I am not a big believer in outlines. While I think that some folks use outlines and do well with them, I am not one of those people. I like to set out on my stories like I would set out on a journey. I follow the story and report on it like I’m working for the New York Times. Although I don’t like working with outlines that doesn’t mean that I don’t see a need for setting the bones of a story.
Setting the bones for me means getting the first draft on paper. This isn’t, mind you, the actual first draft…let’s call it a pre-draft. The pre-draft is the basics of the story. It’s like writing down the facts…what I like to call “setting the bones” of a story. When you are setting the bones you are building the story from scratch. You are creating your characters, giving them something to do and then slamming them with a problem after which you get them out of that problem. It’s the basic basics if you will.
Now some folks consider this outlining but I would beg to differ. With an outline you set the story in it’s entirety. You walk through it, this happens and then this happens and then this happens…the end. With setting the bones you are laying out the basic story with the understanding that it can literally go anywhere. For me an outline is something you have to follow but when you are setting the bones you are creating a concept for your characters to follow.
I do believe that outlines are necessary in some writing, such as non-fiction. But with fiction I think that an outline can pigeon-hole you into a route making it almost impossible for your characters to tell the story. So maybe it is time to change the way we, as writers, think when it comes to beginning a story. Maybe we need to first set the bones in order to allow our characters to tell a good story. After all as human beings we begin with the bones which give our body a good foundation and then it’s covered with all the gooey stuff and then finally clothes. Think of your story the same way and you can’t help but write a good one.
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