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Writing by the Seat of Your Pants

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Writing a comic book Crisis Crossover is not rocket science.
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
E.L. Doctorow
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Some authors plan meticulously. Before they even start to write, they have a detailed plot synopsis, character biographies, pages on the setting, and a detailed backstory to the main tale... at the least.

Others just sit down at their word processor and type whatever comes into their head. This article is dedicated to them.

This is not necessarily a trope about authors who simply write without a speck of planning at all (although it can be), but rather those who, overall, are improvising as they write. They may already have invented their characters, perhaps they have a vague plot bubbling in their head, even a few notes on Backstory or setting. What separates this kind of writing from planned writing is that these writers are prepared to throw those notes in the trash the moment they come up with an idea that they prefer. So you're writing a hardboiled crime fiction novel: Remember that takeaway place you thought up on the spot to give your sleuth somewhere to eat his lunch? That would be perfect as a front for the Big Bad's drug-dealing business. Making a movie? That actor's take on that character is way better than what you originally had in mind. Why not rewrite half his part to take advantage of that vision?

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This does not always happen voluntarily, mind you. In some cases, the writer did indeed have a carefully planned storyline in mind until it was suddenly struck down by either Executive Meddling, an Executive Veto, or some other case of Real Life Writes the Plot, and the writer had to scramble against the deadline to come with a replacement story.

This is especially common for manga writers making comics for serial magazines, because of the nature of that business in Japan; they must get out at least one completed installment done for each magazine issue, or risk ending their source of income and livelihood. Because writing well is incredibly hard to do, and the schedule of a mangaka is one of the most ridiculous in the publishing world, writers frequently resort to this trope just to get an issue out there! Sometimes it even forces widely published and respected artists to put out chapters they clearly had not even finished drawing.

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The trope name comes from the phrase "flying by the seat of your pants", a colloquialism for "deciding a course of action as you go along".

Like most things, this can be done well, or badly. There's more than a few examples where the final product ends up so well put together that you would have never guessed it was an example of this writing approach. Aborted Arc, The Chris Carter Effect, and Kudzu Plot are what happens when Writing by the Seat of Your Pants leaves too many loose plot threads.

This is the novelistic version of Schrödinger's Gun or the Indy Ploy; when the author of a series canonizes fan suggestions as he goes along, see Ascended Fanon. Can also be related to I Just Write the Thing. Compare Off the Rails where a GM may be forced to improvise as players break away from the planned story. Contrast The Producer Thinks of Everything and Developers' Foresight, where the creative team behind a project has meticulously planned every facet of their story or game.

Please only add examples where the author admitted to doing this. This is not a page for speculation.


