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Monday
Aug142017

How to Skip Outlining

Question of the day: I have tried plot outlines and they have never worked for me so I just make it up as I go along. One problem with this is that I frequently write myself into a corner and then need to cut characters and rethink whole story lines because unforeseen plot developments just happen. Often I feel I have just wasted loads of time. For someone who isn't a natural outliner, is there any advice on how  to avoid this? Are there any tips for the middle ground? 

Well, you came to the right person to ask this question because I do not outline at all. As I'm sure you know, there generally tend to be two types of writers: pantsers (who fly by the seat of their pants) and outliners. I fall into the first catagory, but with a bit of a caveat. More on that below.

The only time I tried to outline was with my third book when I needed to know the end in order to fill in the middle. I found it excruciating, and it's not surprise that it is my least favorite book, and also the book that took the most drafts to get right. For me, writing is about flow and about following my characters and their choices, which often surprise me and are nothing I would have predicted from the start. In essence, they are like real human beings who don't follow set lines from A to B, and it's their divergences from these lines that make them interesting and ultimately tell the story.

But over the years, I have found a few techniques that make the writing process less arduous. One thing that I like to do, when I finish each day, is jot down the next few scenes on a piece of paper I keep beside my computer. I'm sure that there are more formal ways to do this, such as if you are writing in Scrievener, but this works for me. This way, I have a sense of what is coming next - let's say the next chapter or two - but I haven't locked myself into anything constricting. It also gives me a place to pick up and start the next day.

Further to that point, and this is maybe more of a writing trick than a planning trick, I often stop writing for the day in the middle of a scene. Again, this makes it easier to dive back in when I pick up the next day.

Beyond that, I do have a general sense of where I expect my characters to go - and I think that's a good thing - because it means you understand your characters, but I don't hedge them in. In my last book, IN TWENTY YEARS, for example, I know that Annie, one of my leads, would face a major crisis at the end of the book. What I didn't know is how she would react to it. And I think that's ok. You can have an idea of the obstacles you'll throw in front of them without knowing how they'll resolve. And of course, how the obstacles resolve will then chart the next steps for your characters. So, almost like a recipe, you build on that, then build on that, then build on that.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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