If you ask a hundred writers how they get a story from their head to the page, you’ll more than likely get a hundred different answers.
Some folks are firmly in the ‘I go where the words take me’ camp, whereas others, like myself, prefer to map everything out first.
Personally, I love outlining. It’s my favorite part of the story process. It’s like the ‘I got this great guitar riff in my head, it’ll make a great chorus’ stage in songwriting. You know what you start out with won’t be exactly what you end up with, but the sheer joy you feel from that ‘new’ idea spurs you on.
So just what is an outline? Answer: whatever you want it to be.
To me, it’s a rough story guide (or in the case of a novel, a by-chapter guide), which shows the main events and marks where character growth and plot points need to be addressed. I like to start with the ending, then fill out the rest of the story idea from there.
I write detailed information sheets containing physical and background information about the main characters including their motivations/phobias etc, which also give me plenty of extra plot ideas.
An ‘event’ usually starts out simply: Introduce Doris – show she’s a ghost (from a current WiP, Dead Doris), then evolves during the process: Introduce Doris by having her argue with the ghost of a murdered shopkeeper who refuses to believe he’s dead.
Later in the outline stage, I may add a bit of dialogue or prose to remind me how I wanted to set the mood for the reader eg: 12-yr-old Doris Fairview (deceased) counted to ten, reminded herself that nobody likes getting stabbed first thing in the morning, and tried to explain things to the store manager one more time.
Once it reaches the point when I feel I’ve got enough of the ‘story’ down, I begin writing the ms – whether that be a novel or a 100-word drabble – yes, I even outline drabbles :P. Between then and the end of the first draft, that outline can (and more than likely will) change dramatically, which is perfectly okay, it’s an outline not a contract after all.
One of the best arguments in favor of planning a story in advance is that you find out whether or not it’s going anywhere before you’ve spent weeks or months working on it. For me, there's nothing worse than getting excited about a project, only to find that it comes to a dead end months later, or you have to go back and pull out half the story, then rewrite it another way. That said, plenty of people find the ‘Start typing and go from there’ approach works better, and good luck to them.
After all, there’s only one real rule when it comes to writing: Find out what works best for you and do that, a lot.
How about you?
When it comes to writing a story, what’s YOUR process?
ETA: If you decide to write your own post about this (or already have), send me the link and I'll add it below:
rowyn posted about her process here