Perusing through the She Writes network the other day, I came across this most excellent post, Driving a Car at Night; Do you Outline, or Not?, by Kamy Wicoff.
Seriously, go read it. Especially the comments. I’ll wait right here for you.
Welcome back. The reason I wanted you to read Kamy’s post is that I’ve been struggling with the exact same issues lately. Process. Expectations of process. Ultimately why my expectations have been holding me back.
I grew up outlining in all my creative writing classes. I love outlines. I rock at writing essays because I can set up my structure ahead of time, gather all the information and support I need, then bang out my essay. Simple, easy, done.
Then I started writing fiction, fantasy, primarily. I ran into a brick wall in the form of my characters. It’s taken me quite a while to realize that every time I tried to outline my story or follow any sort of regulated process, my characters would throw up their hands and walk away shaking their heads. “She doesn’t get it.” I heard that from them multiple times.
Finally I started listening. I hear them. They don’t like structure. I do. How do I reconcile the two opposite poles? The answer I’ve come up with is…I don’t. I have to first give up my expectations, my process, my ideals, and let my characters have full control. I am merely a vessel for them to speak through. I’m doing this with my current story. I have envisioned a fireside chat with all the main players in the room. A cold, snowy evening with a fire in the fireplace, hot cocoa or something stronger for everyone, and my characters in various comfy chairs or on the soft rugs. All I’m supposed to do is write the stories that they tell, capture their gestures, the dynamics between them, and hear what they don’t say. What they don’t want me to know yet. It’s my job to be still, listen, observe, and write. Suddenly the words start to flow.
When I’ve finished writing all that they need me to know, however, you can be sure as hell that I’m outlining to ensure that I have all bases covered, that the holes are filled, and that the plot has been threaded successfully. In the end, both my characters and I get what we want. Freedom, and structure. They can coexist.