Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Nov 22, 2008
In step one of this series, I talked about the concept and why it’s so important to do upfront thinking. Near the end, I mentioned having an outline or a journal or both. In this step, I’m going to talk about those two items just a little bit more.
Whenever I’m going to give a presentation, I always start with an outline. I like to try to write down all the main topics first, then break them down into subcategories. This helps me focus on what I want to cover and need to cover, based on the time frame that’s been allotted me.
I do the same thing with everything I have to write, including this series. It helps me know where I want to take my content, and helps me make sure I’m not forgetting something. True, having an outline doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll remember everything, but it’ll make it less likely that you’ll forget the most important things. I have outlines for other things also. Because I travel a lot, I have an outline, or list, of everything that I could possibly take on a trip with me, whether it’s a road trip or a plane trip. As something new comes into the picture, I add it, and if something can be deleted, I take it off. I always create my outlines in Excel, because it’s so easy to modify at a moment’s notice.
At the present time I have four other books underway, believe it or not. I don’t know if I’ll finish any of them, although I expect that I will finish at least one of them since I’m halfway through. It’s a detective story, oddly enough, since I spent some time talking about that in the first part of the series. The thing is that before I decided I wanted to write the story, I created an outline for it. I did this because in my past I’ve started countless numbers of books, and one of the things you learn pretty quickly when you write fiction is that it’s easy to go off point and start loading your story with things you just can’t remember, and you’re not sure where they came from. Every fiction writer will say the same thing, whether they have an outline or not. J.K. Rowlings, for example, talked after the last book about the fact that she had actually planned on killing Arthur Weasley, Ron’s father, in the fourth book, but decided she just couldn’t do it, and that he would make the rest of the series go much better if he stuck around.
Still, she had an outline. For my story, I’ve got a nicely detailed outline, and yet I’ve already gone off point a few times, adding things I never expected to add, because they seemed to fit at the time. Still, my outline is important because I know where I want the story to come back to, and therefore I’ll figure out how to get back there. Also, an outline helps someone like me who might be gone at a moment’s notice and for a long time, and by having the outline it helps me get right back to where I was and allows me to continue on the path I’d already started.
For my first book, my outline was crucial because it helped me decide the different stages I wanted to take, as well as which stages needed extra fleshing out. For instance, in one part of that book I decided to come up with different employee types and give a synopsis of each of those types. That wasn’t one of my original thoughts, but it came about while going through my outline for the second time. See, when you start your outline, it should just be a sheet of ideas, not necessarily in any order, because you’re going to go through it a few more times, and that’s when you’ll be able to establish the direction you want to go in.
Now we come back to the journal idea I’d talked about last time. Journals don’t have to be overly detailed, but having one helps you keep all the players together in your mind. For instance, in my detective story, I introduced a character whom I hadn’t had in my original outline, and decided this was someone who knew the main character when they were much younger. Suddenly I had someone in my story I didn’t know all that well, and I realized that if he was going to be in this story, I needed to know more about him. So, I wrote a very short bio for him, just so I could not only remember who he was supposed to be, but to make sure I’d keep spelling his name properly throughout the rest of the story. Believe it or not, even small things like that happen from time to time to many writers, and often they’ll be missed by editors, who get so used to looking for grammatical errors and not necessarily misspelled names, especially if those names aren’t normal.
I don’t want to scare anyone by using the term “journal” because journals don’t have to be all that long. If you’re writing something up about a new character who might play a part of even minor significance, it could be as short as one or two lines. The idea isn’t to totally detail every character who’s going to be in your story; after all, if you do that, it starts to restrict what it is you want to write about. Writing is supposed to be about creativity after all, no matter what you’re writing. But journaling, along with having outlines, gives you the assistance needed to remember who your character is, what your point is, and after that, you can go wherever you want to go.
And that’s the end of step two. What will step three be? Stay tuned.