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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

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 the least.

Others just sit down at their word processor and type whatever comes into their head. This trope 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?


This does not always happen voluntary, 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.


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. 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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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk author Kentaro Miura said he hadn't even formed the idea for the Band of the Hawk or Casca when he drew Guts' confrontation with the God Hand in volume 3, and there were a lot of details that he made up as he went along but which fell into place later. In fact, it fits together so well that it's surprising to learn he didn't plan everything ahead in great detail. A prime example is that the creepy fetus Guts sees in the first three volumes wasn't originally supposed to be Guts and Casca's child, but Miura later realized that this would work really well and made it into an important Recurring Character. Oddly enough, Miura has also claimed that he's had the entirety of the Berserk story planned out in his head since high school.
  • Writer Tsugumi Ohba admitted that this was pretty much the way he wrote Death Note: he'd write Light into a massive jam at the end of one chapter, and would then try and figure out how to get him out of it only when the time came to write the next one.
  • The writers of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann admitted, regarding the flash-forward prologue the series never got to, that they "lost that plot thread somewhere".
  • Bleach: Tite Kubo has admitted to using a combination of this and arc planning. However, he is infamous for using this trope and for his special use of Chandler's Law: "When suffering writer's block, introduce a new awesome character to overcome it". The trouble is, he doesn't actually introduce a new character, he introduces a new ''horde'" of characters instead. Loads and Loads of Characters ensue.
  • Hidenori Kusaka does this in regards to Pokémon Adventures, as he has to write alongside whatever games just came out. What really makes him impressive, however, is that he doesn't work for Game Freak yet the series has a large amount of generation-spanning Arc Welding and Chekhov's Guns. Fans joke that he can see into the future.
  • Osamu Tezuka wrote Ambassador Atom (the prototype for Astro Boy) as he went along. Notably, he had no idea who "Atom" would be, until he later decided to write him as a robot built to replace Tenma's deceased son. He would later Retool Atom into his current incarnation and subsequently redid the story as an episode of Astro Boy.
  • Rumiko Takahashi admitted not planning and not knowing where her manga was going during the supposedly final battle with Naraku in Inuyasha or with RIN-NE in general.
  • Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame has admitted that he made up the story as he went along.note  The fact that this worked is quite impressive but led to numerous plot holes and inconsistencies over the years.
    • The Trope Codifier of the Super Mode, the Super Saiyan, actually didn't have much thought put into its design at all. Toriyama's only real idea was that Goku would start using villainous expressions when he entered the state. The golden hair was a last-second suggestion by a co-artist, to save time on having to continue filling in his black hair. The original idea for the Super Saiyan was based on a moment in Dr. Slump, and could be seen in Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug.
    • The Cell Saga is a particularly funny example: he originally intended Androids 19 and 20 to be the main villains, created Androids 17 and 18 after his former editor complained that they were lame, and created Cell after the same former editor said they weren't threatening enough. Then he introduced Cell's semi-perfect form when the editor hated Imperfect Cell's insectoid appearance. THEN he insisted they hurry up to Cell's perfect form when the editor thought his semi-perfect one looked too goofy.
    • Perhaps most legendary of all is the unexplained disappearance of the character Launch starting with the Saiyan Arc. Toriyama eventually admitted that while he did intentionally put her aside for that arc, between all the stuff he had to keep track of while trying to make up the continuing story out of thin air, he just plain forgot she even existed (not helped by the fact that the story follows select characters to planet Namek, and it wouldn't return to Earth for over two years!).
    • The actual results of each Tenkaichi Budokai match were made up as each one was being written, which Toriyama found more exciting to write.
    • A notable aversion is the reveal that Piccolo and Kami are aliens. When Toriyama introduced Kami half a year after Piccolo, he decided on their extraterrestrial origins, but it wouldn't actually be revealed for over a year after that. Notably, a moment at the 23rd Tournament had the two speak to each other in an alien language, a rare moment of long-term foreshadowing in the series.
    • Toriyama isn't the only one guilty of this: when creating the Z movies in the 90s, Toei would come up with the subtitle of the movie first, then write the story based on that! This explains why the Meta-Cooler movie is titled "Clash!! 10,000,000,000 Powerful Warriors", and others get rather generic subtitles like "A Super Decisive Battle for Earth" for the Tree of Might movie. This also explains why so many of them are Non-Serial Movies, even with each other!
    • A more recent example is Dragon Ball Super's Universe Survival Saga. Toriyama and his collaborator Toyotaro decided that they wanted an 80-person battle royale tournament, but only designed four characters for itnote : Ribrianne and the three main Pride Troopers Jiren, Toppo, and Dyspo. All of the other characters' designs were created by various Toei staffers, who also helped flesh them out: Toriyama only designed Ribrianne as a Fat Girl, while Toei staff suggested making her a parody Magical Girl based off of their work on Pretty Cure. However, in other ways the trope is averted: Toriyama's original draft for the story included a full beginning-to-end write-up that covered the main plot points, what happened to every member of Team Universe 7, and even Freeza being called in to replace Majin Buu when the latter falls asleep.
    • This happened in other places in Super as well: During the Future Trunks Saga, Toriyama wasn't keen on the idea of bringing back Vegetto, saying that there was no way Vegeta would agree to it, but Toyotaro convinced him to go through with it by saying that they could make it meaningful.
  • Much like its initial influence Fist of the North Star, Hirohiko Araki has admitted that he's been essentially making up JoJo's Bizarre Adventure as he goes. While this is impressive in that the story likes to make a lot of callbacks, it does explain the more "villain of the week" format that was in much of parts 3-5.
  • While Eiichiro Oda of the One Piece fame certainly doesn't improvise plot all the time, he may actually be doing it more often than his fans - who almost worship him for his use of Chekhov's Armory - realize. He has admitted that some things were made up more or less on the spot:
    • Vivi wasn't supposed to be the series' best-known princess and honorary Straw Hat at first. She was just supposed to be a generic, short-lived Arc Villain even though The Reveal about her being a princess came a few chapters later, meaning that Oda made that up rather spontaneously. This is why her face completely changes design between two scenes, going from harsh and sharp-eyed to soft and wide-eyed.
    • Trafalgar Law was introduced extremely suddenly along with the other Supernovae because Oda's editor wanted him to make some interesting characters for the Sabaody arc. So even though he's a very significant character in Doflamingo's arc, his involvement wasn't planned during Doflamingo's first few appearances, neither was the fact that he's a D.
    • Downplayed with the Going Merry: She was originally supposed to be the Straw Hats' ship for the whole series. Then Oda realized how underwhelming the little caravel looked compared to the ginormous enemy ships, and decided to "kill" her off and let the Straw Hats have a bigger ship. Still, her "death" was planned a couple of years before it actually happened, but it wasn't planned when she was introduced.
  • Bakuman。 is a series about fictional manga creators by the same authors as the aforementioned Death Note, and it portrays nearly every writer at Weekly Shonen Jump as making things up as they go, mostly because they spend so long with their series on the verge of cancellation. The clearest demonstration comes when the main two characters realize the best ending to a chapter was the revelation that its events were caused by an earlier chapter, even though they planned no such thing when the earlier chapter was written.
  • Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto stated that he'd made Madara Uchiha so powerful that he had no clue how he could be defeated. Eventually, he came to a solution: having him be stabbed in the back by a Diabolus ex Nihilo, who was even stronger but easier to defeat due to inexperience.
  • Hiro Mashima admits he's had a weird relationship with this trope to varying degrees depending on his work.
    • Rave Master: This only happened in minor doses as he was planning ahead, with the only major change being the first quarter of the manga where he jumped into his planned Final Battle as per his editor's suggestion to boost reader interest. After switching out the Big Bad with another, Mashima was able to correct course relatively smoothly, with the rest of the manga playing out more or less exactly as he wanted from the second half onward.
