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To Pants or Not To Pants?

To pants or not to pants? That is the question.

The answer:  It’s up to you!

Yep, like many things in a writer’s world, it’s all about what works and what doesn’t.  I’ve listen and read a great many opinions on how vital an outline is to a writers’ success.  In my endless quest for answers, I’ve tried a lot of different approaches and here’s what I’ve found has worked for me.

Outlines:  Nah, not such a good idea.  Outlines remind me too much of those research papers I had to do in college.  They seem to suck the creativity right out of me.  So how exactly do I get a story on paper? Well , my first completed Urban fantasy manuscript (93K words) was born because I had an idea for a character.  This character would haunt my every waking hour, interfere when I tried to lose myself in other’s stories, tease me when I was trying to do the job that actually pays, and had my husband worried I was becoming schizophrenic and holding arguments with non-existent people.

Unable to escape her voice, I put her down on paper, wrote out the scene haunting me and so the story began.  About 50 plus pages in, the story stalled and so did I.  The character became strangely silent and when I finally lost my temper and accuse her of being a tease, she laughed darkly (seriously she did) probably enjoying my angst.

In an effort to figure out why she was being such a bitch, I sat down and began answering some of my own questions.  And so I began doing what I later learned was called “character development”.  The whys, and how comes behind each person’s actions and reactions.  As those fleshed out, so did my world building.  The world they inhabited and the history of it all began to factor in to why decisions were made a certain way, or why actions had certain consequences.

With this foundation I wrote out where I thought she was going and what she was going to face.  It was one page, and I wasn’t worried about punctuation, voice, POV, any of it. Just a basic road map so I could see the overall  picture (aka story arc).

The story woke up and I was back at the keyboard.  Did I follow that one page road map? Nope.  But it was a huge help.  That road map, became what I called a touchstone map, a list of key happenings necessary for my character to get to where she needed to be.  What happened in-between those happenings never matched up with the initial plan.  I’m sure you’ve heard, numerous times, how characters will write a story, not the author.  I agree 100% with that.  Which is probably why an outline will never really work for me.

Now for my current project, I decided to try out a few tips I had learned so 50 plus pages in I wouldn’t stumble to a stop.  During a recent writer’s conference I attended a workshop by Connie Flynn on character development.  She introduced a character development worksheet that I decided to use for my new Urban Fantasy.  I like it because it helped me answer those questions that stopped me the first time.

Again, no outline, but a basic idea of what my story was and where it was going.

So the magic question, did I stall out?

Yeah, I did, but not because of my characters but because where I was starting wasn’t working.  So I went back, fleshed out my history on paper, and started again.  In one sitting, instead of struggling through ten pages, I got out twenty.  A clear indication I was on the right track.

Now I have much love and admiration for Higley, but the girl rocks out stories like you wouldn’t believe. And if I was the jealous type, I’d be green.  I’m a slower writer, and my OCD is a pain in the ass because I try to write my first draft as if it’s my last.  It’s a tough battle for me not to edit as I write, but thanks to the intervention of my group, I’m getting better at looking forward, not backwards.

There are so many opinions as to what’s the correct way to write, that it’s almost discouraging if you’re a new writer.  So as I’ve learned through my kick-ass critique group, it’s your story, you tell it.  Doesn’t matter how you process or how you work, you do what works for you.  That’s part of being an artist.

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