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Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Parodied in Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC, where Sergio, In-Universe, doesn't decide on who the Big Bad is until Batman is about to reveal his identity (pictured above). He then goes on an Archive Binge to find the "most disgusting, loathsome villain of all DC history".
  • The Flash: The original writers of Impulse admitted they were writing by the seat of their pants in the first trade. Given the character, this is quite appropriate.
  • Prolific comic book writer Robert Kanigher did this all the time. The results run the full gamut from enduring classics to ludicrous dross (but it was ludicrous dross that was handed in on time, and that was the important thing). Among other things, he was prone to recycling plot details, particularly from earlier issues of the same comic. To be fair to Kanigher, he had a very large monthly workload throughout his career, writing as many as seven comics each month and serving as the editor for most of them.
  • DC Comics in general, during the Silver Age of comics, was infamous for using the following writing system: an editor would design a cover with whatever elements he felt would be popular (gorillas, dinosaurs, aliens, etc.) or shocking events (death scenes of major characters, betrayals, pranks, etc.) then he would give the cover to a writer and tell him to just come up with a story that made sense out of it. The results were often not very logical, but still enjoyable in their own way.
  • Compare "The Marvel Method" from the same era: the writer (mostly Stan Lee) would write a synopsis (which could be longer than one page but was often a paragraph or two, and sometimes not even a written outline but a verbal command). The artist would then draw the comic, then it was back to Lee (or sometimes a different writer) to fill in the dialogue, often having to explain whatever the artist had come up with, and most times helped by the outlines and suggestions placed on the artwork by the artist. This is how Stan Lee was able to write about half a dozen or so comics "by himself" each month (a situation made even easier when Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko began doing the plotting half of their books themselves, and in the case of Kirby was able to work at a furious pace and turn out several issues worth of material quickly). Marvel used this system as late as the '80s but after Stan Lee, the synopsis got longer and more detailed under later writers, most notably Chris Claremont.
  • Judge Dredd creator John Wagner has said this is the way he prefers to write. Case in point: the reappearance of the Dark Judges in "Day of Chaos" wasn't originally planned, but with all that was going on in Mega-City One at the time, bringing them back was the perfect way to make things even worse.
  • The revelation in New Avengers that the Ronin was Maya Lopez in disguise was a last-minute change after the original plan (where Ronin would have been revealed to be Matt Murdock) fell through.
    • This is rather evident from the fact that there is nothing even slightly androgynous about Ronin's very buff, masculine build — and then he takes off his mask and s/he's now a typically beautiful comic book woman.
  • X-Men:
    • This was a major part of the franchise in the 1990s and is often cited as a reason for the franchise developing a major case of The Chris Carter Effect. Essentially, many books were written with the collector's market in mind, who bought books that seemed like they'd be worth something in a few years (such as the introduction of a new character, or the first big hintings of a major story arc), and so they would merrily introduce new characters without having any idea what their deal was, or drop major foreshadowing without having a clear plan what they were actually foreshadowing. Famous examples of both were Cable, whose backstory wasn't worked out until years later, and the Third Summers Brother, which took decades to be resolved properly by a character who didn't even exist at the time.
    • Scott Lobdell famously began hinting at Onslaught without any real idea who the character would turn out to be. He just thought it'd be cool to hint at a new villain who was powerful enough to kick the shit out of the Juggernaut. With The Reveal of it being Professor X's dark side, it suddenly makes sense why Onslaught felt the need to beat the crap out of his abusive step-brother. Though this did lead to Early Installment Weirdness such as X-Men, Vol. 2, #50 seeing Onslaught trying to kidnap Professor X, which ultimately means Onslaught nonsensically tried to kidnap himself.
    • The X-Traitor tape was a major part of Bishop's backstory, but Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio eventually confirmed they had no set suspect when they started. Fan speculation pointed to either Gambit, as an older man called "the Witness" who supposedly looked and talked like an older Gambit was the Sole Survivor of the X-Traitor's attack on the X-Men, or Bishop himself, as part of a Stable Time Loop. However, after a while, not much was done with it—until it got Arc Welded into the aforementioned Onslaught with the title villain (and hence, by extension, an unwitting Professor Xavier himself) being the traitor.
  • It's clear from the Life of Reilly blog that no one involved in The Clone Saga had clear ideas on what to do, and if they did, they didn't tell anyone else about them.
  • Catwoman has an In-Universe example: in a 1990s story, she was hired to steal the script of a movie that was being filmed on an island. She found out, however, that the filmmaker didn't have a script or a screenplay: he was improvising the whole thing without telling anyone about it. The guy was also Ax-Crazy and tried to kill the crew. Thanks to Catwoman, who saved the crew, the only one to die was himself. In order to not lose the contract's payment, Catwoman wrote a script herself and signed as the dead filmmaker. The movie made with her script became a blockbuster.
  • In the Chilean comic Zombies en la Moneda this happened a lot, especially in the first volume (each volume involved several independent stories written and drawn by different artists), at first there was no clear idea where the story would go, just one couple of basic ideas: The zombies invade the presidential palace of Chile (known as La Moneda) and a lot of politicians and people of the show are forced to fight against them or die. That caused multiple changes and even a story (Camino a la Moneda) was completely changed even when it was almost finished drawing. The following volumes were planned with some more anticipation.

