Jan 31, 2011

Do I Have to Outline?

The short answer: Yes.

Writers constantly debate over whether or not to create an outline for the particular work in progress and in the end, it’s the particular individual’s choice of whether or not to make one.

However, if you don’t, it could lead to your downfall.

For my current work in progress, I chose not to create an outline. I thought the story would unfold as I went along, as long as I got the point across. It didn’t matter exactly what happened, as long as something happened.

But I was wrong.

Instead of the theme of embracing life to the fullest extent through heart touching and wrenching moments of love and sorrow, I got sucked into a runaway character who took me down the road of a runaway plot full of strippers and kidnappers who were completely irrelevant to the story.

This huge chunk of my novel, while it may be interesting, is not getting the point across of a unique character scenario experiencing the vital and common elements of life. This had transformed into a strange thing that most people hopefully do not experience.

It wasn’t until after I was finished writing that I realized this. So I had to delete this ridiculously large irrelevant section, and start again.

After I created an outline, I am back on track to writing what is supposed to happen. And I know where I’m headed every day I sit down to write.

Does that mean I’m locked in by these events I have already predetermined? Not necessarily.

If something else decides to occur when I’m writing, I’ll let it happen. It could be something amazing that hadn’t even swept my mind until now. It could be something useless. I don’t know and I don’t care when I’m writing; this is what revision is for. So if it wants to change slightly, that’s okay.

I just know I have to hit the major points that I did define prior to beginning writing. If those main goals that move the story forward are met, then I know I’m good.

Outlines can be as specific or as vague as you choose.

It could be as broad as:

1. Joe meets Jill

2. Joe marries Jill

3. Jill gets pregnant

Or as focused as:

1. Football Game

POV: Third

Characters: Joe and Jill

Setting: High school football game around seven o’clock; chilly weather, blustery, November

Plot: Jill drops her nachos as she turns away from the concession stand spilling them all over the sidewalk. Joe comes running to help her clean up the mess and they start talking. He offers to buy her some more nachos and she reluctantly agrees. They sit behind the bleachers and eat them together talking about life and the universe. Jill slips Joe her phone number and says that she hopes she will see him again. Joe walks off trying to act cool at first, but then skips and leaps and sings to his car.

The possibilities of outlines are infinite and free, but the responsibility of them is definite. A clear statement of where you are headed is crucial so you don’t get lost in the tangled labyrinth of your own creation.

Check back for more specific information on creating an outline.

I’m claiming that it is crucial to have an idea where you’re going before you begin the story. This does not necessarily mean you have to have fifty pages filled with details of what each character is going to say as they are walking to the store, but rather the main events that you want to have occur. These don’t even have to be written down; they can be mental notes if you prefer. All I’m saying is to look at the road map before you drive blindly into the dark, because if not, you will have no idea where you will end up.

Stay tuned for more information on outlining.

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