Writers argue frequently over whether or not you should craft an outline to work from when you’re telling a story. Some say they would never attempt a piece without an outline, others think it’s a sin to plan ahead at all, preferring instead to go wherever the muse takes them.
I suppose I fall somewhere in between. I’ve never really drawn up any detailed outline for anything that I’ve written, but I have found that I need to at least have the ending and some key plot points in mind before I sit down to write. That said, there needs to be room for flexibility in there. If your characters are any good, they may reveal elements of themselves and their world that you hadn’t thought about ahead of time, things that are worth following to their logical conclusion, and giving you a better story in the process. Two of my favorite characters from Other People’s Heroes fall into this category — Sheila and Animan. Sheila was originally just supposed to be a red herring to distract the reader from Miss Sinistah as a potential love interest. She wasn’t going to be Josh’s best friend, wasn’t going to turn up at the Battle of Simon Tower at the end. Animan was going to be the catch-all gag for all of the animal-based superheroes out there, but he turned out to be such a true and honest character (and so damn much fun to write) that he took on a much larger role. Both of them have since enjoyed greatly elevated importance in future stories of Siegel City as a result. (Without Sheila, I dare say, there would be no 14 Days of Asphalt.)
Now I’m doing something different. Lost in Silver, my young reader’s fantasy, is very deliberately the first story in a series. (Other People’s Heroes wasn’t at first, but it has become so.) The Evernauts, led by Linda Watson, have a very specific and unique character arc that will take several volumes to tell. But after spending several days immersed in the world of a far more popular author than myself, I decided it was time to step up my game.
I already knew much of the backstory of the Evernauts’ series, and again, I know their general ending and several sign posts along the way. But in a story so much bigger than what I’ve attempted before, I realize I need to plan better.
So I’ve spent the last few days not writing The Light Man (Evernauts Book 2) as I intended, but instead just outlining. Making detailed notes about everything that happened in Linda’s story before the beginning of Lost in Silver, making detailed notes about everything that’s going to happen in The Light Man, making less-detailed but still important notes about those things that will happen still further on in the game. And amazingly, I’m finding it far more difficult than usual writing, but at the same time, very rewarding.
Also, for the first time, I find myself wishing I had a tablet — an iPod, a Verizon, anything along those lines. I’m going to be going to Maine this weekend, and I’m looking at the plane ride as a perfect opportunity to get a lot of plotting done, but I hate opening up my laptop on planes. (There’s never enough damn legroom in the first place for someone of my height, and I’ve never been able to get comfortable that way.) A tablet would truly be the perfect solution here. But while I do fly a couple of times a year, that’s not nearly often enough to justify that kind of expense when that’s the only unique thing I want it for. So back to good old fashioned pen and paper.
Wish me luck!