Some weeks, I look up what letter I’m supposed to be writing a post about and wonder why I thought it would be a good idea to write a weekly writing blog based on an A-Z.
This is one of those weeks.
There aren’t that many writing-related subjects beginning with O.
I thought of ‘onomatopoeia but wondered just how much I could write about words that describe the sound of what they name (bang, cuckoo, splash, slap, rustle, etc).
Or I could write something about oxymorons, where the meanings of a phrase contradict each other (deafening silence, open secret, honest thief, etc.).
In the end, I settled on outlines.
I use outlines.
There, I said it (waits for my pantser friends to stop walking by with protest signs saying, ‘down with this sort of thing,’ against the constraints of outlines).
When I first started writing, I didn’t use outlines at all. I would sit down and write whatever came into my head. It felt wonderful and liberating, but after a while I would run out of ideas, or write myself into a corner, or get totally off-track and lost. Before I started outlining, I never managed to get a novel past about 40,000 words before one of those things happened.
When I talk about outlining, I’m not talking about plotting out every little bit of a story before sitting down to write it. That would be far too time consuming, and would take the thrill of discovery-writing away. No, I start with the concept of a story and ask myself these questions:
- How does it start?
- How does it end?
Once I know these two things, I sit and think about what has to happen for my character to get from the first point, to the last. This is usually a series of steps, and I use these for my chapter outline.
And that’s about it. I use my characters to get me from one step to the next, writing freely. Sometimes, my free-writing will reveal something that wasn’t in the original outline. At that point, I’ll decide whether it’s something I want to keep, and if I do, I’ll alter the outline to accommodate the new plot point, or character.
For example, in The Lost Weaver, I wanted a minor antagonist to make Kestrel’s life more difficult as she tries to fulfil her plot-line. So, I wrote in a fellow bounty-hunter who had a vendetta against her, and who interfered with her business at every opportunity. However, as anyone who’s beta-read the novel will tell you, he becomes so much more than just a pain in her neck (no, he’s not a romantic interest either). This was something that revealed itself as I wrote the novel, and I liked it so much I went back and reworked the plot to give him more prominence, and to foreshadow what happens, so that it doesn’t come as a total surprise to the reader.
I’ve also started outlining short stories as well. Instead of just writing the story and having it turn into a non-story, I’ll brainstorm in my notebook on what I want the shape of the story to be, and then I’ll start to write it. Again, this doesn’t mean that the story is set in stone – it just means it has a little structure to start with. If it doesn’t work, I can change it as I go, but having a goal to work towards helps me keep going.
Outlining has been a life-saver for a procrastinator like me. It helps me to stay on track and finish a piece of work. I know it’s not for everyone, but for someone who’s easily distracted, has helped me a great deal.
What’s your favourite way of writing? Are you an outliner or a pantser, or – like me – do you use both to your advantage?