There are two kinds of writers. The planners and the fly by the seat of their pants writers. The one can’t quite understand the other. One must plot and plan. One can’t take time to scheme. They let the creativity flow and don’t worry about the behind the scenes work.
Well, I’m a planner. I spend countless hours fleshing out the characters. What is their story before the story? I have an outline for everything. One for places they live in or travel to. One for minute plot description. One for character sketches.
Being a plotter makes my life so much easier. Did I forget where my character stores her keys? Go to the ‘Places’ outline. Was one of my minor characters raised in a rural or urban environment? Go to the ‘Character’ outline. Did I forget to mention an important detail about the character’s past? Go to the ‘Plot’ outline.
For the ‘seat of your pants’ writers, your reading this with scorn. You’re wondering where my creativity even had a chance to breath with all these plans. Couldn’t I worry about all that later? And, some of you planners may be new at outlining and don’t quite know what the best set up is to make it an efficient tool for your work.
An outline benefits both kind of writers. With just a tiny bit of planning, you too can set up the dreaded outline to strengthen your writing. Here’s some quick and easy steps to help you do minimal organizing to keep the details in order:
- Set up a separate folder for each outline you’re making.
- If it’s beyond you to plot first, put it in the outline as you go.
- Make each chapter a new bullet and give it a page number to make for easy searching in the future.
- Put a timeline with each chapter and page number. This helps you map out time spans.
- Only type the most important details or things you know you’ll need to look back at later.
- Highlight sections in the outline where you know you need to go back and fill in blanks or give info that you haven’t had a chance to finish researching.
- Mark the day you started the manuscript and what the theme is. You’ll be wondering about it years later.
As much work as it seems to be, in the end you’ll be so glad you did it. It’ll minimize mistakes and help you find information faster when you’re editing or trying to remember exactly how a specific scene happened. And, once you get used to doing it, you’ll find you can’t live without it.
There are so many places that can inspire and evoke a story if we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones and do a little exploration. It’s amazing where ideas can spring up. Have you ever been at the grocery store and saw an old lady pushing her cart with slow deliberation, or at the park when a young couple were walking together, arms entwined? These little moments in life are the stuff novels spring from.
So you’re asking yourself where you should be looking. It seems obvious to check out the activity around you in public, but where else could you look? Here’s a great list to consider:
- Historical Locations– Could an old plantation have a secret passage or hiding place in the paneling? Ask the tour guide if you can get a sneak peak into off-limits areas.
- The Mall– Could your main character be shopping for an engagement ring? What does a person look like when they’re about to make such a big move?
- Parks– Are you writing a thriller about someone running from an enemy? Check out the walking trails to see how someone reacts when they’re exerting themselves.
- An Alley– Just standing in one even in the best part of town can get your pulse racing.
- The Local Pound– What does it feel and smell like to be surrounded by the chaos of thirty barking dogs? Could you imagine your character surrounded by a wild pack?
- An Old Crime Scene- Can you imagine how the assailant gained access into the location? Can you imagine the fear and adrenaline of the victim?
- An Open Field- Sit down and take in the feel of the air, the rough grass, the remoteness.
- A Rundown Barn- The smell of old hay and the dark recesses can stir unease or boost happy memories.
The list could go on forever if you had the time to read, but I think you get the gist. If you start asking friends and family, you’ll be amazed at the response you get, and the opportunities that’ll open up. A friend may know someone with a dilapidated barn or a farm with acres of fields. It’s amazing how people jump in to help if you’re willing to ask.
Think of it as an opportunity to use your five senses to improve your writing, not as a boundary issue. In the end, you gain more than two dimensional knowledge, you’ll get to live the scenes before you write them.
As I stood in my bathroom I had no choice but to admit the truth. I covered my eyes in shame. Nobody could know what I hadn’t done. The shower glared in my face. It seemed to say, “you let me down.” Brown grime covered the bottom of my shower. It hadn’t been cleaned for too long.
Can you relate? Is there some work waiting for your attention that you haven’t managed to get around to accidentally on purpose?
I pulled the cleaner out and sprayed the walls and basin in repentance. It would take a good half hour for the cleaner to do it’s job. Meanwhile, I’d avoid its accusations. I’d come back and start scrubbing in a bit.
Why not forestall as long as I could? And I knew just the way to do it: get onto Facebook, check emails, start a new post. The choices were endless. They had the capabilities of keeping me away for a long time. So I sat in my office and pretended to look busy.
It was so easy. Facebook had 29 new notifications. The emails were a mile long. I buried my head into my computer. My critique partners had sent new work to be edited too.
That was when it hit me. Critiquing and editing wasn’t so different from cleaning a shower. I avoided using critiques to edit my work as long as I could. I hid them in a folder that I didn’t have to see until I had no choice.
The problem with that is if I don’t face the work as soon as possible I won’t know to correct the same mistakes in the current chapter I’m working on. That means the problems continue to compile. We all do this in some area of our lives. It seems to be the easy way out.
It only took me a second to get up and return to the bathroom. I scrubbed. I rinsed. I scrubbed some more.
I’d learned a very important lesson. Stop avoiding the hard things. Take a deep breath and face the work now. It’ll make the work in the end easier because there won’t be any time for build up to cripple our forward motion.
So now I’m going to scrub that shower right away, and I’m going to do my best to keep up with my book editing. Will you make the same commitment with whatever work you’ve been called to do?