It’s October 10, and in a few short weeks, November will come as a thief in the night.
I’m never ready when thieves come.
My first few times doing NaNoWriMo, I would have a story idea and, without much thought as to what it would entail, I would embark on my writing journey. No outline, just my initial thoughts and then anything that sounded good as I came to it. I’m not like that anymore. I’ve changed.
I like to outline now. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself a pantser (one who writes by the seat of his pants). However, since I started outlining my novels, they have been much easier to write, and I’m able to tie in more twists and general awesomeness to the story than if I just went in blind. Of course, I don’t hold myself bound hard and fast to my outline. In fact, my outline is usually just thoughts and feelings of what needs to be in a particular chapter, and then I’ll go from there. If a chapter needs more specific detail, I’ll make my outline more in-depth.
It works well. Sure, I still have to go back and re-write a lot of it, because as I go I always think of more awesome and amazing things that just absolutely must be included, and that tends to have an effect on everything else that was written before and also after that scene. But having an outline helps me navigate to the plot points I want to see happen, but it also lets me get there how I want.
For example, if I’m about to head off on a cross country road trip, I’ll get a map (consider this example in the days before smart phones and GPS). I’ll mark my final destination as well as my starting point. Great! Now I know where I’m going.
But there are so many cool things between me and my final destination! I can’t let them pass me by. So, I start to mark roads I should take in order to see the local attractions as I pass. I’d love to see it all, but unfortunately, time just won’t allow it. So I’m forced to pick the most exciting and interesting tourist stops on the way, and just drive by others.
As I’m driving, I see a sign directing me to some point of interest I had never heard of until now. I take a moment to think. Should I take the exit and alter my course to see it? It’s not on the route I came up with before I left, but I do decide to make the detour.
And I’m glad I did! Because at this site I was able to learn something new and actually had a very enriching experience. What might have happened had I passed by, staying too bound to my original path I had plotted? Well, I certainly wouldn’t have known what I missed out on, but having been there, I can’t imagine me not visiting that site.
By the time I get to my final destination, I’m a much different person than I was when I left. I’ve had many new experiences, met new people, and seen new things. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, and my trip was better because of it.
The same goes with my writing. I create a map and follow it until I discover some new twist of plot point I hadn’t thought of before. I write it in. Then, throughout the remainder of the story, the things I write also relate to this new experience or piece of information. I could have passed it by and clung fast to my map, but I feel that, being able to go with my feelings, my story is better for the slight (or major) detour.
As November comes and I’m preparing to write my next novel, I’m excited to see where this new road will take me. The destination is already going to be spectacular, but it’s the flavor along the way that really adds spice to the story.
What’s your approach to outlining? Let me know in the comments!