I make lists. Lists for groceries, lists for travel, lists of honey-dos, lists of camping gear, lists of plants, lists of writing topics, lists of characters, lists of places (both real and imagined), and lists of lists. The CEO of my domicile has informed me repeatedly that I have too many notepads, file drawers, and binders filled with lists. Add to that several years as a corporate trainer and it should be easy to see why using an outline to develop a novel would be a logical choice for me. Honestly, that was how it started. I sat down and created an outline of chapters for my first novel. When I finished, I was so proud of it. I thought, “Wow this is going to be so easy.”
Starting at page one I proceeded methodically thinking that the best approach. A few months later, reality set in. Four chapters in and I had no idea where I was going. Somehow I had gotten off track and was at a dead end. The characters had not done what I originally thought they would. (Imagine that!) I saw no way to get them back to the outline. I lost interest and ended up setting the whole project aside. The process repeated itself several times. Each time, I could see scenes I wanted to include in the story but never wrote them because the characters left the outline behind.
As it happened, I picked up a book on screenwriting by Blake Snyder entitled, “Save The Cat!”. In it, he talked about something called “story boards”. A few weeks later I took a class from Mary Carroll Moore called “Your Book Starts Here.” Two days of the class were devoted to developing a story structure using story boards and something she called “islands”. The lightbulb came on!
Okay, some of you are rolling your eyes. But for me, this was new toy I had never seen before. The great part is, I can create a list! I can create my list of (islands) that are scattered throughout my head. I then scribble them on post-it notes and place them on my story board. Once I determine what my most critical scenes are, the rest of the islands fill in the blank spaces of the story board. With the initial story board in place, I go back and write the scenes in any order I chose. If I find that a scene needs to go someplace else in the story, I move it. The transitions between scenes can be a little tricky but that can be cleaned up later.
The freedom of not having to stick to the outline has let me focus on getting words on paper (hard drive). I no longer worry about how it will all fit together in the end. Yes, I have over simplified the process. Yes, I will end up writing scenes that may never be used in the final story. BUT, I am writing more! I also feel that my writing has improved.
So, I would like to hear from you. Do you write from an outline or from scattered islands? Perhaps you do both as each has a place in our writers toolkit.