How to Write by the Seat of Your Pants: Outline or No?
One of the eternal questions about writing is how to go about the messy business of actually putting stories together. The kind of books I write are slippery to plot: character-driven fiction is focused on following a character’s personal growth and has a lot less plot-based oomph than some genres (genres like thriller, fantasy, “active” romance).
When I was writing The Sock Wars – which took me almost six years – I found it difficult to find the story arc. I was working full-time and trying to manage a chronic illness while working crazy long hours. Four drafts were written and edited, re-written, re-edited, and fretted over without finding the proper plot progression. In the fifth draft, I made a map of the story’s events and then cut and pasted like a madwoman until all of the scenes melded together properly. It took about a year to sort out, a difficult, very long year that was edged with frustration. Finally, I was able to carve out the plot structure. (And there was much rejoicing.)
Eventually I decided it was time to leave the day job behind, and write full-time. I clocked out last September and my goal was to put out three books this year. The Sock Wars was almost completed, but the other two novels needed the same type of plotting attention that I had lavished on The Sock Wars, but I had only a fraction of the time. The solution: I needed to outline. The problem: I had never outlined before.
I sat down a month ago when I started the first draft of my latest novel – a comedy revolving around a support group for people with migraine called The Migraine Mafia – and I wrote an outline this time, a scratchy version in the sand of what I wanted to happen. I also started to use Scrivener, a writer’s tool that helps you plot and structure your work. Some of it has worked, and the first draft is almost completed. It’s been an interesting way to approach storytelling. I think it’ll lead to less work during the second draft, but paradoxically, it’s been harder to find the spirit of my story. Part of me feels like my spontaneity has been squished by a need to follow the outline. But I have meandered a bit from what I laid out, and that’s been fun.
After the next two books are done, I’ll probably fall somewhere in the middle of it all: writing a loose outline but letting my characters take me where they want to go. Because, after all, isn’t that where the fun is?