One thing I’m frequently asked is whether I write an outline for my books, or just fly by the seat of my pants. The short answer is: both. The long answer is a little more complicated.
In my experience there are two types of writers: plot-driven writers and character-driven writers. Whereas the strength of plot-driven writers mainly lies in constructing plot, a character-driven writer is more focused on the development of the people populating the story. I’m the latter – and as a character-driven writer, it’s very difficult for me to make my characters do what I want them to do. They have a way of coming to life and taking over the story, which is wonderful … except when I have specific plans for my plot.
This is where creating outlines can become a problem for me. After all, why bother making plans when you know they’re just going to change anyway? And I’ve tried forcing my characters to stay within the confines of my outline … believe me, that doesn’t work, either. The story just … stops. The only thing I know to do is to let the characters tell the story as they see fit – so I’ve learned not to bother creating detailed, scene-by-scene, moment-to-moment outlines.
But I also don’t sit down and start writing with complete abandon and no direction. That doesn’t work, either. Without some kind of structure, I run the risk of writing myself into a corner. I know because it’s happened many, many times.
The solution? I do create an outline … but it’s a very simple one that allows plenty of room for movement. In short, I make sure I know the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story – and for the sake of making room for unexpected twists and turns at the hands of my very undisciplined characters, I like to have two and sometimes three possible endings. I make little notes along the way – things I want to make sure I don’t forget about … and once I have all that, then I can sit down and write, knowing that regardless of what my characters decide to do, I won’t end up in some corner I can’t write myself out of.
I’ve learned to trust my characters. We respect each other. I give them their freedom, and in return, they tell me some really great stories. I couldn’t plan the comedies, tragedies, dramas, and horrors that they live out on the page. Strange as it is to say, they’re much more creative than I am. I love that about them. Like good actors, they just need a little direction. A little direction.
That said, the writing process is different for every writer. It took me too long to find my own way of doing things; unfortunately, I took a lot of the wrong advice from other writers and lost a lot of time. So be careful whose advice you take – even mine. Do what works for you. This is just what works for me.