    • Fairy Tail: Plays this completely straight, with the one pre-determined story element being The Hero's search for the dragon who raised him. Everything else—from the reasons for said dragon's disappearance to entire story arcs—was made up on the fly, though not without Foreshadowing; it's just that the things he foreshadowed were typically either made up at that moment or weren't worked out yet.
    • EDENS ZERO: According to Mashima, it lies somewhere in between his levels of planning for Rave Master and Fairy Tail, setting specific characters and story beats in stone while making up everything in between. Some of his plans have wound up being slightly distorted because of this, with certain characters being introduced earlier than anticipated.
  • Miki Yoshikawa of Flunk Punk Rumble and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches has stated that she and her editor usually only planned the story one chapter at a time and had little idea of what would happen in future chapters. In most cases, anyway; there are some reveals - such as Miyamura's reason to transfer to Suzaku and Nancy's secret - that have so much foreshadowing that they were clearly planned several chapters in advance.
  • A Downplayed example with Neon Genesis Evangelion. The show was put into product with a plot that had more or less been outlined from start to finish, and the series did by and large follow this outline to begin with. However, much of the second half of said plot outline had to be scrapped and rewritten from scratch during production, as some crucial scenes had an unintentional similarity to the Aum Shinrikyo cult's terrorist gas attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. The latter half of production also happened to be at the same time the series creator Hideaki Anno was undergoing heavy treatment for his clinical depression, the experience of which also started to creep into the scripts. As a result, the show started seriously deviating from its original plans around Episode 16, resulting in the Mind Screw sequences the latter part of the show is (in)famous for.
  • The reason the Lupin III series even exists; according to Monkey Punch, he wanted to create a manga but had no idea what he wanted to make a manga of. When the publishers he applied for asked what he wanted to make, he hadn't thought of it, but felt like he had to give an answer right there, or else he wouldn't get the job (though whether or not that would have actually been the case is unknown). His quick answer was that he wanted to make something like Arsène Lupin. The publishers approved of it, he was allowed to create the manga, and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • The author of Gravitation outright admitted in the author's notes for one of the later volumes that she had no idea what she was writing and was basically just making it up on the fly.
  • According to this interview, Hayao Miyazaki's films go into production before he's finished storyboarding them, or even deciding how the rest of the story will even play out.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • X-Men:
  • 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.
  • Parodied in Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC, where Mr. Aragonés, 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".
  • Catwoman has an In-Universe example: in a 1990's 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.

    Fan Works 
  • The author of Garfield in: "Along Came a Splut" apparently said that while the general idea of the story sat in his head for a while, the actual story was written in half an hourand it shows.
  • Nimbus Llewelyn, author of The Wizard in the Shadows (a The Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter crossover) and Child of the Storm (a Harry Potter/The Avengers (2012) crossover) note , has cheerfully noted a proclivity for doing this, particularly in Child of the Storm. This is despite numerous mentions in the A/N's of Child of the Storm of a grand plan and a well-earned reputation for both grand scale World Building which invariably involves putting his own unique spin on various characters ranging from the familiar to the deeply obscure, a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot and a Chekhov's Armoury fit to challenge J. K. Rowling herself. The general gist is that the grand plan, the framework, is intact, while the details are subject to change. These 'details' have included several major characters, with fan favourite Diana being thrown in on a whim at quite literally the last minute and other popular characters, such as Harry Dresden and Carol Danvers being added at similarly short notice.
    • And even the grand plan is admitted to be subject to change: the original intention was for a much more Hogwarts focused tale and it to ship Harry/Ginny, then the author noted that he didn't like this idea and was having difficulty writing his way out of it, before having a eureka moment and succeeding, maintaining Harry/Ginny as a first relationship, before finally discarding it entirely. So far, he's managed to avoid overt plot holes, mostly thanks to Exact Words, a talent for repurposing previous plot points and a habit of writing a very long way ahead in the series, meaning that any scene that's posted has a reasonable chance of having been written and rewritten a dozen times until it is considered satisfactory. On the other hand, it can just as easily be a more literal reading of this trope and written at the last minute, just before the fic goes up.
      • The original plan was for a much more conventional crossover fic covering up to the 7th HP book, approximately 100-150,000 words long, shipping Harry/Sif of all things. When this was revealed, the first book, covering 3rd Year, was approximately 600,000 words long. This was, needless to say, considered Hilarious in Hindsight.
  • The writer of Strike Witches Quest, Planefag, has admitted a few times to doing this quite a bit and that it has gotten him into trouble of the plot hole sort.
  • This backfired on the writer of the Kingdom Hearts/My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic crossover Heart of Equestria, who was promptly overwhelmed by the various plots they introduced and ultimately cancelled the fic.
  • Rainbow Factory as it went on. The author even stated that he was inspired by a song with the same name and thought to himself it would make a good Dark Fic.
  • How the first Yognapped was written. It was first set as though Simon Lane and Lewis Brindley of the Yogscast's real-life counterparts were playing Minecraft and commentating, but moved on to an actual post-Shadow of Israphel universe with the characters of Simon and Lewis' Minecraft avatars, alternating in-between for several chapters before settling on the latter. This led to some plot holes that the writer has attempted to Retcon, with varying degrees of success.
  • The creator of Origin Story admits that, while he began with a carefully plotted outline, the story left the outline in the dust in the middle of Chapter Four and that these days, he's writing whatever comes to him to write, as it occurs to him to write it. That said, he's still managed to put together an intricately constructed and emotionally engaging story, and it absolutely does not look like he's been improvising for the majority of the story.
  • The writer of Gimme Shelter admitted he came up with the idea for the story after seeing a picture of the protagonist, Fleur de Lis, standing in the rain with no raincoat or umbrella then wrote the story in full within a few hours of having the idea.
  • According to Amoridere for Kill la Kill AU, some of the stories are typically thought out, at least to some degree, whereas others are ideas that "just show up" and she runs with them, which is to say, partially improvised, especially with the dialogue. Likewise, she does the same for the Gensokyo 20XX series.
  • This has become more or less par for the course for Lady Norbert's stories, particularly the ones in series form. She never intentionally writes a series; she writes what is supposed to be a stand-alone story, and then the sequels announce themselves within days of its completion - often connecting back to details in the earlier story/stories which were not intended to have later repercussions. In her own words, "My stories tend to be smarter than I am. I'm honestly not this clever."
  • The Legend of Total Drama Island:
    • Although this story generally has a good deal of planning by fanfic standards, the author will sometimes run with spur-of-the-moment ideas, especially in ancillary scenes. Bridgette’s dream sequence note , the makeover scene before the camping challenge and the dancing at the boot camp party are acknowledged examples of elaborate scenes with little or no planning.
    • Scenes added for the purpose of error correction have little planning, due to the time constraints which necessitate such scenes in the first place. The author has acknowledged two notable examples:
      • In the first Boney Island challenge, Chris was meant to warn the contestants during the challenge briefing (as per canon) that a curse would befall anyone who took anything from the Indian Burial Ground located there. For whatever reason, the author forgot to include that bit and didn't discover the oversight until well after posting the chapter. Rather than go back and quietly revise the scene, the author wrote a scene for the following chapter wherein one contestant who happens to know the legend warns another who has innocently picked up an artifact from the area. This approach gave the reader the same information as the intended scene and had the benefit of giving the resident Motor Mouth another “mind dump” monologue.
