If you’re anything like me, you read the title of this post and groaned. I know, I know, it sucks, but if you want to write a good novel, you need structure. You can’t build a house without a solid foundation, and you shouldn’t start writing a novel/story/anything until you have a solid outline. Trust me. I wrote two novels without any outline at all, and now I’ve written three with them. It will save your butt. Now, let me tell you why.
So you have an idea for a novel, and you just want to let the story take you. No probs. You start writing. Sometimes you get stuck. It’s frustrating. Maybe that turns into writer’s block. But you get out of it. You manage to finish the book. Then, you read it. Maybe you’re awesome and the whole thing makes sense, but chances are you’ve made a few errors. You lost tracks of plot lines. You set something up but didn’t pay it off or vice versa. You learned something about the POV character half-way through, and the whole first part of the book needs a giant tweak. Now what?
Outline. Plot. Give your story some structure.
Every writer is going to have to do it at some stage in the game. It’s inevitable. At least for must of us it is. I’m not saying that you need to write a 72 page outline with every detail mapped out. It can be a couple of pages. There are different ways to go about making an outline. I’ve found that without one, I end up doing more work in the end. I re-write most everything. If I’d only figured out that X character needed to do Y and Z before getting to Q, then it would all make sense. Only I didn’t think it through before sitting down to write it because I wanted to get to the fun stuff. I just wanted to write. That’s what I am, a writer. Also, I love a good bit of instant gratification. I’m a sucker for it.
But I’ve learned taking the time to do even a little bit of work will help. Structure saves a writer’s butt. Seriously. It’s the playground that your characters get to play on. If you can get that solid structure down before you sit down and write, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Now, what do I mean by structure, plotting, and outlining? What kinds are there? How detailed do I need to be? I’m going to answer all of these questions in the coming weeks. But for all you pantsers (aka people who write by the seat of their pants) out there, just take a moment to open your mind to the possibility of setting up your structure before you dig into the fun stuff. More on this next week, along with recs for my favorite “How To” structure books.