Whenever I read advice from a seasoned writer about whether to outline or write organically with no map as a guide, I secretly hope to find a “step by step” lesson on which is best and then I want the recipe for making it work. Must I write out a detailed plot outline, complete with each pre-determined scene, every conflict and resolution figured out right up to the conclusion. Or is it possible for me to just open my mind and let the story pour out onto the paper as its happening in my mind; write by the seat of my pants?
In Stephen King’s ” On Writing”, he writes ” Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.” Comparing stories to fossils that we, as the writers, uncover as we go, he encourages us to let the story unfold as it flows through us. By outlining ahead, we risk crippling ourselves, limiting the potential for our characters to act more believably as they dig along with us. After all, if our goal is for the characaters to explore answers to their questions, to defeat the demons inside their minds as they move forward through the story, then we must dig along side them for answers as we write. If the writer has all of the answers ahead of time and each layover in the journey of our characaters is laid out already, the writer stops digging, “even though there might be a lot more of that dinosaur to uncover”, as Steven James says in his Writers Digest article “Go Organic.”
Steven James tells us to ” let the characters respond naturally to what’s happening, write a scene that fulfills a promise you made earlier in the book, or work on a scene you know readers will expect based on your genre and the story you have told so far. … Move into and out of the story, big picture, small picture, focusing one day on the forest and the next day on the trees.” He tells us to follow these ideas, and the stories will unfold before us.
After seeking the answer to my question whether to write an outline or not- through the advice of the experts, I as the reader, have defeated my own demons and subsequently, I am ready do something outside of my box as a writer and perhaps, even as a human being; I am ready to write by the seat of my pants and see where this takes me and the readers who have chosen to ride along with me.