      • The dancing at the boot camp party was an elaborate scene added at the 11th hour, so naturally, at the 59th minute, the author discovered a serious problem with it, namely what the scene made Tyler do behind his new girlfriend's back. A hasty repair job ensued, resulting in the "damage control" discussion the next day and the scene on the Boat of Losers with the eliminated player and the interns engaged to implement the damage control plan.
  • There was a fanfic called Ghost of a Chance, a Teen Titans & Danny Phantom AU fic. Written by the writers of the Assassin's Creed Novelizations, the fic was originally started with an intent to practice being creative after all the restrictions they placed on themselves in writing "truly historically accurate" adaptations of the first five Assassin's Creed games. In fact, part of the reason they stopped novelizing was that they felt their extensive research into society, events and character development outside the gameplay was sapping their writer's energy. So, they started this crossover with an idea for a scene: Jazz is telling Robin to, "Tell Danny I'm alive" and they planned to just run with what happens from there. However, when they reached chapter 10, they came to a horrible realization. When they brought in the Justice League into their story, they realized they were going to have to start referencing the wider DC universe much more heavily instead of just the Titans universe. This proved problematic as they were casual fans of both shows, but were utterly under-practiced when it came to all the intricacies of the wider DC universe. And after coming down from the Assassin's Creed stories, they chickened out and instead began trying to wrap the fic up as fast as they could. Thus several potential plot threads were rushed through or expositioned to death in order to reach an ending where they could take a deep breath and relax again.
  • The writer of Intercom has stated that when they first started the fic, she was just interested in getting down on paper a fic where Riley could hear her emotions before anyone else so she wouldn't feel overshadowed in the process. Inside Out hadn't even been released when she started it! Thankfully, by the time chapter 3 was released, the author had seen Inside Out, and thus began "fine tuning" her universe so as to better match up with the movie, and to eventually have a planned ending in mind (or so she claims). Funny enough, one WMG on her tvtropes page accuses her of not actually being in control of the story, but instead relying on fans to do the work for her, which is what this trope is almost about. Then again, since every 3rd WMG, reviewer comment, and headscratcher ends up used or addressed in-story, it's quite possible that this trope is still in effect, and we just have a case of a Lying Creator.
    • On another note, the author admitted that some of the experiences in Imagination Land were taken from fan suggestions and that the term for Riley's Unique white tinged memories that she creates was taken from a fan's musings on their meaning.
  • At first the actual reason for Citadel of the Heart having this trope apply at times was more so the fact the ending of the story is given much more priority and thought out plans as to how it'll happen rather than everything that happens between then and the beginning, and the continuity aspects also take priority next after that. The author has more or less stated it isn't incredibly hard for him to more or less completely rewrite stuff that happens in the middle of the story from the original intent and yet keep things as close the end result for the end of a given fic regardless, but the success of this he isn't certain about, and for good reason; once Truth and Ideals was finished as the first completed fic he's ever worked on, the author had suffered a Creator Breakdown which ended up influencing his remaining fics up all the way to July 2018 due to the sheer fatigue of finishing a story as big as Truth and Ideals, which only made the Origins Episode Crazy Carousal all the more delayed because the author openly states due to only barely beginning to recover from the fatigue of writing Truth and Ideals, he just doesn't have the energy to work on Crazy Carousal any time soon, and highly doubts he'll get to work on it until perhaps as late as 2020.

  • Charlie Chaplin never used scripts when making his movies — his films would always be made by constant trial and error at his own expense, focusing on the personality of the characters rather than the story. Even his features only used a little pre-planning for the story, but no fully written scripts. The one exception was Monsieur Verdoux which had a script by Orson Welles. Chaplin rewrote it to fit his interests, but otherwise retained Welles' structure.
  • According to the book The Disaster Artist, everything that fans love about The Room was ad libbed. Tommy Wiseau was writing, directing, casting, rewriting, and acting by the seat of his pants, practically making up the film as he went.
  • Casablanca was being written as it was filmed. Some things had to be changed to comply with The Hays Code, and it took a while to come up with a satisfying ending.
  • In Iron Man, the actors came up with so many good things on-set that halfway through they just threw away the script (having previously rewritten it every night) and instead wrote outlines of each scene instead. Jeff Bridges said that it felt weird doing it this way, then realized that he had to treat it "like a 200 million dollar student film".
  • The second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies were both being written as they were filmed.
  • Tim Burton's Batman (1989) was constantly being expanded, edited, and rewritten. Burton himself once recounted a situation wherein he had The Joker take Vicki Vale hostage and move into the Church, with no idea what to do storywise after that point.
  • David Lynch infamously wrote Inland Empire scene by scene during filming. What effect this had on the film's (lack of) coherence is up to debate. Seeing as it's David Lynch, however, it really doesn't matter too much.
  • The 90's movie of The Fugitive was largely made this way, on the fly—although one would never suspect by watching it, as it looks very carefully planned.
  • The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was shot like that. Even as the cameras kept rolling, scenes and plots were being rewritten again and again - some versions of the script reached not just the double digits, but went up to 40 and above. Actors frequently got their lines only the night before the shooting and major revisions resulted in whole scenes being re-shot. Ironically, the writers insist that each iteration was ultimately closer to Tolkien's work and even stated that some of the remaining controversial changes might have been gone too, had they not reached a deadline by then.
  • Befitting its chaotic production schedule, Apocalypse Now was made largely with this and Throw It In!. Francis Ford Coppola didn't even have an ending, as he'd considered John Milius' ending (Willard joins Kurtz, and the film ends with Kurtz shooting at American warplanes bombing his temple while screaming about his erection) ridiculous. This, and much more, is shown in the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
  • Scanners was written like this, which was forced upon David Cronenberg because of the way the production had to be structured due to financing reasons. There was virtually no pre-production, so he had to start shooting with an unfinished script. He would write in the morning, and film the rest of the day, mostly out of order. On top of that, they often had to drive around at random, looking for places to shoot scenes. So literally everything about Scanners was done by the seat of their pants. He talks about it at some length in Cronenberg on Cronenberg.
  • Stranger Than Fiction has an in-universe example. We see Karen Eiffel writing Death and Taxes while she's still trying to figure out the ending.
  • Lawrence of Arabia. Shooting was just about to start when David Lean threw out Michael Wilson's original script completely. Robert Bolt was brought on to rewrite the script as filming began. As a result, the movie was filmed almost chronologically - a rarity then or indeed now, especially on such a large-scale film.
  • Stanley Kubrick seemed to be this for many of the cast members during production of The Shining. He would often spend the morning before shooting on completely re-writing the scenes that were to be shot that day, causing more than one of the actors to almost have a nervous breakdown, although that was a combination of this and Kubrick's perfectionism on takes. It has been argued, given his chess background, that this and other psychological tactics on the shoot were him being a Magnificent Bastard to get the performances he wanted.
  • During one of his Q&As, Kevin Smith admitted to have written Red State without a clear plan in mind. He only had two thoughts in his head: the overall topic (a horror movie inspired by a Fred Phelps interview), and the idea that the audience nowadays has already seen every story and knows every formula and cliché. The challenge he gave himself was to jump to a different scene with a different set of characters the moment he knew where the scene he was currently writing could be heading.
  • Aaron Sorkin wrote The Social Network as Ben Mezrich was writing the book it was based upon The Accidental Billionaires because David Fincher optioned the project based simply on a book proposal. Mezrich would write a chapter and hand it off to Sorkin, who would then write the screenplay based on it.
  • Basic Instinct went from initial story idea to final draft in ten days without the use of a computer.
  • Clifford Odets was hired on short notice to rewrite the script to Sweet Smell of Success. As soon as he had finished writing a scene in his hotel room, it was rushed to the location for director Alexander Mackendrick to shoot. According to Burt Lancaster biographer Gary Fishgall, pages were distributed to the crew after they had been shot
  • The ending to Being There came about because of a comment that Hal Ashby made to a friend about how impressive Peter Sellers was in his performance and his willingness to try new things: "I could have this guy walking on water at the end of the film!"
