I have never liked outlines. Thinking through a story and crafting a narrative skeleton only to start at the beginning again to flesh out the details. Lather, rinse, and repeat. These cycles can take a hours, days, or weeks as you are writing, but not really writing. Only when the story structure, acts, chapters and scenes are designed can you begin the actual task of writing the first sentence of the story.
So, I never used an outline. I believed that writing a story was an act of discovery for me, the writer, and I did not want to know how the story ended any more than I wanted to know the ending of a book I read. How much more fluid and spontaneous would my narrative be if I didn’t know what was going to happen next? How much more could my characters ad lib and pursue tangents and tell me, the writer, what they really wanted to do? How could I justify putting a script in my characters’ hands and telling them to only say this and do this?
After all, this is how Stephen King writes. Hasn’t he published forty plus books and sold millions? He doesn’t use outlines and if we are supposed to emulate the most successful people, why wouldn’t I emulate one of the top sellers of all time?
Two unfinished novels totaling over five hundred pages later, I had my answer.
I didn’t have the skill or experience to write a story with the natural rhythms of structure and plot pouring out of my mind and onto my computer in a first draft. I wrote myself into a dead end in each novel by not planning out how to get from the beginning of the story to the end. I had a great concept, great characters, settings I either developed or knew well, and I had compelling opening scenes and conflicts to launch the action.
But somewhere along the way, all that untamed creative energy buzzing around in the recess of my mind dissipated and I was left with an empty reservoir of momentum. I had no plan to move the story forward beyond the vast expanse of the middle of the story. And so like many aspiring authors, I relied solely on creativity and inertia and when both were spent, I had a story that could go nowhere like a car with no fuel. I was stranded on the side of the road to completion.
So, this year, with my new prequel novel I am writing an outline first. A story plan, structure plan, character plan, and everything else plan so that when I’m six months into the first draft, I don’t stop and wonder what is going on with the story and why it isn’t working. I intend to avoid writing myself into the proverbial corner.
The month on January is my outline month. February 1, I will begin writing the first draft. With this plan, I except to spend less time along the way on detour and subplot tangents and more type craft the best story I can write.
When I finish the first draft, I will then know that it was the outline that made the difference.
If that makes me a wimp, to use an outline, then so be it. I take that title all the way to publication.