Do enough copywriting, eBook writing, blogging and web content for hire and fiction writing can become a little intimidating. It’s not just that you have solid facts to go on when writing for clients, it’s that you know how to structure that content quite easily by simply putting the facts in the right order. If it’s factual and easy to read, it’s good content, that’s all that really matters.
So when it comes to writing fiction, how do you know your facts are in the right order? How do you know that your facts, which are all made up, are true to your characters? How do you take what you know about the story and your characters and share it with the reader in a way that’s not only easy to read, but dramatically effective?
Some people don’t want to hear this, some people think that extensive planning is the quickest way to suck all of the fun and imagination out of fiction writing, but the answer just might be to outline your story all the way through before you sit down to write “Once upon a time.”
Take a moment to consider the advantages of having an extensive outline to lean on when writing fiction:
- Any major plot issues you’re going to run into, you’ll be able to solve them in the outline. It’s easier to fix a blueprint than it is to rebuild a house.
- You’ll never get writer’s block, you’ll always know what happens next.
- You’ll figure out who the characters are in the outline. They can still surprise you once you start writing, but you’ll already know a little something about them, you won’t catch yourself staring at a blank page for hours thinking “How would they respond to this?”
Many writers buck at the idea of using an outline because they see it as being restrictive. It’s just the opposite. An outline isn’t a prison, it’s not a rulebook. You can write an outline just to get to know your characters, the world they live in, and nail down the major themes you’re exploring, and then just wing it the whole way through without checking the outline once. Just as an actor may deviate from the script, you can deviate from an outline as you write. But, just as an actor has the script to fall back on when they can’t come up with a good improvised line, you’ll have the outline to fall back on.
You don’t need an outline. Some writers do a fine job jumping right in. Harlan Ellison doesn’t use outlines. He doesn’t even do second drafts, he’s just very careful the first time through. All an outline is there for is to make writing fiction a little easier. If you’re struggling, try just outlining the scene that’s giving you a hard time, and see if it helps you over the writer’s block.
Gilbert S is a writer and artist who lives in rural New Mexico with his wife, and his dog, Sir Kay.