  • Richard Linklater noted that the script for some scenes in Boyhood was finished the night before they were to be filmed.
  • Production on Days of Thunder began without a finished script; scenes were often written the day of filming. During one driving sequence, Tom Cruise actually had to read his lines off cue cards attached to his windshield, which resulted in a minor car accident. For subsequent driving sequences, Cruise was fitted with a special earpiece to have lines fed to him.
  • The script for Death Wish 4: The Crackdown was rewritten during filming. Charles Bronson constantly had problems with the dialog and he requested further rewrites of certain items of dialogue and action scenes. Writer Gail Morgan Hickman recalled going through several rewrites on a daily basis.
  • Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda did not write a full script for Easy Rider and made most of it up as they went along. They didn't hire a crew but instead picked up hippies at communes across the country, and used friends and passersby to hold the cameras and were drunk and stoned most of the time.
  • While making 8 Mile, Eminem had very little time to work on "Lose Yourself" while shooting the film and used any given opportunity to have a pen and paper in front of him to scribble down lyrics. In some cases, he was writing as he was being filmed, such as Jimmy's ride home on the city bus after his first rap battle.
  • The script for Gilda wasn't finished when filming began. According to the film's choreographer, the pages would arrive on the day they were to be filmed and it was mostly made up on the spot.
  • Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers - the man in black's identity was constantly changing due to producers not knowing whether or not he would be a blood relative of Michael Myers.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series:
  • Streets of Fire originally ended with Diane Lane singing Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Fire" - this was actually filmed. However, just before production finished, Universal admitted they wouldn't get the rights to the song by the release date. Walter Hill then asked Jim Steinman to write a replacement; he wrote "Tonight Is What It Means to be Young" in two days. Hill wrote and shot the new ending in the few days remaining.
  • Much of the Dwarves vs. Smaug scene at the end of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was filmed without any real idea of what they were trying to represent because the decision had been made to make three films instead of two and they suddenly needed a cliffhanger. Only after shooting a lot of reaction shots and running around did Peter Jackson have the idea of them using the foundries to try to smother Smaug in gold.
  • John Woo went into filming The Killer with only a short treatment for the film and wrote the details of the script while filming.
  • 28 Days Later:
    • The original plan was to reveal that the virus had spread worldwide. Midway through shooting, they opted to change things to keep the virus more ambiguous. Since the film was shot almost entirely in-sequence, this is the reason for Sgt Farrell's dialogue theorizing the quarantine. The sequel confirms his theory.
    • The entire second half of the original script was scrapped; originally the heroes find that the beacon is automated and there are no actual survivors around, and coincidentally end up at the same research station the infected animals were released from. One scientist is still alive there and informs them that the infection can be cured by replacing every drop of blood in the person's body with someone else's, leaving them to be infected instead. The crew quickly realized how ridiculous this was ("What do you do, clean out every capillary and vein with bleach?") and quickly came up with the story of the soldiers to replace it.
  • Star Wars:
    • Zigzagged with the original trilogy. After the success of A New Hope, an outline was created planning possibly nine films. However, while the sequel was being written, the hired writer died, leading George Lucas to a Creator Breakdown that made him change things around (most importantly, Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader became the same character, and the film would become Episode V of IX), and also push some elements to the sixth (namely the revelation of Luke's sister and the appearance of the Emperor) - which in turn would become the Grand Finale as Lucas decided to just end at 6 films, though the prequels would take a while to appear.
    • After the release of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson revealed that there was little forward planning being done with the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and he'd had to come up with several payoffs to things from The Force Awakens on his own. Most notably, he said that the next film could very well retcon his own idea of Rey's parents not being anyone special, although Daisy Ridley also said that the one answer J. J. Abrams had in mind was about Rey's parents, and it was the same as Johnson's. As it turned out in The Rise of Skywalker, while Abrams was fine leaving Rey's parents "nobodies", he still made her grandfather somebody, as in Emperor Palpatine, who himself wasn't even originally intended to return and become the overall Big Bad in the first draft of the script. Additionally, some of Johnson's developments helped the departure of original Episode IX writer-director, Colin Trevorrow, because some of his ideas were now incompatible with what happened in The Last Jedi.
    • This tradition was tragically enforced after the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher (Leia), who was supposed to have a huge planned role in The Rise of Skywalker. Her death (and Rian Johnson's decision to leave her final performance intact instead of altering the film to kill Leia) reportedly left the writers scrambling. They ultimately brought back some unused shots of her from The Force Awakens to cobble together an ending for her arc.
    • Some time after the sequel trilogy ended, Daisy Ridley revealed that Abrams was actually still writing major parts of Rise basically in real time during filming. In particular, he had tremendous trouble making up his mind whether to make Rey Palpatine's granddaughter or just stick with Rian Johnson's version, with Ridley having no idea for most of the production which way she should be playing the scenes.
  • Rather surprisingly given their typical high-quality work and tight scripts, Pixar does it all the time. One of them described it as jumping out of a plane and hoping you can build a parachute on the way down. However, this has less to do with time constraints and more with how much every aspect of the film is done and re-done until making further changes would be unfeasible, just to make them as perfect as possible.
  • Jaws, which Richard Dreyfuss described as having started "without a script, without a cast, and without a shark", had the script for each scene typically finished the night before it was shot, after writer/actor Carl Gottlieb had dinner with Steven Spielberg and members of the cast and crew to decide what would go into the film, and often incorporated improvisations that happened there.
  • Kevin Williamson had always intended for the Scream series to be a trilogy, and had written plot outlines for the next two films at the same time that he wrote the screenplay for the first. Problem was, the outline for Scream 3 had to be thrown out in its entirety just weeks before it entered production, as the Columbine High School massacre and resulting backlash against violence in the media had made its plot — about one of the killers from the first film being alive, in prison, and leading a group of obsessive Slasher Movie fans to carry out a new teenage murder spreenote  — suddenly hit much too close to home. Since Williamson was busy with other projects, new writer Ehren Kruger was hastily brought in to come up with a brand new story and script in a matter of weeks. Naturally, the script was still unfinished when the film went into production, with pages usually completed the day they were to be filmed.

  • An excellent summation of this trope from E L Doctorow: "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole journey that way." (Also quoted by Anne Lamott.) For this reason, writers sometimes call this "the headlight method." (Some change it to "flashlight.")
  • Ray Bradbury fleshed out his short story The Fireman into the novel Fahrenheit 451 at a pay typewriter in 9 days.
    • There's a famous Bradbury quote on his method of writing that pretty eloquently sums up this trope: "You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."
  • Isaac Asimov was on record as stating that, while he usually had an end in mind, he almost never had any idea how he'd get there.
    • In a specific example, Asimov wrote the story "Insert Knob A in Hole B" on the spot during a televised panel when challenged to do so after he claimed he could write under any circumstance. He completed the story within 30 minutes, in part by using the panel discussion as inspiration and by including his fellow panelists in the story since the Studio Audience could see them and thus would not have to imagine what they look like.
  • Garth Nix says this is how he writes - most of his world-building is made up on the spot.
  • Stephen King falls into this category — he never plans ahead, he just writes until he has a good idea and runs with it.
    • The Green Mile may be his best example of this. It was originally released in installments. At the time the first installment was released to the public, he hadn't even figured out the ending yet... but still scheduled a set release date for it. By the time he started the final part he'd completely forgotten about Mr. Jingles, and it's only thanks to his wife asking what happened to him that he didn't become a literal What Happened to the Mouse?.
