Most writers identify themselves as either planners or pantsters, those who like to think about the path of the story beforehand or those who prefer to discover their story as they write. Rarely is a person firmly in one category or the other. Organizational styles can change from author to author and even project to project. Today I plan to share a little bit about how I choose to prepare for my projects.
Rarely do I start focusing on a single project with no snippets of scenes or ideas for plots. Through daily prompts or ideas I have during major projects, I have quite the collection of ideas for characters, settings, stories, and pages of dialogue. One story I have not even begun in earnest yet has well over 30,000 words in its document. So while I don’t normally have to hunt around for a starting idea, I do have to figure out how to make all the fun parts fit together.
Now I will take this moment to say, that oftentimes the writing prompts and snippets I start out with don’t make it into the actual draft. I don’t try to force these earlier pieces into the story if they don’t fit naturally, because stories grow and change over time. However, no piece of writing is wasted. Even if those earlier words don’t work, they helped me familiarize myself with my story, my characters, and my world.
I do consider myself more of an outliner, preparing chapter by chapter what I want to happen. I like to have a roadmap of where I’m going so that if I get stuck I know (kind of) what to do. Sometimes I’ll even write nonlinearly, and the outline helps there too. I might be really excited to write a particular scene one day, and instead of losing that creative spark by following the chronological path of the book, I’ll skip forward a couple chapters. This may result in rewriting the later scene once I write the pieces connecting it to the whole narrative, but in most cases it helps me keep my momentum.
Now even though I do like to plan my books in advance, rarely do I have specific ideas for what I am going to do in a scene written down. My outlines are more like guidelines, and I discover my story as I’m following the plan. I leave myself open to shifting my original outline and restructuring my story as I go, careful to keep myself in drafting mode, not editor. My recent work in progress The Commanders ended up having six different versions of the outline by the time I was finished, and that was just the first draft. As I write the story I see more connections to earlier events and have more ideas for what is to follow.
The Commanders is a great example of how I use my outlines and how prior thought helps me write. I had lots of planning for the early chapters because I was getting myself and my potential audience used to so many characters. Writing the first two-thirds of the book was fairly smooth as a result. Once I reached a point where my outline was less specific and I had less of an idea of what I wanted to write, my daily word counts dropped and I found it harder to create the later chapters. The points on my outline did not have any less information than the earlier parts of my outline, I just hadn’t put as much thought into them yet.
I found through this process that I benefit from pre-visualizing a scene or chapter before I write. When I have a general idea of what I want to happen on paper, I can create a more specific vision in my mind and that makes writing so much easier.
Each project is different, so this method of outlining may work well for Commanders but not for another story. The trick is to embrace new methods if your old stand-by isn’t working, and always be aware of what works for you. Only you can write your story the way you want to write it!