    Comic Strips 
This is common in newspaper comics, where because of tight deadlines it's hard for creators to plot things out in advance. This is why it's so common for storylines to end abruptly without resolving anything. Specific examples:
  • Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson notes in commentary that when writing out a multi-part story, he doesn't think of an ending in conception because he prefers the story to flow organically. Sometimes it would create a storyline and resolution which would pleasantly surprise himself (such as the arc where Calvin decides to duplicate himself), but other times he would write himself into a corner.
  • Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, made up his stories as he went along. His maxim was that if even he didn't know where a story was going at the start, then his readers certainly wouldn't be able to guess. Once he forced himself into a corner that he, at first glance, could only solve by having the Dick tell Chester Gould to get him out of this situation and a giant hand erased the death trap. His syndicate publisher, Joseph Patterson, found it stupid so he told Gould to find another solution.
  • Herge said that this was how he worked on Tintin at the beginning of its life. He needed a new installment each Thursday and said that he often found himself working on it on Wednesday, not knowing how he'd get Tintin out of the mess he left him in last Thursday. He stopped doing this with The Blue Lotus and started plotting things out more fully.

    Music 
  • The entire concept of "jamming": musicians will spontaneously come up with music to match an overarching, usually repetitive, tune going off of nothing more than their instinctive abilities.
  • Elvis Costello recorded the album Momofuku in six days. He joked that "the record was made so quickly that I didn't even tell myself about it for a couple weeks."
  • David Bowie's preferred method of songwriting. Tony Visconti, his long-time producer, confirmed that Bowie would often come to the studio with just a few chord changes and write the lyrics and vocal melodies on the hoof.
    • Notably, his #1 hit collaboration with Queen, "Under Pressure" was the result of a single night spent jamming with them - which was very different from the usual manner in which Queen made music.
  • Post-Rock band Mogwai's first full-length album, Mogwai Young Team, contains 10 songs, only 3 of which had been written before the album's recording sessions began.
  • Talking Heads relied quite a bit on this for Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, and Naked, starting the songwriting process by jamming out for extended periods of time in the studio before piecing everything together from the results. This extends to the lyrics as well: frontman David Byrne would improvise the melodies and rhythms for the vocal parts by scatting along with the instrumentals, then stringing together thematically connected phrases based on what fit the resultant rhythms. This led to the songs on these albums leaning more heavily in the Word Salad Lyrics direction, most notably with the famously obtuse and tricky-to-learn lyrics to Speaking in Tongues opener "Burning Down the House".
  • Songwriter Rod Temperton, who composed Michael Jackson's hit "Thriller", wrote Vincent Price's spoken-word portion of the song mere hours before the recording session began! (The original idea had been for Price to essentially ad-lib "spooky" narration before producer Quincy Jones decided it would be better if he were to work from a script - a decision he made the day of.)
  • Martin O'Donnell, best known as the composer for the Bungie-era Halo games, tends to not write or compose music for projects until late in development, once the story, cutscenes, and level design have been finalized. The reason for this is because he doesn't like to waste work; writing music for levels or cutscenes that will get cut out or rearranged will either mess with the flow of a piece or become a pointless effort. Fast writing has worked for him in the past; the iconic Halo theme was written and recorded the same day it was sent to Bungie for E3 2000, and much of the acclaimed music for Halo 3 was described by him as "starting last minute".
  • Kurt Cobain felt lyrics were less important, and would often write or change the lyrics for Nirvana's songs at the last minute. On the other hand, he spent a long time on the music itself, especially the melodies.
  • One of the more well-known stage antics of Die Ärzte is to play around with their lyrics and sometimes even melodies in ways that may or may not be planned in advance. Given the amount of corpsing it usually involves, most are probably spontaneous.
  • Ben Folds is prone to improvising an entire song in concert whenever a fan tells him to ROCK THIS BITCH! Awesome enough, but then the new tour has Y Music, a classical group, accompanying him, taking it to a whole 'nother level of awesomeness.
  • Early U2 songs were often improvised by Bono on the spot (a famous example: "New Year's Day.")
  • The majority of Iron Maiden's album The Book of Souls was written, rehearsed once or twice, and then recorded right on the spot- mostly so the band could keep a feeling of freshness and spontaneity in the music. Only two songs were pre-planned- the two Dickinson compositions, "If Eternity Should Fail" (which was originally meant to be a solo album track) and the closing 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds" (which took at least a month or two to write and was composed on a piano).
  • Brian Eno would use this approach for writing lyrics for his vocal albums. He considers lyrics "unimportant", so he would improvise vocal lines with nonsense words and form them into lyrics.
  • George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue in five weeks. Around New Year's 1924, bandleader Paul Whiteman had asked him to write an extended Jazz-influenced symphonic piece for a concert to be held on February 12. Gershwin said no because that wouldn't leave him much time to polish it up. Whiteman went ahead and told the press that Gershwin was working on it anyway, forcing him to throw it all together quickly. The famous clarinet glissando that opens Rhapsody was a Throw It In! moment, after Gershwin heard Whiteman's clarinet player goofing around with the bit in rehearsal.