    • King said in On Writing that he does occasionally plot his stories, he just does it rarely because he usually isn't proud of the results (like Rose Madder and Insomnia) when he does—with one exception: The Dead Zone.
    • Christine is another notable case, as it awkwardly switches from first to third person due to King not thinking through putting the story's narrator in the hospital with a broken leg.
    • The Stand is a case where the book almost got the better of the writer. King says he described the novel-in-progress to friends as "his own personal Vietnam," and when he got to a certain point, he was stuck. His good guys were in Boulder, his bad guys were in Vegas, moles among both camps, what? He was about to simply quit writing it when he realized that what he needed was a bomb in the closet to get his good guys' attention and to tell them it was time to take their titular Stand.
  • Cory Doctorow wrote Little Brother in eight days.
  • The NaNoWriMo project lends itself to this approach. Participants are given 30 days to see if they can write at least 50,000 words. note 
  • The Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe churned out novels for Badger Books on the basis of a book cover, a title, and a very short deadline. Badger's policies mean it's impossible to tell exactly how many he wrote, but the estimate works out at one 158 page book every twelve days. To manage this, he dictated into a reel to reel tape recorder, then shipped the tapes off to a pool of typists for transcription. To hit the word target, he would pad out the books with philosophical discussions, mundane detail and redundant descriptions (robots: "Metal things. Metal things that could think. Thinking metal things"), but then could be told that he had only three pages left to wrap up the story, so he had to pull out a Deus ex Machina. Despite, or perhaps because of all this, Fanthorpe's work has picked up a So Bad, It's Good following.
  • L. Ron Hubbard claims he wrote by meditating into a trance-like state and typing constantly for hours at a time. According to Harlan Ellison, Hubbard used the Jack Kerouac method — he rigged a roll of butcher paper of the appropriate width to feed into his typewriter, wrote for several hours, and at the end cut the long sheet down into even pages.
  • As revealed in The History of Middle-earth, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings this way with no real plans to what would happen chapter to chapter (including having no idea how the book would end). He finally made a rough draft once the gang got to Rivendell.
  • Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy this way largely - throw out tons of ideas, then return later when it seems like one of them is funny or could be made relevant (like the potted plant saying "Oh no, not again"). As you can imagine, Adams was terrible at deadlines and finished the first book on that page because his publisher was furious. He once remarked, "Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank page until your forehead starts to bleed."
  • Robert B. Parker of the Spenser, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series wrote like this and compared it to being like the detectives of his novels never knowing what was coming next.
  • Horace Kelton once replied to a friend that he didn't know "what [his] next book would be about. The characters [hadn't] told [him]." But he still planned some once he got the basic idea.
  • Charles de Lint writes that way and refers to it as an "organic" style of writing.
  • Terry Pratchett usually wrote with a plan, but in an interview said that while writing the assassin's "driving test" in Pyramids, he had absolutely no idea how it would unfold, and consequently it was one of his favorite moments in the Discworld series.
    • When he sat down to write Guards! Guards! he intended for Carrot Ironfounderson to be the main character, with Samuel Vimes being a minor character who was there to provide a viewpoint character in the city before Carrot arrived. As he wrote the novel Vimes took over as the main character.
    • When writing Thief of Time, he knew that Ronnie Soak was the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, but he only worked out what his actual name in that role was at about the same time as Lu-Tze. Specifically, he ran to the mirror with a bit of paper with SOAK written on it to make sure he wasn't imagining it. He figured his subconscious had been working ahead of him.
  • Haruki Murakami swears to this type of writing, never knowing the ending when he begins a story. It shows.
  • Stanisław Lem wrote Solaris that way. It is considered to be his best book which is saying something because his other works are nothing short of brilliance.
  • The cast of Writing Excuses have often talked about the difference between being an outliner vs. a discovery writer. Dan Wells, author of the John Cleaver Trilogy is a self-confessed discovery writer, but Brandon Sanderson is very much an outliner.
  • Hunter S. Thompson not only did this, but he also made it the essence of Gonzo journalism: Your notes, more or less unedited, are the finished product. He would frequently spend hours or days locked up in his room with a typewriter, a whole bunch of paper, and half a ton of drugs and booze, hammering away furiously to send a long, rambling, yet somehow incredibly cogent piece off to Rolling Stone or whatever other publication he was writing for at the time. He famously declared his most famous work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to be a failed experiment in Gonzo journalism, as he had edited it too much.
  • Ellen Potter, author of The Kneebone Boy, had no idea how it would end when she wrote it and was, at her own admission, stuck on the ending for months until writing something that came to her at the gym. Unfortunately, a lot of plot threads are left dangling as a result.
  • The 20th Anniversary Edition of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire has a lot of notes in the margins, which reveal that the book changed a lot during the process from first draft/outline to completed manuscript. Most big ideas were set early on, but small details seem to have come spontaneously, like Luke drinking hot chocolate. He also threw in a consistently varied selection of cryptic side references, mostly used to make the galaxy feel bigger like the films did. Later many of these were picked up in order to perform some remarkable feats of Arc Welding - but as he notes while explaining,
    Still, don't let all these clever explanations give you the impression that I had this whole immense thing mapped out in advance. Right now, I'm using the Indiana Jones approach, and making it up as I go.
  • George R. R. Martin describes the technique like taking a road trip. You know the broad strokes of the trip—where you start and where you end, and maybe some of the major roads you'll be driving along the way. But you don't know what diner you'll be eating at on day three; you don't know about the construction on the I-95; you don't know that you'll stop at a tourist trap you didn't even know existed during the detour...
  • Calum P Cameron apparently writes the Mediochre Q Seth Series by formulating a basic plan, typing until he gets stuck, then walking his pet dog until he spontaneously comes up with enough new scenes to start typing again. Or he did, until the dog died. Presumably, he still adheres to the trope, though, just without the dog-walking bit.
  • The authors of Animorphs had no plans at all for the overarching plot going in - they came up with a plot synopsis before each book, but beyond that, they didn't have a clue. (The one exception seems to be their knowing ahead of time that Rachel would die at the end.)
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, author of the Vorkosigan Saga, has stated that she writes like this, comparing her style to the meticulous and structured method of her friend and fellow author Patricia C. Wrede.
  • An variant of this trope is when the author lets dice (or any random generator) decide over the plot. Paradise of Swords by Tobias Meißner is a good example - almost an RPG-as-book. Probably better known is Il castello dei destini incrociati by Italo Calvino. And Philip K Dick famously wrote The man in the high castle by rolling coins and reading the resulting I-Ching passages.
  • The author of Destined to Lead claims this as her main writing style. Not surprising as the books were written during NaNoWriMo.
  • Ben Mezrich had to do this for The Accidental Billionaires because it was optioned and adapted into The Social Network right off of its book proposal without a completed manuscript.
  • The Warrior Cats arcs are never fully planned out in advance and as a result, major things can change; this is why Hollyleaf ended up not being one of the Three because they still couldn't think of a power for her halfway through the Power of Three arc. The story team even pointed out in an article on the official site that they need to write prophecies vague enough that there's room for different interpretation in case something changes in the story.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 was notoriously written on the fly, with the writers starting each season with practically no concrete idea where the thing was going to end up. Notably averted by Season 7, due to the 2007 Writers Strike and a year-long delay, resulting in a much more cohesive, planned-out storyline for that season.
  • The 100 has twice filmed scenes (not merely planned, not merely written, actually filmed) where Jasper dies, and both times the writers decided against it at the last minute, either cutting his death scene before the episode went to air or using the next episode to explain how he actually survived.
  • Arrowverse:
    • The Season 4 premier of Arrow ended with a flash-forward of Oliver standing over someone's grave, openly weeping. The writers/creators admitted they had no idea which member of Team Arrow was in the grave when they started, and only finally settled on it being Laurel when they ran out of time and had to pick someone. This was yet another thing about the death that angered the fandom.
