When it comes down to story structure there are two schools of thought: planning out the major plot points and filling in the blanks or, starting with a blank paper/screen and winging it. As a new writer I’m still trying to discover the only consistent advice (if you can call it that) I ever hear, “find what works for you.” I don’t think that finding what works for you is something that can be done blindly, life is just too complicated and time is too scarce. I have tried both methods, and right now I’m leaning toward the “just go for it” way of things. Mainly because I still haven’t truly discovered a subject matter that I can write about on a regular basis and not get bored with. On some bigger projects I have stuck with (novel) outlining has saved me from sitting in the windless sea of writer’s block.
There was an assignment in my writing class (now over) that involved outlining. I took advantage of it and outlined my novel. Just by sitting down and figuring out what happens next worked wonders. I didn’t have to write chapters only to scrap them later, just a couple sentences about each sequence of events. You can experiment with your stories very quickly this way, and in large projects that is what I will need to do. When I become a successful writer and have to work with a deadline, outlines are going to save me much wasted time in throwing out chunks of precious word count. I take a different approach to short fiction, you need to explore ideas to their fullest before they are tossed.
Just the other day I opened up my word processor and I waited, just staring at the screen. I imagine my brain like a scrolling marquee of ideas. After watching the ticker for a bit I just picked one and wrote it. I was able to expand off of this and got about a 1000 words during a lunch break. I like the story and I plan on keeping it fairly short (2000 words max I think). This method of “winging it” has worked but also failed. The Las Vegas story I scrapped last weekend was a wing it session. I explored some ideas to maturation and they just didn’t work.
So do you outline or do you wing it? That is your question to answer. I can only speak for myself. What works for me is outlining the big ones and winging the short ones. If you are not even pondering this sort of thing try what I am trying. If it doesn’t work then try something else. The simple fact that you trying anything at all sets you apart from all the other people out there who stop at the “want to” portion of their writing career.
Danny Machal April 10th, 2009