  • When Warrant frontman Jani Lane was asked by their label to write a "Love In An Elevator" style rock anthem, he quickly wrote the lyrics for what would become "Cherry Pie", their Signature Song, on an empty pizza box one night.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In pro wrestling jargon this trope is referred to as "hotshot booking" or "hotshotting." While there are many examples of hotshotting in the industry, one of the more famous occasions was during the WCW vs. WWF rivalry in the late '90s, when shows were often changed on the fly in response to something the competing federation was up to.
    • Vince Russo in particular became an even more notorious example during his stint as writer for WCW toward the end of the Monday Night War. Characters turned and won and lost titles so often that fans lost track, numerous angles were abandoned midstream (most famously Stacy Keibler's "pregnancy"), wrestlers would retire "forever" only to show up next episode (quick even by wrestling standards). There is a reason bad and nonsensical booking leads to chants of "Fire Russo!" even in promotions he's never worked for.
  • The position late 2013/early 2014 Daniel Bryan was in smacks of this. After setting up a seemingly interesting storyline between a now-heel Triple H (playing the Corrupt Corporate Executive) and a chosen champion Randy Orton, Bryan got shoved into the background of his own feud after the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view and basically sat on the sidelines (feuding with The Wyatt Family) during the run-up to the TLC event (where Orton and John Cena were scheduled to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight championships). Fan reaction towards this was overwhelmingly negative and only got louder when Batista returned and won the Royal Rumble (at a time when everyone expected Bryan to pull it off). Eventually this fan reaction hit home in the creative department and Bryan's very short two week face-heel-face turn in Januarynote  and the leadup to WrestleMania XXX is showing a drastic change in plans from the original blueprints. It's likely had things gone as were planned, the main event of Batista vs. Orton at WrestleMania would have been the end result.
  • The unexpected return of Roman Reigns' leukemia had a strong ripple effect on the booking plans of the entire main roster. Reigns had built up as the successor to John Cena for the last four years, and his hiatus (which had to be treated as a retirement thanks to the circumstances that made it happen) ruined all future plans they had for him. Dean Ambrose's planned Face–Heel Turn was sped up several weeks so he and Seth Rollins could help carry RAW's main event scene as the new top heel and top face, Braun Strowman made his second Heel–Face Turn that year to take Roman's spot as another top face, Brock Lesnar won his second Universal Championship after having lost it to Reigns two months prior, etc.. These were just the immediate effects, too; the true impact of his departure won't be felt until WrestleMania 35, which will be the first year since 2015 that Reigns is not going to be part of any of the main event or even semi-main event builds.
  • The worldwide 2020 Coronavirus pandemic would also drastically affect WWE plans for Reigns. Due to being immuno-compromised, Reigns elected to take a sabbatical from the company, just as he'd been pencilled in to wrestle Bill Goldberg for the Universe Championship at Wrestlemania 36. With only a week's notice, WWE slotted Braun Strowman into the match. Strowman went on to win the Universal title and carry the Smackdown brand all the way through the summer. Reigns not only returned to the company and reclaimed the championship in August, but he also finally turned heel in the process, creating a new and compelling 'Tribal Chief' character.
  • A subset of hotshot booking is "hotshot" title changes - title changes that happen fairly quickly and result in a number of different title reigns, often for no real reason. Like with hotshot booking, this is done either to cover for an injury or to change an angle on the fly. Unfortunately, such title changes - if they happen too often - can "devalue" the belts (in other words, fans will stop caring about who holds the titles, and thus stop caring about seeing wrestlers compete for the titles, making them worthless as an attraction). These kinds of title changes can also become somewhat predictable if used very often; if you know the belt's going to change hands every other week, why even bother to watch the champion defend their title? Hotshot title changes are one of the many reasons WCW is now out of business, and it's one of the many, many, many, many, many reasons TNA is so reviled amongst a good majority of the IWC.
    • An example of a hotshot title change from 2009: Jillian Hall defeats Mickie James to win the Divas Championship on the October 12 Raw. Her title reign lasts just a few short minutes, as Melina - just traded to Raw from Smackdown - comes in and wins the title in short order. (Of course, it was around this time rumors of WWE punishing Mickie for being too fat and/or behavioral issues came to light, which caused some fans to look at the hotshot reign as a punishment: rather than drop the title to Melina and look good in the process, Mickie dropped it to Jillian - essentially a Joke Character in WWE's Divas division - and had to watch Melina win it minutes later.)
    • One of the funniest examples prior to its retirement was the Hardcore Championship belt, which also carried a 24/7 defense rule - whoever owned the belt had to be paranoid about being ambushed anytime, anywhere, with such highlights as Crash Holly fighting off two opponents at Fun Times USA (a children's indoor playground), or the rapid-fire changing of the title during WrestleMania 18, where Christian wound up holding it for a brief span after unwittingly knocking out Molly Holly with a door.