    • Halfway through Season 3 of Supergirl, Andrew Kreisberg was fired after numerous sexual harassment accusations. Since he'd been the main architect behind the season's story and would still have to be paid if it was used, the other writers had to quickly whip up an alternate second half that received many accusations of being obviously made up as they went, most notably with how several episodes were spent building up to the arrival of the villain Pestilence, only for her to be anticlimactically disposed of just one episode after her arrival.
    • The crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019) was designed to be as big a DC TV event as the crew could possibly make it, with offers for appearances sent to just about every living actor who'd ever played a major role in a DC property. The downside of this is that they then had to wait to find out just who they would and wouldn't be getting before they could do any serious writing on the special... which also meant they couldn't offer any specifics of what the actors would actually be doing or even how much they'd be paid. Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor in Smallville, specifically stated that he declined the offer because it seemed so ridiculous to demand an answer from him ASAP while telling him nothing about what he'd actually be signing on for.
  • Barney & Friends: The first season fell into this category, according to writer Steve White in an episode of the Purple Tales Podcast. Steve and the first season's only other writer Mark Bernthal had only six days to write each episode.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003). The writers' commentary on the DVD makes it clear that a lot of stuff was made up episode-by-episode. Especially irritating when every episode began with the statement "... and they have a plan" (until it was quietly dropped from the titles during the last season). Many viewers found this especially apparent in the plot points involving the identity of the Final Five cylons, leading to images like this one. It really came back to bite them when they decided that the "Final Five" Cylons should be different than the others, and have the last five model numbers. Trouble was, it had been built in the show from the start that there were twelve models, and they'd already given one of them the number Eight. So the writers had to quickly insert a piece of backstory that another model had been judged so corrupted (read: wanting to be human) that all copies were destroyed permanently.
    • Another issue this caused was that Tyrol was made one of the Final Five despite having a son, due to the writers forgetting that Cylons couldn't have children. When they realized this halfway through the final season, it was quickly retconned that his son with Cally was actually the result of Cally having a one night stand with Hot Dog the night before they began dating. And then the episode wasn't quite as clear as it could have been that this was what happened, leaving many fans with the impression that Cally (now long dead and unable to defend herself) had cheated on Tyrol. Also, keep in mind that Cally had never shared a scene with or even spoken to Hot Dog before. Ever. In the DVD commentary, Ron Moore admits that he came up with this retcon simply because they'd built up Hera as the special Hybrid child so much that it wouldn't make sense to have two Hybrids - which was the entire criticism about making Tyrol a Cylon in the first place.
    • As for the identities of the Final Five Cylons, Ron Moore's explanations in the DVD commentary make it clear that he picked them all based on shock value, rather than in-universe story logic. That is, rather than describing "that suspicious thing Tyrol did in episode 3.01 was supposed to be a hint that he's a Cylon", Moore spent the DVD commentary (i.e. of the Season 3 finale) discussing that he picked these characters based on the shock it would cause - even though there was no setup, with candidates ranging from the coincidental (Anders), the implausible (Tigh), to the impossible-without-contradicting-ourselves (Tyrol).
  • The creators of The Big Bang Theory have commented that every season they start with simply the next page. Chuck Lorre apparently has a motto that "This isn't Lost" and thus they keep everything at the moment and not holding out based on what they have planned. Although looking back it would be easy to believe they did plan out at least a season in advance, given the progression of Leonard and Penny's relationship in the first two seasons and how Howard started to mature in the second season which allows him to start a relationship with Bernadette in the third.
  • Breaking Bad. While the writing wasn't exactly freestyled episode-by-episode (barring Season 3), there were some notable instances:
    • Jesse Pinkman was supposed to die somehow in Season 1 until Aaron Paul's acting chops convinced everyone to keep him on.
    • Gus Fring was only supposed to be on for a few episodes in Season 3, but his actor (Giancarlo Esposito) demanded more.
    • On that note, Gus Fring was created because Raymond Cruz (who plays Tuco) had to leave for his role on The Closer. Tuco was supposed to be the villain all of Season 2.
    • When the M60 was introduced in Season 5, the writers had no idea how it would be used.
      • A more minor bit in the same development: Walt takes off the watch Jesse gave him and leaves it on top of a payphone, for literally no reason except that he hadn't been wearing it in the flashforward scene.
    • This continues in the spinoff prequel series Better Call Saul. In one episode of Chris Hardwick's post-show series Talking Saul, Hardwick told a crew member that he looked forward to the explanation for why none of the Breaking Bad characters recognize Saul after his high profile in this series, causing a priceless Oh, Crap! reaction as the guy clearly realized on the spot what a corner they'd written themselves into.
  • Charmed seems to have been an example of this. The most egregious example was probably the whole arc with Chris, a character who came from the future to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. The problem is, he kept changing the story of what went wrong and doing all sorts of morally questionable actions behind the Charmed Ones' backs. Eventually, the writers decided that he was Piper and Leo's Kid from the Future, here to stop his older brother Wyatt from turning evil. Approximately none of his actions before The Revealnote  make sense with that story, nor can he explain why he didn't just tell them the truth from the beginning. Word of God seems to admit that they didn't know what his story was, having only decided on this course of action because Piper's actress, Holly Marie Combs, got pregnant. Even after the truth is revealed, the writers can't decide what turns Wyatt evil until near the season's end.
  • Doctor Who, partly by necessity. While an individual head-writer/producer might have individual plans, the show's Long Runner status means that this is a little bit necessary. For example, a lot of the things that have made the show so iconic, such as The Nth Doctor trope or the Daleks, weren't planned but added as they went along.
    • Especially notable is "The Ultimate Foe", the end of the "Trial of a Time Lord" story arc. Original writer Robert Holmes died before he could write the final story, and the team brought on to replace him were actually legally forbidden from knowing his intended ending. The two-part finale has a quite noticeably rushed script, with a Master subplot that ends up going nowhere and the bizarre reveal that the prosecutor the Valeyard was actually a future incarnation of the Doctor the whole time, which the show has basically just ignored ever since.
    • Russell T Davies, the first showrunner of the revival series, has openly stated that he tends to write overarching stories (particularly ones that span multiple seasons) as he goes, rather than having it meticulously planned out in advance. This often resulted in him running with things that people pointed out to him:
      • The fact that the Doctor happened to have an encounter with Donna, then coincidentally ran into her grandfather the following Christmas, then happened to run into Donna again after they, by total happenstance, decided to investigate the same suspicious company. Davies has said that someone brought up how coincidental it was, and wondered if there was some reason for it. At the time, which was before he had finished finalising "Partners in Crime" he had nothing planned. He realised that it looked like he did though, and began tying it into the series' overarching narrative. For this reason, they also took the hints that Donna's fate seems cosmically interwoven with the Doctor's thing Up to Eleven in that episode.
      • Similarly, when writing "Planet of the Ood", Davies put in the Ood calling the Doctor and Donna "the Doctor-Donna" just because he thought it sounded cool. Cue the finale, in which Donna becomes half-Donna half-Doctor due to a Time Lord-human metacrisis. Davies didn't realize that he had unintentionally created some major foreshadowing until someone pointed it out to him, thinking he had done it intentionally. He then rewrote "Journey's End" to include a moment of the Doctor remembering that the Ood had called them Doctor-Donna.
      • One notable subversion for Davies was the overarching story concerning the Doctor's severed hand, which went from the 2005 Christmas special to the Series 4 finale in 2008. Davies claims that since the moment he wrote it into the script for "The Christmas Invasion", he knew that he would end up making a "second Doctor" grow out of the severed hand, whom the original Doctor would send off to live happily with Rose. He even told David Tennant about these plans at the time.
