Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but it’s one of those rare weeks where an earlier post is necessary as I’m off to Black Belt Camp and will be busy tomorrow.
Unless your destination IS the ghetto.
This brings up an interesting discussion. Let me lead you into it slowly and try not to upset you too much.
When you take a trip, do you just get in the car and drive? You have no destination, no time frame for your trip, no plans whatsoever, you just get in your car and drive, right? Well, some people take a vacation with no set destination in mind but I’ll bet they have a time frame. I mean, they’ll have to go back to work or get back to responsibilities at home at some point.
So…do you say to yourself, “I’m going to write a story today”, sit down with pen in hand or in front of your laptop and start writing?
You’re ahead of me, right? Well, think hard before you answer.
My point is, everybody outlines.
“No, they don’t, sir. I certainly don’t.”
Yes. You do. You have to. Now before you start in on your protestations and snarky emails, read on. I’m talking about basic outlining. You have a story idea. You have a couple characters and a vague description, maybe a setting, and, oh, yes, the hero gets the girl in the end. Right? Well, that’s outlining.
I’m not saying you have to do a Jeffrey Deaver 180 page detailed outline. However, you still have to make some decisions. How old are the characters? How much time is going to pass from the story’s beginning to the end? Are you starting when the hero is twenty years old and end it when he’s ninety-five or start when he’s twenty years old and end when he’s twenty years and two days old? How do the characters change throughout the book? Is there a resolution to the problem or are you setting up for a sequel?
I think these are some of the decisions you have to make before you write Chapter One. You have to have some idea of where you’re going. Maybe you don’t have the trip to Paris or that one of the character’s will die halfway through the story, but I think you have to have some vision of the future.
Too often I’ve heard authors say they don’t outline, they just sit down and start writing. More often than not, I don’t see a completed story. Why? Because they usually run out of steam, or more likely, lose their way in the story. They don’t have to vision to continue. So, the story peters out around chapter two or three.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t successful authors who don’t outline. I’m just saying I haven’t seen very many who stick around very long. I congratulate those who can write an entire story from scratch with no real notion of where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, or when they’ll end. The old adage of ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’
comes into play a little bit here.
I’ve written before that not outlining for me is like trying to explore a complex cavern with only ten matches for illumination.
I’ve heard the argument that, “Well, I just don’t want to be bound by the outline. I can’t work like that?” Fine. You’re a writer and writers break rules all the time. You’re not fettered by your outline. There is no rule that says you can’t change your mind down the line somewhere. I do. The publisher isn’t going to come back to you and demand to see your outline and lambast you for coloring outside the lines. There is a time, maybe a few times, where I realize my outline needs to be modified because something isn’t working. I just make it work. I have the creativity to adjust and modify. I do it all the time in my taekwondo classes. I have a class planner but sometimes the students just aren’t understanding what I’m trying to communicate. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe it’s their fault. But I know when to stop the exercise or the drill and move onto something else. I can come back to the original point later on but I don’t want to bore the students. Just as if you continue on with the same vein in your story, you risk boring the readers if it isn’t working.
So, what’s the point here? I think it this: Be realistic when you claim you don’t outline. If you have the vision, the perseverance, the time, and the motivation, then go for it and I’ll will congratulate you when you’re finished. But if it doesn’t work…then revise your plan and jot down a few notes to help you along.
Now, as for the unplanned trip…wow! I’d absolutely love to do that one day. No destination, just explore, no care in the world where I’m going or when I’ll be back.
Can you imagine that?