    Radio 
  • This is how Douglas Adams wrote the original radio scripts for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Apparently, he'd often still be rewriting the ends of episodes as the cast was recording the beginning. According to a making-of feature, the actor who was supposed to play the Ruler of the Universe (who appears in the final minutes of the last episode of season two) actually went home because it took Adams so long to finish the script. The role was cast by handing the pages to the one actor still in the studio who didn't have another part in that scene. In fact, the second series' deadlines for the scripts were so tight that his producers essentially locked him in a hotel room to force him to hit them.
    • Adams would often lock himself in a small office next to the toilets to finish scripts. This, combined with the fact that the scripts were handed to the actors on little pieces of crinkly paper, led to the not unreasonable supposition among the cast that the scripts were written on toilet paper.
    • Extremely major characters were accidentally created this way - Zaphod Beeblebrox first appears in Fit The First as the person to whom a quote about Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters is attributed in one of the story's many Cutaway Gags, with the hint 'we will learn more of his wisdom later'. After having both Ford and Arthur chucked out of an airlock into space with no spacesuits as a cliffhanger just because he thought it would be funny, and being unable to come up with a solution for saving them that wasn't a total Deus ex Machina, he decided to exploit the improbability of their being saved by coming up with a spaceship powered entirely by improbability, creating the Infinite Improbability Drive. In order to find a pilot for the ship, he quickly grabbed the name Zaphod Beeblebrox to make it look like Foreshadowing, fleshed out his position in an interesting way, and added in the character of Trillian to act as a Doctor Who-like companion figure for him.

    Other 
  • NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge, actually advises this as a way to complete it. The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during the month of November; as such, some writing by the seat of your pants is not only expected but encouraged. "No Plot? No Problem!" is their official motto.
  • The Tsar Bomba was designed while it was being built, due to having mere weeks to build the biggest nuke ever detonated.
  • Various artistic-based organizations have festivals designed to test the flexibility, speed, and improvisational skills of those who enter, giving them a limited amount of time to complete a project that normally takes weeks or months. Theater groups have 12-24 hour festivals to write and develop a scene for the stage. Film societies have 48 Hour festivals where groups have two days to write, shoot, and edit a short film. Game jams are 24-hour festivals where game devs have to yadda yadda a finished game.
  • Scholastic competitive speech and debate has several events where, instead of a memorized speech, contestants get a different topic each round and have a limited amount of prep time before they begin speaking. In Impromptu Speaking, there's usually only a minute or two of preparation for a short speech on a quote or abstract concept. In Extemporaneous Speaking, after choosing a current events-related topic, speakers have a half-hour to do research and come up with a short speech. In Parliamentary Debate, two two-person teams get 20 minutes to prepare full cases for a debate that lasts around 40 minutes total.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pretty much everything in Magic: The Gathering that involved Urza, Phyrexia, or the Weatherlight was made up on the spot.