      • Davies openly declared after Series 3 that the mysterious shot of a woman's hand picking up the Master's ring had no intended meaning; he had no further plans for the character, but with his time as showrunner coming to an end he figured he should put in some kind of Sequel Hook to make it easier for future writers who wanted to use him again. Then in his very last episode, he decided to follow up on it himself after all.
  • Julian Fellowes only wrote the first half of each series of Downton Abbey ahead of time, then waits to see how the actors play off each other before writing the second half. Occasionally this has bitten him in the ass when he decides to expand a character's role only to discover the actor isn't available, most notably with Edith's paramour Gregson.
  • Many committee-led series will change plot and emphasise characters depending on audience responses to broadcast episodes. Sylar and Hiro in Heroes received such a favourable response they were given much larger roles in the long run including Sylar being allowed to live beyond the Season 1 finale.
  • How I Met Your Mother starts with a Driving Question of "How does Ted meet the future mother of his children?" and the creators were adamant that it would happen in the Grand Finale. The thing is they weren't sure how long they would get to tell this story and there were several admitted plans in place in case they were or were not renewed. Victoria of season one was outright confirmed to be the Mother in case the initial 13-episode order was all they had. Stella is theorized to also be a back-up Mother (given how they meet ties directly into the implied "Myth Arc") if season three was the end. Once ratings stabilized it seemed that the writers had a clear idea of how the show would end by introducing some more solid clues (the 100th episode has Ted meeting the Mother's roommate and getting a lot of, still vague, information on her) but still had to keep things flexible because now they weren't sure when they were ending.
  • Parodied in a The Kids in the Hall sketch, which warns the viewer that it was "written in haste," showing the writer frantically mashing a keyboard trying to finish it within the deadline. The scene is filled with nonsensical actions and garbled dialogue caused by the typos, such as a man taking off his "rubber boobs" and sitting down on a "chain."
  • The late 1940's TV show Kukla, Fran and Ollie thrived on this. The show was completely unscripted and the actors ad-libbed everything on set.
  • Lost's pilot and first six episodes were written with only the vaguest of long-term planning (i.e. "Locke will find a hatch sometime, and there's a science compound, and maybe we'll reveal two gods were playing a game the whole time.") because Damon Lindelof admitted he didn't think the show would last. He just cribbed the flashback structure from Watchmen and wrote whatever interested him while waiting for the cancellation notice. However, when the ratings came in, he teared up in exasperation and asked, "You mean we have to keep doing this every week?!" He put in a call to his old boss, Carlton Cuse, who came onboard after "Confidence Man" and helped him sketch out a very rough outline, but they soldiered through the rest of the first season by ad-libbing it, including the infamous "numbers". It wasn't until the summer break that they spent a month planning out the rest of the Myth Arc.
    • Lampshaded in a "Weekend Update" skit from Saturday Night Live, where Amy Poehler reported that Lost had been renewed for another two seasons.
      Poehler: When reached for comment, the writers of Lost said: "Crap."
  • In the original KTMA season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the riffs were improvised rather than written. The films being mocked hadn't even been seen in their entirety in advance. In the Comedy Central era, however, each film was carefully screened and written for before its respective episode was recorded. The show became better for it.
    • During the first season, movies weren't watched in their entirety until the actual writing process took place. They changed to pre-screening the whole film after viewing the violent rape scene in The Sidehackers.
  • NYPD Blue was often written on set during filming due to head writer David Milch's drug use. "OK, you [Sipowitz] say this, and then you [Simone] say this in response." Actors wrote down their lines on scraps of paper in the squad room. Jimmy Smits and other actors quit over the hectic scheduling.
  • The series finale of The Prisoner (1967) was written in a trailer over a weekend. Not surprising that it's one of the most infamous Mind Screws in television history.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • The Season VI finale "Out of Time" was extremely rushed, and in fact, on the night it was filmed before the live audience it still wasn't entirely complete, meaning the writers had to type the script directly onto autocues for the cast.
    • Writer Doug Naylor repeatedly dithered over what the ending to Series VIII should be, having had to scrap his originally planned finale as the budget had run out. The ending they went with was so rushed the director had to step in to play a part using a costume nicked from another series; this replaced another ending which the cast was purportedly in costume, ready to film when it was scrapped.
    • Series X had all six scripts written and ready to go... but then the production found out they wouldn't be able to do any location filming (it being a choice between that and having a live audience for the studio records). Episodes 5 & 6 couldn't go ahead without the location filming, and they were both scrapped and had to be replaced with new episodes, written whilst the other four were being filmed. Only half of the new episode 5, "Dear Dave", was able to be filmed in front of an audience because that was all that had been written, and they had to go back later, shoot new scenes with greenscreen and splice it all together. At the time the cast was being interviewed for the making-of documentary for the DVD, they still weren't sure if they were going to be able to film everything.
      • To compound this, the ending of episode 4 required a chimp, who would be played by an actor in a costume. Nobody realised that there were limits on how many hours he could work inside the chimp suit until the day of filming, meaning the original ending had to be thrown out and a new one written more or less on the spot.
  • Saturday Night Live is well-known for this as well, particularly in regards to its earlier years, being broadcast live and all. Most famously, sometimes writers would hide under the "Weekend Update" desk and hand new jokes to Chevy Chase on the air.
  • A relatively small point: declaring Elaine not to be Jewish in Seinfeld was something Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld or someone had literally just thought of when the opportunity came to write about "Shiksappeal". She had previously been considered by the writers and inferred by the audience to be Jewish (after all, Julia Louis-Dreyfus herself is Jewish).
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: The famous cliffhanger at the end of "The Best of Both Worlds Part I" was due to the writers not knowing if Patrick Stewart would return as Picard or not, forcing them to pause there and wait to write Part II by the seat of the pants once they found out about Stewart. Amusingly, Michael Piller, who wrote the finished script, had also decided to leave the show, and thought it was quite funny that he would be leaving the resolution to somebody else... and then he decided to stay on too, and suddenly had to come up with a resolution himself! Luckily, this turned out extremely well and the two-parter is still considered one of the entire Trek franchise's all-time greatest moments. Not so luckily, this encouraged the writers to keep on doing it at the end of each season on every Trek show from then on, which naturally had increasingly diminishing returns.
  • In-Universe in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Voyager about the writing process. In "Worst Case Scenario" Tom Paris and Tuvok are writing a holodeck program and argue over whether it's better to thoroughly plan out a story or make it up on the fly. In "Muse", a playwright from a Bronze Age culture is writing a play based on the log of a crashed Voyager shuttle. He only has a week to do so, and the ending isn't even written by performance night.
  • David Lynch and Mark Frost has admitted that they started writing Twin Peaks not knowing who had killed Laura Palmer.
    • The series has many examples of Throw It In! and such but the identity of the killer wasn't meant to be revealed in the first place and happened only because of the network forcing Lynch and Frost's hands. This, of course, doesn't make it any less this trope, or rather it could be considered an even better example.
    • After revealing who killed Laura Palmer they didn't have a clear idea how to keep Agent Cooper in the series, and with Lynch busy on over projects, the writers struggled throughout much of series two for the show to have a focus.
  • Aaron Sorkin does this. There's a story that when he was writing The West Wing, he needed President Bartlet to be lying in bed for a scene — and so gave the character multiple sclerosis.
  • The X-Files: While the series' Myth Arc is known for suffering from The Chris Carter Effect, making it this, the trope is in effect in a number of Monster of the Week episodes as well, as many times, the solution to the current mystery contradicts the established evidence or fails to explain some of the events that unfolded, leaving them as Big Lipped Alligator Moments.


