I’ve never been an outliner. In high school, when the teachers demanded outlines before we passed in our papers, I wrote my paper first then created the outline based on what I’d written. I’m sure this indicates some kind of brain deficiency, a backwards way of thinking, but it was the only way that worked for me. I couldn’t write an outline before I knew what I was going to write.
More recently, I’ve tended to write my stories in a similar fashion, although in order to avoid getting totally lost, I keep track of characters and locations in an Excel spreadsheet. I keep it open while I write and each time I invent someone or something new, I add it to the table. This helps me remember names and places…so I don’t call someone Simon in the third chapter, and Terrance in the 25th. Separate from the spreadsheet, I write detailed character descriptions, so I know what each character looks like and what they eat for breakfast, so it's all good there.
But while helpful, these practices don't do much for plot.
I began writing what I hope will be a new novel several months ago, but struggled. I had a main character; an inciting event, some periphery information plus thoughts of how things will end, but no idea how to get there. Even I recognized an outline would have helped. But similar to my struggles in high school, I couldn’t figure out how to write one, since I didn’t know the story.
Last week, I mentioned my dilemma to one of my amazing critique partners and she suggested I write a letter as if telling her the story. Growing up, I was an avid letter writer, so this felt more like fun than an assignment. Imagine my delight when during the process, the stages of my tale revealed themselves to me. The next time I sat down to work on the project, I knew where I needed to go. I've been writing ever since.
So, while I, II, III, a, b, c and i, ii, iii may not work for me, I’ve learned something. Regardless of how it's structured, it helps to have a plan. Once that's in place, following it makes the writing easy.
How do you organize your writing?