For Plotting vs. Flying by the Seat of Your Pants Part 1, click HERE.
Long ago, on a word processor far, far away, I sat down at my computer and began to type my first novel. I was a novice at fiction so things like info dropping meant nothing to me. I also didn’t know anything about outlining a story before I began. I simply sat at my desk and started writing the story the way I saw it in my head. This meant pages of back story that filled the first 10 pages (info dropping and starting a book with back story will be covered in another blog!) and eerie descriptions of the town my story took place in. I thought I was setting the atmosphere for a supernatural mystery when what I was really doing was creating a manuscript nobody would want to read.
Eventually, I got around to writing the first murder, introducing my main character, connecting her with the murder…. then I hit a wall. Someone was dead, my character was sent a box with the remains inside, now she had to do something about it. But what? I hadn’t thought that far in advance. So I struggled for days to come up with a believable next step. I researched crime reference books and all of my crime how-to books, in addition to that, I did a lot of brainstorming. Finally, I was ready to continue. So I sat down at my desk again, opened my word processor and was writing for a few weeks before…BAM!!! I hit another wall. This continued the entire book. I eventually finished it, but man, was it painful.
What I’ve learned since then is that plotting/outlining my book before I start is crucial for me to maintain a smooth writing process. I often veer from my outline, but that’s okay. I look at my outline as a living, breathing thing that’s subject to change. But despite the fact that I view my outlines as fluid, they are a necessary tool in my writing process. They keep me on track, and more importantly, keep me from hitting walls.
Stephen King doesn’t write with outlines. He uses intuition; he believes outlining destroys the process of writing. Stephen King is also a literary genius who writes stories that are character driven. He’s not telling us a story about a murder, he’s telling us a story about a man who loves his family but struggles with alcohol. A man who takes a job out of necessity only to find out that taking that job has taken his family on an express journey into hell. It’s a story of a man who struggles against the temptations of evil because he loves his family, but loses that struggle. In that loss, we watch a slow downward spiral that eventually leads to his attempted murder of the family he loves. This is story The Shining. By the way, it’s an excellent book.
But back on the outlining side of things we have JK Rowling who wrote detailed outlines for every Harry Potter book. Check out this link that shows a page (typed for ease of reading) from her outline: How Rowling Revised ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ – The Friendly Editor
One could argue that her stories are character driven, as well. By the completion of the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone readers have fallen madly in love with Harry. Here’s this sweet little kid who’s being treated worst than the family pet…but we find out he’s special. He magical and there’s a whole other world waiting for him.
If you’ve read all the books in the series you’ll have experienced the roller coaster feelings regarding Professor Snape. One moment you think he’s completely evil, then you think maybe he’s good after all, before settling back on the fact that, nope, Snape is evil. Then, in the last book we get the big reveal that left many of us (myself included) in tears. Had JK Rowling not plotted out the books in advance would she have been able to set Snape up so perfectly as Harry’s constant savior? As Harry would say, JK Rowling’s writing was brilliant!
I suppose the moral of this story is that every writer has to find out what method is best for them. There isn’t a “write” answer or a “wrong” answer.
For me, I choose to stay away from those damned walls. Outlining is key for me.
Stay tuned for part III – Plotting as an aid to creating sub-plots.