It’s time for my (first?) writing style post, and I’m so excited! We’ve already read Michelle’s post on non-scary outlining.
Michelle explained how she first creates a loose outline for her first draft with the beginning scene, a couple of middle scenes, and the story climax. She continues to add to this loose outline as she writes.
Then she reads her first draft and makes a detailed outline from there to see how the story needs to change to be told better. (Rest assured, no matter what type of outlining you do, you WILL be rewriting your story. Likely several times.)
I’m the other true outliner of the Ferrets. I learned this the hard way in 2009, during NaNoWriMo. I finished the month with 50,000 words (for the first time ever!), but they sucked. And they rambled. There was no plot – even though I’d had one in mind when I started writing. Even four years later, I… still haven’t had the courage to re-read that mess.
The next year, I did a loose outline much like the one Michelle does for her first draft. The writing went much smoother, but still rambled too much. So, in 2011, I finally caved to my true desires.
See, for years, I’d been hearing that if you wanted to be a writer that you needed to just sit down and write. That you weren’t a real writer if you didn’t just sit down and write.
But writing is just like anything else – each person has a different process that they need to go through to create efficiently. Just like studying. Some people learn better by hearing things, some people learn better by seeing things, and others learn better by doing things. Some learn best by a combination of all of those.
So for NaNo 2011, I made an outline.
It was wonderful.
For the first time, whenever I sat down to write, I didn’t struggle with ugh, what am I doing? I only struggled with actually constructing sentences.
I didn’t outline every single detail of every chapter. Honestly, I didn’t outline chapters at all.
I simply wrote down what needed to happen with every major plot point.
You see, there are really only two things you need to know to write.
- What happens.
- How the characters might react to it. (This is where character charts come in for me, but I’ll do another post about those later.)
And, contrary to everything I have just said, you don’t even need to know all these things in detail before you can start writing.
By all means, leave room for things to change. You’ll be able to tell when your story is coming to life when it starts doing things you weren’t expecting.
That’s what your outline is for: to decide when you can veer off course, or when you need to gently nudge the story back on course.
Sometimes, though, even when you stumble off the path, you suddenly find that it actually fits perfectly with where you wanted to go in the first place.
So if you’ve found that your writing flounders, or that your characters wander around aimlessly, try sitting down and jotting some notes. Talk to your characters and find out what their motivation is. You are the author. You don’t have to be lost to the whims of your characters, but you do need to listen to them.
Sit down and write, yes.
But it’s okay if you need a plan first. Just don’t get stuck on only planning. You need to do.