opposing processes. Opens an important door of awareness that helps clarify my position on story development. Three words: he’s Elmore Leonard. The entire landscape of story architecture is embedded in his head. It’s instinct. This is true of pretty much every so called “pantser” who emerges as a brand name author… they get it. The end product is in full alignment with story engineering principles and physics, they just observe the priniciples and create a a blueprint coincident with the actual creation of their narrative. It’s like filling in blanks for these writers.
Newer writers? Not a good strategy. It’s like someone who is given an address in, say, Los Angeles, with an important payload, and is told to drive there in less than a day. If they know the landscape, if they’ve driven it before, if they’re professional-level street navigators, then sure, they don’t need a map. They don’t need a backseat driver. In fact, they can get lost in the music and scenery as they drive, because wrong turns are unlikely. But the person who has never been in L.A. before? Who has no sense of direction? Even if they’re a fantastic “driver”? That’s gonna take a while. And dead ends and even dark alleys are inevitable.
Newer writers who think they can do what Elmore Leonard and Stephen King do, at their level, are in for some harsh realities. My book is simply an effort to show them a way to get to that level faster, and without getting mugged.


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7 Responses to Getting Lost in L.A. — An Analogy

  1. LOL, Larry, I’m with you. I bought your book — am reading the chapter on theme right now.

    My first book (accepted for publication) is 15000 words. I wrote the first draft in a weekend. Then I spent a year and a half, and at least three major rewrites, learning enough about the art of fiction writing to get it right (or at least, to align with the story I saw in my head).

    Everyone’s talents are different. I don’t have a great sense of direction — hence I carry maps and get directions from mapquest. Some people have an innate feel for story structure. I’m not one of them. I can keep rewriting and rewriting — or I can learn more about story structure and cut down on the rewrites.

    My father used to say, “All knowledge is power.” As far as I’m concerned, the more I learn about this, the better off I am.

  2. Amanda


    I love the analogy! I was a pantzer until I realized that getting stuck on a dead-end street wasn’t so much fun. Now I outline. I’m still “creating” and the work and my characters still “surprise” me. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t come up with the occaisional cliche, but they are easier to fix. I’m sorry to say I haven’t purchased your book yet, but I definitely will be. 🙂

  3. Seat-of-the-pants writing doesn’t work for me. I’m a newbie writer and I tend to get lost even in the city I am living in. And when I start writing without planning I get lost in jabbering, adding nothing of value to the story. So I don’t think it’ll ever work for me, even in a few years when I’m, hopefully, more experienced. Maybe that’s the irony. No pants for me, Sir.

  4. As an L.A. native, I can vouch for the accuracy of your analogy! I’ve lived in only five of the hundreds of neighborhoods around the city. At least twice my London-native husband has called me, lost. His response when I can’t help him (or I’m away from a computer): “But you grew up here!”

    When you have a map, you can be more confident about taking creative side trips.

  5. Fantastic analogy, and I’m a huge lover of analogies.

    So much easier when you know you destination and how to get there.

    No dead ends, cul-de-sacs, dangerous neighbourhoods or wrong way down one-way streets.

    100% in agreement with you on this.

  6. Gene Lempp

    Hi Larry! Bought your book a month or so ago after reading an interview you did with Randy Ingermanson. I love the book, it put the process I’d been struggling to find into clear perspective. I’m already beginning to use the principles from Story Engineering and seeing my WIP move forward much faster and cleaner than it ever has.
    Thanks much for a wonderful guide on writing structure.

  7. Juho

    I’m with you. It’d be interesting to know though, how Elmore Leonard got that way. Was he born with it? Immersed in the lore brought it out of him? Whatever it is… works. 🙂