On Outlines

I have been writing my stories off and on for about 20 years now.  My early stuff is horrific.  A true affront to the English language.  That’s saying something since I feel that English (the language) took the best parts of like six other languages, drug them behind a dumpster and beat them with a shovel.  I had a tale that was about the early European colonization in the Caribbean; it was horrible.

I was recently asked about what, if any, planning and outlining I did when I sat down to write my first book, Grenheim’s Thorn, I had decided just to post it here.  I write very “organically.”  When I hear authors say this, what I hear is, “I write when I feel like it and will probably miss my deadline.”  There’s nothing with writing “organically,” I know, I do it.  The real issue is that when you write this way you can sometimes wander far afield from your original story.  Wandering like this happens to me all the time.  I like to say that it’s because I want my characters to “feel real.”  They (my characters) have their responses and impulses.  I put them into a situation and then try to see what they will do.  Here is where I run into trouble.  I know what they are supposed to do, but my brain just wanders with my imaginary friends, and they sometimes do their own thing.  Makes for some interesting stuff.

Due my wandering imagination, I must use an outline.  I hate outlines.  I sincerely, hate them.  I hate writing them; I hate following them. But they are pretty much the only way I stay on course.  So my outlines are very – ahem – sparse.  I prefer to write using an outline like it is a compass rather than treating the outline as a map.  When you have a compass, you know the general direction you want to head.  You may wander off the trail a bit, but odds are, you are going to get where you’re heading.  With a map, you’re never going to investigate that unusual sign and find something cool six miles off the highway.

So, yes, I have an outline.  Or more, I have a good understanding (which is written down) of where the story is going.  I know all the key characters and events.  But outside of that, I am just winging it.  I know who dies.  More importantly, I know when and why.  But when I had two characters make a bet early on in my book, I didn’t plan it.

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