“Cause I’ve got a blank space, Baby . . . and I’ll write your name.”
Sorry. Been thinking about outlining, lately, and how much I hate it. Outlines are boring, while blank space is way more fun. Blank space is undiscovered country, endless possibility, THE FINAL FRONTIER. If an outline is a road through the wilderness, blank space is striking out on your own with nothing but the stars and your gut instinct to guide you.
Romantic, right? Wandering the mountains and forests? Chasing the horizon?
Never mind that you’re starving and hopelessly lost. These things take care of themselves.
I used to write stories like an explorer setting out with no map, no compass, no destination. I’d start with blank space thinking, Plot, character, setting? These things take care of themselves! Unfortunately for me, a story begun in blank space would end in blank space – unfinished, rather like a journey whose explorer starved to death on the way.
As enchanting as I found blank space, I realized that if I ever wanted to finish a project I was going to have to attempt using an outline.
Me: “I AM GOING TO CROSS THE MOUNTAINS!”
Friend: “You keep saying that.”
Me: “But I mean it this time.”
Friend: “You say that every time. And every time, you go in a big circle and show up back in town. You’ve got to take a map.”
Me: “I DON’T NEED A MAP.”
Friend: “Yes, you do.”
Me: “SHUT UP I DO NOT.”
Friend: “Every time, Erika. Just. Take. A. Map.”
Stay on the path, Erika.
My first outline was nothing fancy. Sentence fragments to describe the characters and events from beginning through middle to end.
Character 1 befriends Character 2
Harvest Festival, sword fighting
Eventually, there’s going to have to be some kind of showdown somewhere, unless I can think of a better way to resolve conflict between three different universes. Er….
This style of outline worked for me. It didn’t result in a great story, but I did get all the way to The End, which was a first.
(Emerges from wilderness with broken nose, poison ivy, and no food. Wearily consults partly singed and mostly shredded map and realizes THE MOUNTAINS HAVE BEEN CROSSED!)
These days, I don’t start a project until there’s some kind of outline. It doesn’t have to be terribly detailed – I still like some blank space to keep things exciting – but it should serve as a general guideline for the trip through the story:
Character 1 argues with Character 2
Ugh, do they have to argue? I hate it when characters are not getting along. WILL YOU TWO JUST GET ALONG LIKE SERIOUSLY DO YOU NOT HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS ALREADY?
Ummm. Something should happen next, I guess.
Then, BAM! CUE MAGICAL EXPLOSION
So, to summarize:
Make a map to consult if you get lost.
But don’t make a super accurate map – that’s no fun. Leave some blank space.