  • When David Bowie came in to tape his unlikely guest appearance on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas TV special in 1977, the script called for Bowie and Crosby to duet on "The Little Drummer Boy". Bowie said he hated that song and refused to do it. Caught in a jam, the show's writers took a 90-minute break and wrote a new song called "Peace on Earth" for Bowie to sing in counterpoint while Crosby sang "Drummer Boy". After less than an hour of rehearsal, Bowie and Crosby taped the final piece that became a classic.

  • 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 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.

    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.
  • The position late 2013/early 2014 Daniel Bryan has been 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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 mind set 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 ""
  • 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. 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.

    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.

    Western Animation 
  • Feline Follies, the debut film of Felix the Cat, was improvised by Otto Messmer in a very short period of time so that producer Pat Sullivan could give Paramount Screen Magazine a new cartoon to fill in for another series that was running late. Everything in the cartoon, except for the inking, was done by Otto Messmer himself on weekends.
    • According to Don Oriolo, the son of the TV Felix the Cat showrunner Joe Oriolo, the Trans-Lux cartoons had absolutely grueling production schedules to go hand in hand with the low budgets of $6,700 per episode—they had to churn out a few episodes of the show every week (one animator was reported to have been doing around 150 feet—or around 2 minutes of animation—per week). The scripts for each episode were written in hours, hence why there was so much inconsistency between the Professor being Felix's sworn enemy, and then hiring him as a helper now and then.
    "It's sort of the same concept as Bluto being friendly to Popeye in a couple of episodes. It just happened by way of scripts that were churned out in hours. Don't forget they were doing a few episodes a week. They didn't overthink anything or analyze anything because there was nothing to analyze. They were creating what is our history now—-and didn't think of the ramifications!"
    • The Felix the Cat comic books Otto Messmer and Joe Oriolo worked on likewise had grueling work schedules that forced them to make up stories as they went—they were expected to turn out one completed script per day.
  • Animator Kurt Wiley said that the Australian animated series Crocadoo had an insanely tight production schedule, almost as bad as the aforementioned Joe Oriolo Felix cartoons—they had one week to complete each episode. And unlike the six-minute Felix cartoons, these were entire half-hour episodes!
    • He also added that some of the [adult swim] shows have some of the tightest deadlines in the industry, with entire half-hour episodes having to be completed in a single day.
  • According to one of the head writers of Pinky and the Brain, Charles M. Howell, each of the 52 half-hour episodes only had one week to prepare a script for them. Despite this, they ended up going four months over schedule.
  • According to the DVD Bonus Content, Freakazoid! was written with very little planning because of time constraints.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi had a story titled "Wilderness Adventure" rejected three times by Nickelodeon, and, because of it, he improvised the outline for "Fire Dogs" in an afternoon.
  • Yellow Submarine began production without an ending or a beginning because director George Dunning had already animated those. He simply told his writers (20, reputedly—Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal were the credited writers) and his animation directors (Bob Balser, Jack Stokes) to fill in the scenes in between those points.
  • Most episodes of South Park are pitched, storyboarded, written, animated, voice-recorded, and put on the air in the stretch of about one single week, one episode at a time. In contrast, most animated series take nine months per episode, with several episodes being in various stages of production at any given moment. This is why South Park's topical humor is more current than, say, what The Simpsons does. The only time this trope backfired on them was when "Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers" from season 17 had to be postponed due to a power outage.
  • The writers of Beast Wars admitted in DVD Bonus Content that they were winging it as they were going along. They also said that things went Up to Eleven around the time of the season finales as they weren't always sure they would get renewed for another season so they just adopted a "kill them all, let Hasbro sort it out" view when writing these episodes. This led to one particularly infamous moment where Inferno is clearly supposed to be utterly vaporized, yet in the next season he turns up burnt but otherwise unharmed.
  • The crew behind Adventure Time is pretty open about the fact that half the show is meticulously planned out while the other half is completely made up on the fly. The show taking place on Earth a thousand years after a nuclear war and the revelation that the Ice King was a normal human driven insane by his crown's magic power are the biggest examples of this, being major cornerstones of the show's lore that grew from a background gag and as a quick replacement for a previous episode idea (Jake and Finn doing an MST of an obscure real-world holiday special), respectively.
    • The reason Princess Bubblegum turned back to normal in the Season 3 premiere after becoming Finn's age in the previous episode was that the writers weren't sure what to do with a plot point like that.
    • Lemongrab become a recurring character purely because fans loved him so much. The writers never intended to have him appear again after his introductory episode.
  • The writers of Steven Universe really do come up with some ideas long before formally introducing them, but there are still major elements that were only written retroactively and benefited from the magic of Cerebus Retcon. The major ones include:
    • Season 1A ending with the revelation that there were other gems that the Crystal Gems had come into conflict with, and Garnet and Pearl seeming anxious that the same thing will happen again. While the crew had a vague idea of a Great Offscreen War fought on the Earth, most of the details of who the Crystal Gems fought and why were decided after they wrote that scene.
    • Amethyst being created on Earth. While her joining the Crystal Gems post-war has always part of the character's backstory, her specifically being made at the Earth Kindergarten was thought up during in the writing sessions for Season 1B; Garnet's "We kept Amethyst" line from early in the show's run wasn't intended as foreshadowing at the time. Amethyst's short height being the gem equivalent of a birth defect was also something thought up later still.
    • The Cluster. While it would become a major plot element of the second season, the crew wasn't exactly sure what they were even alluding to when it was first mentioned in the Season 1B finale. They wouldn't figure it out until partway through the development of Season 2, with the initial idea being that it could be a conventional (though enormous) monster the heroes would have to confront directly.
    • Bismuth. While they had planned out most of the character's details by the time they finished producing the first season, her bubbled gemstone was added to the background of Lion's mane in the middle of the season before deciding who she was, why she was there, or if she was even a character at all — preliminary ideas included it just being a portable warp device, not a gem.
    • The Alien Abduction arc at the end of Season 4 was in part spurred on by a minor dialogue exchange from Season 1B. The writers had no such intention for the moment laying the groundwork for the later event at the time of writing, coming up with the idea during Season 4 writing sessions.
  • Genndy Tartakovsky claims that he was so stressed out trying to manage his own television series for the first time with Dexter's Laboratory, that he was constantly beating out stories that he never got to see the completed forms of until they aired on TV.
  • The original pitch for The Simpsons was rather spontaneously improvised: Matt Groening was waiting to meet with TV executives about an adaptation for his comic Life in Hell, when it occurred to him that he'd have to sell the rights. He quickly doodled a series of new characters loosely based on (and, with the exception of his own Author Avatar Bart, named after) his family members, and the rest is history.
  • Gravity Falls, surprisingly enough! The writers elaborate on the series' DVD commentary that, while they knew the backstory of the author, nearly everything else was thought up as they worked along. Several details were thrown into the series, with the plan to figure out what they meant later on. Including:
    • Originally, they had no idea what role Bill Cipher would play in the series, if any role at all. Much less his connection to The Author and eventual role as Big Bad.
    • The phrase "Search for the Blind Eye", Arc Words that were teased between the Season 1 and 2 hiatus. Hirsch threw it in because he thought it sounded cool, then had to figure out what it meant later.
    • The journals and their respective owners were not even conceived until the production of the fourth episode.
    • Hirsch admits that during production of the pilot, the writers had no idea what was behind Stan's vending machine.
    • The wheel of symbols surrounding Bill in the opening credits had no meaning upon conception.
    • Before Old Man McGucket was revealed to be The Author's old lab assistant, he was originally just meant to be a one-off character.

Alternative Title(s): Discovery Writing


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