    Video Games 
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day had no formal script written for it. Chris Seavor improvised the game's entire story and cast as he went along. This was also the reason why he did almost all the voices in the game himself.
    "It would have meant writing a script and I'm far too lazy for that, so I made it up on the day. That's how most things get made...(Hitchcock was an anomaly)"
  • A podcast with Insomniac Games developer Mike Stout said that the original Ratchet and Clank game had no real writer on board for it. The game was written by animation director Oliver Wade and lead rigger John Lally and there was no long term plan for the story or lore—they just made up the story and characters as they went and carefully streamlined the story to make it seem like they were planned out from the start, even if they really weren't. For example, the opening cutscene was one of the last made for the game, and it was put in so late in development that they didn't even have time to record new dialogue for it.
    Mike Stout: The stories on the first two games were very loose, yeah. We usually knew pretty early on what all our levels would be, and we’d have a general idea of the plot. By that point, though, we’ve usually made 6 or so levels — the level design team works ahead. So the levels that are already made get retrofitted into the story as best we can. The script itself usually got written pretty late, and we didn’t have a dedicated writer on staff until RC 3 — so the scripts were written by people who were also doing other jobs In the case of RC 1 and 2, they were done by our animation lead Oliver (Wade) and one of the senior riggers, John (Lally). Starting in RC 3, we had a writer on staff and the planning and writing could happen earlier and faster. But the real fruits of this first paid off on R&C Future. And now, all these years later, the terrific story work they did on Spider Man (PlayStation 4) is a testament to how much the studio has grown in that area. That’s almost certainly true (the original story plan for R&C2 being very different from the final product). The stories got rewritten a lot. Since the cinematic didn’t come until later in the project there is some wiggle room there. Storyboards were done for every animated scene in those games — but I don’t remember doing storyboards for story development. A lot of games do that these days, but it was rare back then. We did a lot of animatics also, now that I think about it. Sliding around T-pose stuff. So maybe not every scene was storyboarded. It was nice because once you nail the blocking you can just add details on. Usually the faces and mouth sync would get done first, then the rest. But it’d all build on the animatic."
    • The rest of the games prior to Tools of Destruction (where they finally hired a professional writer to pen their scripts) had their stories made in a similar fashion. For example, one of the biggest plot points of Going Commando (that being Captain Qwark was the real villain along) wasn't added until midway through the game's development.
    • The story for every game in the series was only written when development for that title began, which was problematic in regards to the Future saga where the first entry, Tools of Destruction, ended in a cliffhanger that was partially elaborated on in Quest for Booty before finally being addressed in full in A Crack in Time. Certain elements in Tools such as Flint Vorselon and the Court of Azimuth were deliberately put into the game with the idea that they'd be expanded upon later.
  • This was the case with much of the Mass Effect series. Different interviews with writers across the series reveals that many things about the series' overall plot and some bits of lore was more or less constantly in flux and changed around quite a bit as members of the writing team were added or left (most notably the lead writer for the first Mass Effect, Drew Karpyshyn, left around half-way through the production of the second game and was replaced by Mac Walters). According to interviews in the interactive documentary about the third game, Final Hours, the (quite controversial) ending was not decided upon up until a few months before the game's release.
  • According to this video interview, Hunnid-P, the rapper for Knuckles' songs in Sonic Adventure 2, was only given one day to write and record his material for the game.
  • The relationship between the story and gameplay of the Uncharted series was often this trope, where cool level setpieces were devised first and then the story was written to justify getting there. While this mostly worked without the audience noticing, the seams came apart with the third game, Drake's Deception, particularly in regards to the shipyard and cruise ship arc that ultimately served no purpose to the gamenote .
  • Done in-universe in NieR: Automata, where the lyrics for the theme song to Emil's Shop are clearly just being made up on the spot by Emil.
  • Tetsuya Nomura has admitted to simply making up the story of Kingdom Hearts on the fly, which is probably the most logical explanation for Kingdom Hearts being one of the most notorious instances of Kudzu Plot in modern gaming.

