Historically, I fly by the seat of my pants when I write something new. I dive in with a premise and a character and a place, and I see where it takes me.
But let’s not be too hasty. Most times, I have a general sense of the story before I just dive in. I know, in a vague god-like way, who I’m going to kill and who is going to be the villain, and what movie rating the book will be (PG. PG-13, etc.). I might not know exactly what everyone wants yet or where the characters will end up, but I know the general players in the game.
But I’m the sort of person that sticks to deadlines, makes cool (nerdy) excel graphs to track my progress, and dictates dialogue in the car on my commute to work. So why don’t I love outlines?
Easiest answer: I didn’t know how to make one. And I sort of still don’t. But I do. Kind of.
I thought an outline was a binary, black & white system. You plotted out every single chapter, every twist and turn, and then you go about filling in the gaps with words and stuff. And that kind of freaked me out.
I can’t plan that far in advance! My brain doesn’t want to do 4th degree hypotheticals on where the story will end up depending on a choice my main character makes in the 8th chapter. I barely even know who my MC is at this point!
If you freak out like I freak out, then hey there, let’s get some tea and chillax. Welcome to the Writing Patio. Here, have some oolong and biscuits. Feel that breeze? That’s pretty soothing, right?
So. Some people can do a scene-by-scene outline. Some people can write a whole book without planning a second of it in advance. But I think most of us are somewhere in the gray middle.
And I think that’s okay. As long as you can get a solid enough foundation to move forward, that’s all you need.
I approach outlining in that it will get me as close to I can as knowing what will happen in the story until I feel comfortable to jump in and power ahead, full steam, all the caffeine. An outline is like a treasure map, complete with vague, nonspecific landmarks and a sketchy dotted line that sort of leads you in the right direction. And, just like a treasure map, you won’t really know exactly where you’re going until your feet are on the ground.
Take a left at the boulder shaped like a kitten’s toupee, and there’s a gold mine buried somewhere within a fort-night’s fore-score league of math-confusion.
So, hats off to those of you who can draw a really good treasure map, complete with fancy legend and compass. For me, though, I’ll just be wandering through the Sandman’s Desert of cactus landmarks and stumbly dunes, just dreaming of the right destination.
Just remember, an outline is meant to help you start writing, keep writing, and write some more. As long as you’re doing that, then it’s a success!