There’s probably an official name for the kind of writing I do, but I’m going to call it character-driven. What I mean by that is I start with a character and a situation and then let the character take me through the story. I am always making notes and lists as I go along of things that need to be added into the story somewhere along the way, so that my protagonist doesn’t lull me into forgetting that the reader doesn’t know always what the she is thinking, even if I do.
In fact, I use Excel to track the notes and plot points as I go along. I number and re-number them, then sort by the numbers, to make sure they fall into the right slot in the tale. I suppose this could be an outline, of sorts, but it’s a living document that changes every time I sit down to write.
There are very strong proponents of outlining your entire story before you even begin to write. I’m not knocking it. I just can’t imagine it. My characters say and do things I hadn’t planned on and often they are the best parts of the story. They literally take over and it’s not only a great help to my writing, but it feels absolutely wonderful when it happens. I am transported into the story, happily, and begin to feel it happening around me.
This may be why I find it very hard to write a dark story. I don’t like being inside that sinister place, which I believe exists in all of us. In fact, I will happily abandon a movie that gets too dark for me (literally, I couldn’t finish the second and third Lord of the Rings movies because of it) or close the covers of a book which dwells for more than a few minutes at a time in the ugliness of life. I’m a lightweight. I just can’t take it.
Anyway, back to the outline concept. I’ve tried several types of outlining. When I was screenwriting, I did the index card thing – covering an entire wall with color-coded cards with scenes on them. Outlining by chapter in a very general, overall way, worked best for me, but my characters always managed to break out of the mold I had created anyway.
So, how do you do it? What’s your approach?