    Web Animation 
  • The Daily Object Show and other similar "speed-run" Object Shows take this trope Up to Eleven, releasing new episodes within a day, or sometimes hours.note  To top it off, most of these shows involve some amount of viewer voting, making it harder to preplan everything.
  • This was the case for the first five episodes of Challenge to Win season 1. Instead of writing a script, the creator of the show (who also wrote these episodes) simply thought up a scene, animated it, then voiced it. In fact, the first episode was so disorganized from this style of writing that the prize of the first season was changed from a beach to a magic lamp later during the first season's production.
  • Red vs. Blue started like this, as Burnie Burns first thought of six episodes, then expanded to eight, and ultimately a full 19 episode season (that led to a still ongoing series) as he kept having new ideas, with major plot events (Church dying, Tex being a woman) conceived shortly before they were filmed. To avert a repeat, before production on the second season started Burnie and Matt Hullum did a rough plot outline, leaving only the individual scripts to be done on a short-term basis.

    Webcomics 
  • Bob and George, especially at the beginning, when it was just filler.
  • Check, Please!'s creator has stated that she has planned the most important plot point very thoroughly, but everything in between is pretty much this.
  • Penny Arcade is written without a Strip Buffer, so the creators can stay up-to-date on gaming news. Different reason for the trope, same idea. It helps that it's a gag-a-day strip, rather than needing any sort of continuity.
  • Interactive Comics:
    • MS Paint Adventures, especially in the earlier adventures. The latest adventure, Homestuck, is the only one to have any sort of planning before being written, having started with the four central characters, their weapons of choice, some general game mechanics, and a handful of plot points, including an ending, worked out beforehand. The rest of the universe-spanning, time-traveling, chronology-fucking, nearly 9000 pages of extremely convoluted plot has been made along the way.
    • Silent Hill: Promise is written similarly to MS Paint Adventures, updating daily using commands from readers.
  • Questionable Content gets points for being a Monday through Friday comic that is not only drawn without a Strip Buffer but is written and drawn by Jeph Jacques literally the night before. Sometimes if he's struck by a burst of inspiration, he'll do two comics in a day, waiting to post the second one, and sometimes if he's stuck for an idea he won't start drawing until 3 AM...
  • This is David Willis' method of writing, as he goes into detail about here
  • Webcomic The Truth About Bleach mocks Bleach's tendency to do this:
    Karin: (Trying to pick up on a dropped plot point) Can I get in there and continue the plot.
    Kubo: Screw the plot! The rankings dropped! Now I'm drawing this!
    Karin: See, this is the kind of plot hole-inducing mindset we were talking about before.
  • Ursula Vernon has gone on record as saying she expected Digger to be over in the first twelve pages or so. Needless to say, it wasn't— it took four years and almost eight hundred pages for Digger's story to be fully told, and that's not counting the side stories that went in the printed editions.
    The Rant: On the off chance that anybody thinks that this is the end of a dreadfully cunning six-year plan, conceived when first I wrote the lines about the lefthand names of God and purple ink - let me just say "BWHAAHAHAHAHA...no."
  • Repeatedly on the forum for The Whiteboard, Doc Nickel has admitted that he makes up the strips as they go, without any previous planning. This has occasionally resulted in an Aborted Arc like one year's Thanksgiving storyline.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja may or may not be this. Observe...
    Dr. McNinja: I should leave. How...do I leave?
    (Establishing Shot of McNinja imprisoned in a small circular cell chained to the ocean floor)
    Alt Text: Ha ha, honestly I haven't figured that out yet. Good luck.
  • Zombie Roomie: The author makes it clear he never really plans out any of his stories and just writes from life experiences more or less. This is the reason why some story arcs pause mid-way through for some irrelevant one-shots.
  • Forest Hill: The author originally planned for the comic to mostly be a lighthearted slice of life comic, until the author realized that the violent and possibly sexual behavior of The Bully Benni, could be a sign that he was being abused. This ends up turning into a Plot Tumor, as Benni became a main character and the comic begins a story arc dealing with the topic of child abuse. The author eventually added a content warning to the website due to the comic no longer being appropriate for children to read without permission from a parent.
  • Brian Clevinger stated he never does this, saying he always starts from the ending and works his way backwards, and even called this habit out in his annotated 8-Bit Theater script, specifically once he sets up an anti-climactic Brick Joke that would only be concluded 9 years and over 1000 strips later.

