Two of my personal icons in the writing world are Stephen King and Lee Childs, two authors whose stories have captivated me, interested me, and driven me to become an author myself. Two men who I completely and utterly respect and who undeniably know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing.
Yet, when it comes to starting a novel, I can’t even listen to them.
Both King and Childs are what is known as “Pantsers” which sounds far dirtier than it really is, but essentially it means they write “by the seat of their pants”. They create characters and hand the reigns to those characters, and let them tell the story, just going with the flow.
I’ve tried this. I can’t write this way. I just can’t.
From my perspective, the trick is outline, outline, outline. I need to know where I’m starting, I need to know where I’m finishing, and it sure as hell helps to know where I’m going each step of the way. I’m not saying my work is some kind of intricate web of interweaving plot lines, but when it comes to telling a logical story, I need to be able to trace events step by step. That’s how I work.
I’m not saying that’s the only way to do it, obviously there are plenty of people (King and Childs included) who make a pretty awesome living by just letting their characters tell the story. But for me, it’s gotta be outlined. That’s not to say the outline doesn’t change as the story evolves, it sure as hell does and always will. My characters absolutely have a voice and sometimes that voice will dictate a ninety degree turn from the outline and in those cases I generally go with the flow until it feels natural to stop.
But once I stop, I check that outline and make sure there’s still a way to get to Point B without sacrificing what’s happened from Point A and in between.
Speaking of outlining, while I used Microsoft Word to generate outlines in my first three books, I’ve made a commitment to try Scrivener for whatever might come next and I’m excited to kick the tires. A lot of what it does seems to automate and organize what I usually do manually, but I didn’t feel like I could introduce it mid-stream, so that will have to come when I jump into my next adventure.