Sometimes it’s fun to sit down and just start writing, see where it leads. This might start with a character, a setting, or a situation. The writer sits down on the park bench and observes two lovers arguing or climbs aboard a bus and watches the world go by. Taking off on these journeys to points unknown can be delightful, but they can also lead to dead ends. The writer pours out thoughts and images and suddenly she stops and asks, “What am I doing here? Where do I go now?”
Adopting this process can lead to a lot of retraced steps, which in a writer’s world means going back over recently traveled territory. I like meandering. I don’t like rework. That isn’t to say that I don’t like rewriting, but I like to start with a first draft that feels as if it has at least landed in the general vicinity indicated by the flight plan. Of course, that means I have to start with a flight plan.
I find that my chances of getting a story where I want it to go increase when I have done some background work—character sketches, summaries of the main conflict, and descriptions of the setting. I’m still surprised by the twists and turns the story makes as it glides over unexpected air currents and runs into storms that weren’t predicted by the original plan. I have more fun because I stay on track and arrive at an interesting destination. I can’t predict everything that might happen along the way, but I have tools to help me stay the course. I find I can cut back the rewriting process by as much as 75 percent. I use that time to develop new stories.
How do you feel about using outlines or other tools to guide your fiction writing? If you do use them, what tools are you using? Does the planning process improve your stories? Save you time?
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