    Web Original 
  • Many online roleplays.
  • Though the main beats of BIONICLE's story were planned out years or at least months in advance, many smaller segments were written like this, chiefly the unfinished 2007-2011 online serials. The writer admitted he hated planning ahead because he always tried to surprise himself as if he were listening to someone else's story, and because he wanted the characters to change organically rather than forcing them to do things the plot demands. This has caused a stir among fans, as not only did it leave the official story with about a dozen unresolved plot threads and loads of haphazard retcons after the franchise's cancellation, but the writer actively encouraged his audience of kids to write this way.
  • Darwin's Soldiers: Serris states that nearly everything he write was improvised on the fly, including the two sequels.
  • Mr. Mendo's Hack Attack, nowadays, is completely improvised and more or less created entirely through the editing process. Ironically, this has led to new episodes coming out more frequently.
  • Wildbow, author of Worm, makes a point of this as one way of making the writing process more interesting for himself. Virtually every chapter of Worm is written just the day before publishing, often finishing shortly before the midnight deadline, and he has set himself a minimum length of 6000 words. He has missed an update only twice-both by mere minutes, and both times due to technical issues.
    • Despite this, much of the plot itself was planned out prior to writing; Interlude 26 had been planned for since the very beginning, according to Word of God.
  • The storyline "manga" on Gaia Online tells an unbelievably convoluted story. It's so twisty and swerve-y, in fact, that the writers and artists responsible for pushing out storyline updates have joked that even they stopped paying attention to what happens at some point or other.
  • Moonflowers was essentially written from the summary, with a loose plot outline that runs on Rules Lawyering, Loophole Abuse, and Rule of Scary. This is largely due to the antagonists being The Fair Folk, who aren't known for conforming to human logic.
  • The Vinesauce Tomodachi Life series is a rare case where this is enforced. Tomodachi Life leaves many events and outcomes to the Random Number God, so any number of plot twists and character traits are established with no real foreshadowing (for the most part). Since Vinny is livestreaming the game and can't save scum his way out of certain events, he ends up being just as surprised as the viewers are by them. Essentially, the series writes itself on the fly. Around Episode 47, near the start of the Jahn invasion, Vinny starts playing the game offscreen to manipulate things to demonstrate the Jahn's takeover. Even then, he still relies on coincidental random events to strengthen the plot.
  • In the Hobo Bros' "Hobo Theatre" videos, this is the whole point. Luke has to tell a story using Garry's Mod props and characters while Kevin reads a list of words or phrases that Luke has to work into the story.
  • The first season of Red vs. Blue had Burnie Burns starting to write an episode after the previous one's release, coming up on the fly with some of the twists (Church dying, Tex being a woman). And given this kept on pushing some of Burnie's original ideas, it even made the six-episode series instead become a 19 episode season of a still running show. This was reduced in the follow-ups, as pre-production always started by making an outline for the whole season before jumping on to individual episodes.
  • Homestar Runner's Strong Bad Emails, being a Fourth-Wall Mail Slot series, was this by necessity in the early days, when there might only be one message worth answering any given week, but continued to rely on last-minute execution right up until the long hiatus, with episodes often being finished in the wee hours of the morning the day it went up. Most famously, "dragon" was originally going to cut straight from Strong Bad burning his brother's drawing to wrapping up the email at his computer, but then Matt improvised the Trogdor song at "4 or 5 o'clock on Monday" while making breakfast and they knew they had to make it a whole thing.
  • Due to its collaborative nature, Sagan 4's contributors often have no idea what will happen in the future and they can even get in the way of one another's plans and ideas. Although extinction events and plate tectonics are planned ahead by the moderators, these can sometimes be influenced and even changed in unpredictable ways by the actions of contributors as well, though this is much rarer.
    • Among extinction events, the death of Mason in particular, despite being planned from the start, actually could have been prevented if the right organisms had been submitted, which would have forced Hydromancerx to continue updating the map and ecosystem for the moon.

Alternative Title(s): Discovery Writing

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