Some authors can write the beginning of a book, short story or chapter off of the cuff. They like to see where the story goes without drawing a map to the final destination. I’ve done this myself a time or two, but I find that my work comes out best if I write my ideas out, look at them and arrange them into a story. No matter what school of thought you subscribe to, sitting down to write a map of where you intend to go with your story does have its advantages.

I like to write my stories a bit like TV shows, where each chapter is an episode and each book can be considered a season. In TV shows, the writers always get together and have a writers meeting to discuss where they are in the season, what the next episode is going to be about, which characters and what story lines will be included in the episode and how the episode they’re currently writing will impact the future of the show. I like to do the same thing whenever I outline the next chapter of a novel or a short story.

I’m currently working on finishing up my second novel. My first attempt at writing a novel is actually going to be the third novel in the series. I was halfway through when I realized that my characters have a backstory that I had yet to fully explore in order to do the novel and the series justice. At first I thought I could do that with just one novel, but it turned out that I actually needed two. In order to figure out the backstories of my characters, I had to get to know them. In order to do that, I had to sit down and “interview” them, see who they were before I met them, what they liked, who their family was, what clothes they liked to wear and what kind of music they listened to. Outlining is a great way to not only discover every facet of your story, but to also figure out who your characters are.

I admit that there is a thrill to simply diving into a story to see where it will take me. The act of raw creation brings a certain sense of urgency and an unpolished refinement that you just can’t get when you outline. Rather than sitting down and interviewing your characters, you allow them to possess you and tell the story purely from their point of view. It’s a bit like listening to the elegance of orchestral music versus the unbridled ferocity of heavy metal. One is very structured, very outlined and the other is undiluted and restrained. Yet both have their target audiences.

So when it comes to the question of outlining, I think it’s best to try your hand at both. If you’re used to outlining, you might want to try writing a poem to exercise those creative mental muscles. Poetry is another one of those raw forms of creation. Rarely do you hear of a poet, rapper, MC, musician or singer who outlines their material. Often they have the music, the verse or the song inside of them and they simply sit down and let it out, allowing it to write itself as they go. After the muse has passed, they go back and clean it up, much like a writer edits their work. If you’re more used to writing off of the cuff and would like to outline more, a suggestion to make the transition is to write out character histories or make up a character and write out their backstory. This will allow your mind to focus, discover and think before putting pen to pad or finger to key.

Take care out there.

Which do you prefer? Outlining or writing off of the cuff? Any particular reason why?  

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