My writing projects all begin with an idea, a flash of “what if….” Sometimes, that “what if” is inspired by an idea for a character, or perhaps a setting. Maybe it was the idea for the plot that had my wheels turning.
When I have that flash of brilliance, I don’t want to lose that thought. I carry a notebook and several pens at all times because the batteries never fail. I can write myself a note anywhere, anytime.
I developed the habit of keeping a small pocket notebook on hand when I worked at a daytime job. No one knew I was writing a book, but all day long, little ideas would pop into my head and I would jot them on a notepad.
Fortunately, bookkeepers keep a lot of notes, so my writing things down was not out of place. If a boss had looked at my notes, they would have seen something like “Put the bodies in the trunk of the Jaguar,” which might have raised an eyebrow or two.
A lot of people nowadays use a note-taking app on their cellphone to take notes. However, doing that at work might be frowned on, as some places limit the time you spend on your cell phone.
Note-taking by hand is old-school but will enable you to discreetly write your ideas down, and you won’t appear to be distracted or off-task.
In my last post, I mentioned that for me, a broad outline of my intended story arc keeps me on track toward arriving at a good ending. Experience has shown that I work best when I have a specific goal to write to. That way, the story flows smoothly to the best conclusion.
It’s okay to have several possible endings in mind, as long as each fits logically when viewed with the events that led up to them.
The list of ideas is important as it keeps me focused on connecting the beginning of the story to a proper ending. Even with the outline, I’ve been known to write several different endings before I find the one that works best.
When I try to “wing it” all the way through writing a book, I usually end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story I can’t sell.
That’s why I make outlines even for short stories. I ask myself
- What is the inciting incident?
- What is the goal/objective?
- At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
- How badly do they want it, and why?
- Who is the antagonist?
- Why are they the enemy?
- What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
- What happens at the first pinch point?
- In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
- What is their health like?
- Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
- At the ¾ point, the protagonist should have gathered plenty of resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. Do I have the story set up correctly to this point so I can choreograph that meeting?
All stories must have a logical arc, but each character should too. It’s my job to make sure that the characters evolve and grow over the course of the story. For me and my style of writing, the character arcs benefit most from the outline, even more than the overall story arc does.
When you are winging it through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere when you begin fleshing out your characters.
I would suggest you don’t go into too much detail in that little framework because you might feel like you have written the story, and there’s nothing left for you to say. You might lose interest in it. But if you give yourself a general outline that has the highpoints listed, you can wing it to connect the dots and you won’t lose your way.
I’ve said this before, but when you have a simple outline, you’re less likely to become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up once the real work of writing starts.
And you won’t have to kill off random characters and hide their bodies in the Jaguar’s trunk.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Notebooks.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Notebooks.jpg&oldid=366931573 (accessed January 22, 2020).