As I begin work on my third novel (all unpublished to date — I’m working on it), I find myself discovering incredible value in the outline. When I first began writing long-form fiction, I embraced the romantic notion that one just began in a flurry of inspired passion, starting with sentence one and rushing to the end. No doubt, there are successful authors who have used this technique. But increasingly, I ask myself, why?
It very well may be the nature of the tale I enjoy spinning, with myriad characters following their own intertwining paths through the story. I suppose if you were writing a simple story of one man with a singular obstacle, an outline would be less necessary. Even then, there would be value.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of discovery through writing. It’s imperative I think. And there will be always be rewrites, even with the best-planned outlines. But an outline allows you to see the big picture that otherwise would, at least on some levels, elude the writer.
I use the term outline loosely here. My current outline consists of scene descriptions, character stories and even world descriptions. But as I develop my “outline,” I have found the thrill of creative discovery that rivals that found in writing straight pose. And I think that discovery comes from seeing how all these objects interact in my little world — often with delighted surprise.
I am incredibly anxious to start the prose phase, but I also am embracing the joy found in crafting a well-thought-out plot, filled with relevant and intriguing characters.
Words are messy, but they’re the only ones we’ve got.