I’m feeling introspective today. Bear with me.
I feel that there are two types of book memories. There are the big memories, like a major plot point, where you look back and think, “Aw man, I never saw that coming, that was so cool!” And there are the little memories, like a line of dialogue you thought was so hysterical you fell off your bouncy ball laughing. Both are important, and both are necessary to create a great story.
I’ll tell you why I’ve been thinking about this. I’m always reading about writers who swear by their outlines. And they have a good point — how can you make sure you include everything you want to include in the story if you don’t have it written down? Unless your memory is unbelievably fantastic, in which case never mind. But I’ve tried making elaborate outlines, and here’s what happens: it becomes a plodding, paint by numbers exercise in soul-sucking futility, and while I hit all the big memories (the plot points), the little memories are much, much harder to come by.
Maybe it’s just me. I’m horribly disorganized anyway, so maybe outlines and I just don’t mix by default. But when I have an outline that I’m trying to turn into a story, I follow it step by step, doing exactly what it says, and I feel like I lose some of the spark that comes from just attacking a project with a handful of characters in your head, and a vague idea of where they’re going to end up.
So when I go back and look over what I’ve written, I’ve hit all the relevant plot points — oh boy, have I hit them. But that’s all the characters do. They’re so focused on getting from one pivotal scene to the next that they never stop to have fun, or say an amusing quip, or do something ridiculous, like have an impromptu game of laser tag and fall into a vat of space jelly.
I feel like outlines stifle me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. At the same time, I’m sure there are perfectly brilliant authors out there who use outlines all the time, and produce stunning pieces of literature. It probably just boils down to personal taste.
My personal strategy is to jot down very brief notes on what will happen in the story, and then make up the details as I go. For example, in Chasing Nonconformity (the sequel to Imminent Danger), I know that the gang will head to the planet Chingu to retrieve something very valuable that they’ve misplaced. I have several plot points down for what they’ll do when they’re on the planet, but other than that, they can really get up to whatever the heck they want. At the moment, Eris has decided to go shoe shopping. And why not? I can always cut it out later if it doesn’t work with the flow of the story.
That’s the beauty of writing a book — you’re the author! You can write whatever you want, and you have no one to answer to except yourself! Well, and your fans. And your friends and family. And the general public. And reviewers. And the …
Maybe I should start that outline after all.
Unrelated media of the day:
I’ll be honest, I haven’t kept track of what I’ve posted under the Unrelated Media section, so I have no idea if I’ve shared this already. Oh well. Don’t watch it if you’ve already seen it! Or do watch it. Whatever floats your tiger-infested lifeboat.
In today’s unrelated media, Buzz Aldrin raps about how awesome it was to be an astronaut.