Every writer has a process by which they tell stories. Some write only after creating an outline while others write without a plan. There are many labels for these types. Plotters and Pantsers, Architects and Gardeners, Macro and Micro Planners…
You get the gist.
For the more organized writer, you begin with an outline. Outlining involves organizing your story idea with enough detail that it becomes a manageable order of events. This is useful for chapter breaks and story arcs. Once the outline is complete, you know ahead of time what is going to happen so you plan for each twist as you go. Research is also a part of outlining. Information is readily accessible online, so printing out or copying the data makes for a much more efficient process. Maybe you need to know how bridges are made or how car windows shatter. Thanks to the internet, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. Research might not always make it into your story, but understanding how things work makes for a better flow in the end. When you approach the process in an organized manner, research is a godsend.
For those who write with little or no organization, the process is more instinctive. It can be like reaching inside to find every block you have in your mind… then kicking them aside. Writing is the goal and little else. (Inner editors can stand in the corner and zip it.) When writing without a plan, there are no half measures possible. This process requires commitment. You take your spot in the story and just run with it. It might be at the beginning or it might be in the middle. Wherever it is, you take the scene and go. Following the characters becomes akin to taking dictation. The story becomes a movie in your head that is playing with you as a captive audience. Research is something that does not happen until after the story is done. If you have someone in your story with a serious wound and blood loss must be treated, you don’t stop to look up what the symptoms are or what must be done. You make a quick note and move on with the story. You can fill in the details later. Don’t know how to clean a gun, but your bad guy does? Look it up afterwards. When the story is done and your rollercoaster ride has concluded, you can let the editors back in. (Preferably a week or so later)
Editing will be necessary regardless of what method you use. Outlining lends itself to making more preparation, but edits are always needed. Writers don’t put down perfect words when they sit at a keyboard. Mistakes will creep in, repetitive words will happen again and again… Plot holes will grow… In the end, no matter what method you use, the story takes shape and the world you created will become your own.
What method do I use?
Honestly? Both. I outline and plan my stories that I work on throughout the year. Some will see publication soon and others will take years. I research and plan and outline with all the detail I can produce until the story is ready for me to tackle. I especially like finding quotes to add to the beginning of each chapter, giving a glimpse into what the chapter will reveal.
Then there’s November. Every year since 2008, I have taken up the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Basically, you shell out a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. An outline would be nice for something like this, but with such a deadline looming, the best way I have found to tackle the challenge is writing without restraint. That means I have a general idea of what is going to happen as I sit down, then race the clock (and calendar). Some years are easier than others but for the most part, I’ve succeeded each time.
The point of meeting this challenge isn’t to create a perfect story. It’s to meet the word count of 50,000 words before the month of November is over. The point is to have something to work with. I can think and plan all I want, but without a written story, editing can never happen. A blank screen has no errors, but it also has nothing to work with. You need to edit and no matter what method you choose, you can’t edit until you write.
I enjoy both methods, but then again, I’m a glutton for punishment. And since I also illustrate my own books and book covers, even after the last page is written, there is still work to be done. Just like telling a tale, we recall the journey more than the destination. The journey of writing is always a worthy endeavor I enjoy each and every time.