Writing Styles

Last night I found myself taking several tweets to explain why I write like I do. That told me I had stumbled onto a good blog topic, so here goes. First, let me say that whatever your style, if it works for you, it’s right for you. My purpose is simply to explain what I do.

There are generally two types of writers:

  • Seat of their Pants Writers
  • Outliners

Seat of their Pants Writers

These are the people who follow their muse. They believe that were they to do any kind of pre-writing organizing, they might stultify their creativity. They are also folks who must then do a lot of rewriting to get it right. For me, that’s a lot of work. Being the lazy person I am, I don’t find it very attractive for my purposes.


These are those who like to work with a logical framework right out of the starting gate. I am generally an outliner, as you can probably tell from my past articles which start out with a list of bullets and then expand those into points I want to make, such as I’m doing here. It is definitely possible to organize your thoughts and then use the muse to fill out what you’re trying to say so both approaches get served. That would be me.

Why I do what I do

During my twenty-five years time in and with the military, I wrote a lot of messages, a lot of intelligence reports, and as a tester and evaluator of new military systems and concepts, a lot of highly technical plans and reports which were of the scope of doctoral dissertations. This type of bureaucratic writing demands a high degree of organization and its readers may have to make decisions that affect many lives or millions of dollars. (What you are now is what you were when.) On the other hand, it is possible to adjust writing styles. When I began writing nonfiction how-to books, I knew I had to communicate with a much broader, more informal audience. The highest compliment I have ever received about that transition came from a fan in the 1990s: “Reading one of Bob Spear’s books is like sitting down with him in my living room in front of my fireplace and having a conversation.” I always keep that in mind when I write fiction. I’m not interested in or have pretensions for writing the great American literary novel. Instead, I want to tell a story that captivates and entertains. I was a music/business major, not a literature/English major.

The Importance of Storytelling to Me

My first six years of my life were spent on a self-sufficient Quaker farm in North Central Indiana. I had no playmates, brothers, or sisters living within miles. My grandmother would tell me oral stories of our family; my mother would read to me; and I would spend hours in front of our old Motorola radio listening to classic radio theater (this was the late 40s and early 50s, so no TV yet for us). Storytelling became so important to me as a form of entertainment, that I began telling stories out loud to myself. I would always be the hero ,and I would free form my way through never-ending stories (…and then…and then…and then). I told my first story to an adult at the age of four when I tried to outdo a tall tale told by our hired hand. My grandma was listening inside at the window and just about fell over she was laughing so hard. The hired hand just stood there speechless with his mouth wide open as I told him about being chased by wild Indiana, swimming to England and back, and riding to Indiana and home.

Remembering those years led me to become a professional storyteller in 1997. I quickly became a performance resource on the juried Kansas Arts Commission Touring Roster. I found myself performing at schools and communities all over the state. This is why the story is everything to me when I write fiction.

A Recent Example of My Process

It is time to write my 5th mystery, but I needed to write it more as a thriller. This is my approach. First, I take a look a look at my character database, my ‘Bible,’ and determine how my characters need to grow or change in both good and bad ways. I also give a thought to any new characters which are needed. So, I guess you could say the interaction of my characters among themselves and with outside events, natural or man-made, is the basis for my stories. After I play with the characters a little, I begin laying out plot points in some kind of logical time line that allows for those characters to continue to develop. Each plot point is written in a format of one to several sentences. These serve as memory ticklers as I write. Each plot point becomes a chapter. For this latest book, I’ve come up with a structure initially built upon 45 chapters. I lay out my chapter heads and include my plot points just under them so I can glance up to them to make sure I’m not forgetting any key elements.

Now, I allow my muse to kick in again (the first times were when I developed my characters and my plot points). I begin writing, now filling in settings, thoughts, motivations, dialogs, etc. This approach eliminates the need for extensive rewrites. It becomes much easier to quit and return to my writing without losing my thoughts as to what I’m doing where. That’s really important because I write in my bookstore, an environment where my work gets interrupted often by customers or my wife needing help.

In other words, I have developed a process that works for me. It might not work well for you at all, but it may give you an idea or two to try. Until my next post, happy writing!

This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear‘s Book Trends Blog.