by Patrick LeClerc
I don’t plan my novels. Allegedly, one is supposed to. There are all these things like outlines and three-act structure and character arcs and so on. If you want to waste tons of free time, you can go to any writers’ forum online and read all the very important reasons you need, vitally, goddam need these things.
But I have better things to do. Like make shit up.
Sitting down and writing an outline kills my drive completely. If I want to lose a day staring at a blank page, I just say I’m working on an outline.
I start with an idea. Usually a character and a situation, and I write that. Then I wonder how that character got into that situation, and what they have to do to get out of it. Questions I hadn’t thought to ask before I sat down to write answer themselves. Characters grow and develop through the story, and I discover things about them that I’d never have thought to put in an outline.
I’ve seen enough movies and read enough books that the basic shape of plot and structure, the core truth of the concepts is there. I don’t have to plan that. The basic format of situation, conflict and resolution is like muscle memory now.
Now, this is first draft stuff, and the whole point of the first draft is to get it on paper. Reach the end. I call it my Blitzkrieg approach, where I just push to the sea and cut off the BEF. I go around tough spots and potential writer’s block areas and let the follow on forces clean those up in the second draft.
Once my first draft is finished, it will have inconsistencies and plot holes and issues. But it’s all down, and moving scenes, changing or combining supporting characters, clarifying messy spots is easy when you have a rough draft with a beginning, middle and an end and characters you care about because you watched them take shape and grow and gain depth as they struggled alongside you on the page.
Maybe not everyone can do this. I don’t think there’s necessarily one true way to write. Maybe some people need an outline the way some people can do math in their heads and some need to write it out longhand. I’m not suggesting everybody should throw away the outline and just wing it. I’m just saying it’s a viable strategy. It’s worked for five novels, and no reviewer has lamented a lack of structure. And it makes writing fun.
I remember reading the first draft of a friend of mine who uses the same method. I got to a scene with a big plot twist, one that really helped define the story, explained the protagonist’s motivation and tied a lot of threads together. I wrote in the margin “Wow. Didn’t see that coming.”
“Neither did I,” he replied.
And that’s the happy surprise you’ll never get from an outline.