January 24, 2014

Why writing an outline IS creative

Ugh. Outlines. Right?

I had a few meetings this week to talk about the writing process, and the same issue came up three different times - all the writers I met with can't seem to get passed chapter two or three.

Whenever a writer tells me they can't finish a project, the first question I ask is, "Did you do an outline?"

And the typical response is a sour look with a defeated sigh, "No."

The very word "outline" sounds daunting and very un-creative, but in my experience the outline is the pinnacle of the creative process. This is where it all begins - the hero's journey. You get to design an entire road trip for your main character to travel, and you can go anywhere in the universe.

My next question is, "Would you go somewhere you've never been without a map, directions, or a navigation system?"

Of course not, because you'd never get there - or you might, but it could take a lot longer and you might end up in some dodgy places.

The outline serves as a road map to get the writer and the main character from point a to point b - all the way to the last point, or rather the end of the story. When you have a solid set of directions it's not as scary to wander off the trail and explore new avenues, you might find a cool twist you never thought of before, and then you can jump back on the path and continue the journey. Outlines aren't written in stone, and remember even Moses broke the first set of commandments.

The heroes I love are brave, confident and show great foresight. Their confidence shines through the pages because they know where they're going.

There are several approaches and suggestions to story mapping, but the one that works best for me is Ken Vogler's The Writer's Journey. He breakdowns Joseph Campbell's tried and true "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and explains in a simple way what makes a story work and how to take your main character through each phase of the journey. It doesn't feel like an outline, it feels creative and fun.

Writing the words "The End" is the most wonderful moment in any writer's journey.

Keep writing. It saves lives.