I’ve belonged to a few online writing groups over the years and one question which inevitably crops up is whether or not to begin work with an outline. This question applies to fiction writing of course (I can’t imagine winging it with non-fiction), and when it comes up the group is typically split in half. I’ve used both methods in the past – one with well placed sign posts screaming ‘go this way’ , and the other using no signs at all but my fingers and and unfettered imagination to lead me.
Which do I prefer?
I like to know where I will eventually end up and that is about it. This is in complete opposition from the ‘real’ life me. I’m a very planned person. When it comes to writing I often times know where to start, and have a very vague notion of where it should end, but I prefer to be pleasantly surprised along the way.
Here’s a typical breakdown of my writing process and the one I’ve used for most of my works.
- A character, situation, or premise grabs my attention.
- A foggy notion of the middle, beginning, and the end is dropped into an Evernote folder (man I LOVE Evernote – but that’s another post).
- I’ll stare at the blank page until the first sentence is written (I find that first blank page terrifying – another post perhaps?).
- I’ll write until most, or all, of a chapter, scene, or episode is written.
- I’ll go to bed thinking about where my character is and what she is feeling.
- I get up between 4-5:00am and repeat steps 4,5,6 until the first draft is done.
Now why do I write this way? It’s because that’s when the magic happens. For example, in my audio drama series Bryar Lane I originally imagined Milly to be much more of a rule follower than she turned out to be. When it comes to rules Milly will find a way around them. This doesn’t become evident until she finds herself at her grandmother’s house in the small village of Bryar Lane somewhere around the third episode of the show. Had I outlined each episode I would have essentially placed Milly in a literary straight jacket. As a character she would have been miserable and as a writer I would have wondered what was wrong with the her. As it turned out, by not planning ahead Milly snuck out of the house at night to follow a little light through the forest and, in a later episode, the village church. I cringe at what the story might have been had I outlined from the beginning what was going to happen along the way. Milly life would have been very different.
So I’d like to hear from you. Do you follow an outline or do you venture down the path to see where it will lead?