Out of the Archives: Following the Bread Crumbs

Having an outline can help us find our way in a story like a trusted map. But sometimes, it's fun to step off of the straight and narrow path and find a new direction. Do you outline? A classic one or bits of notes - or graphs - or none at all?

(from October, 2013Lately, I’ve compared the writing I do at my job at an animal shelter with writing for children. I know how different they are – after all, one is non-fiction and the other fiction. However, I hit a lot of snags when I’m writing fiction – snags I seem to avoid at work. I realize now that it’s not by accident.

When I am writing a proposal for a grant, certain components of the proposal are cast in stone and out of my influence – our financial health, the number of animals we sheltered last year, the number we adopted out, etc.   The narrative section of the proposal, however, is the part where I can tell a story. In fact, many elements that are used in fiction can be used in non-fiction as well. I make notes, an outline if you will, of what I have to communicate. I may change direction as I am writing, but if I do, I go back to revisit my notes. It sounds rather sterile, but it truly allows me the freedom to concentrate on language and story.
I was the last person to champion the idea of using an outline when writing fiction, so it’s ironic that I’ve realized that having a defined direction might help me tremendously. I usually do most of my writing first and then see where the story is going. Kind of a touchy-feely technique that fails more times than not.  My outline – if I do write one down - usually comes after I run into trouble.

Having a detailed outline is the not the answer for every writer. But for me, knowing how the bones of my story are connected may help tremendously. In all likelihood, I may revise the outline, change direction or discard a character. I know there has to be flexibility. Still, having a foundation to rest my story upon may give me enough confidence to push through when I’m lagging or lost.

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