Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your holidays were as good as mine. So we’re back on the Writing Tip train today.
Chapter outlines are not one of my favorites, yet they’re essential. If you have a strong grip on your story from the start, that’s great. They serve as an excellent guide to writing, maintain continuity, and keep things moving. However, I’ve found that sometimes I simply don’t know what is going to happen until I get there, based on what goes on in the previous chapter.
I tend to develop strong characters who take over and virtually tell ME what will happen next. Thus, I often write the outline in parallel to the book, or modify it along the way if things take a different turn. They’re always a handy way to keep track of story action when you don’t write the story chronologically.
I write in layers. I’m always thinking of other details to add, a better way to say something, or a new plot twist which means I have to go back and add it. Knowing where to find it is much easier with a chapter outline that tells me where that particular scene lies.
Sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel or story is getting it started. If you feel stuck, work on developing your characters individually. This not only can get your creative juices flowing, but inspire new ideas of how they fit into the story and contribute to the plot.
Every story should start with a premise, which can usually be stated as a “What if?” statement. How that is developed will be further explored in a basic outline, which can lead to a chapter outline.
This is not a necessity. All authors develop their own style, not only of how they put words on the page, but how their story gets written. Some maybe start at chapter one, page one, while others may write the epilogue first, or jump all around as their muse dictates.
Don’t force yourself into a modus operandi that doesn’t feel comfortable. Trying them all when you first start out, however, will help you find what fits your style. Once that is identified, you’ll discover your own ways of overcoming writer’s block.
A chapter outline can be a useful tool, but don’t feel as if it’s engraved in stone. When you start forcing your characters to do your bidding instead of what they want to do, the reader will sense this disparity. Giving your character free rein often brings great plot twists.
When you find that your character wants to do something different than you’d planned, this is an excellent sign that you’ve created a credible one. Cardboard characters are like puppets and will do exactly what you tell them to do, but they also won’t be convincing individuals. No real person is 100% predictable and your characters shouldn’t be, either. If he or she gets himself into more trouble, it contributes to your story, especially when you also allow him or her to find a way out.
I think it’s a lot of fun when a character is in a self-imposed bind that I have no clue how to solve. That’s when I just let him or her figure it out. If I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, it should add to the suspense, assuming the reader won’t know, either.