I am now caught in the infinite loop of the first chapter. I have this habit of browsing books by reading their first line, because I place so much importance on how a story opens. After having taken my first stab at the first chapter, I am, as is to be expected, disgusted with it. Expositionally, it does everything I need it to. Characters are being established. Plots and sub-plots are being set up. A world is unfolding. And yet, having read it out loud once, I find it flat. Suspense is lacking. And although, I realize that suspense is coming in the next chapter, I don’t think it’s soon enough. So I’m setting about revising. As of now, I’ve invented a new character to provide a foil (for both the main character and for the world), and I’m altering the professions of the protagonist and his friend. I’m also considering putting the main character in jeopardy somehow. Needs more thought. There’s more to be done, but I’m feeling better about it. Until, I’ve written it, and then, of course, I’m sure I’ll need to scrap it again.
As I begin work on my third novel (all unpublished to date — I’m working on it), I find myself discovering incredible value in the outline.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.