We are all familiar with the two styles of writing: Outlining and discovery writing. Outlining is really any organized manner of plotting and writing a story. Discovery, on the other hand, is simply writing at its most visceral and creative. These are polar opposites, as are the writers who promote them.
Writers rarely fall under one or the other category, however. It is less outlining vs. discovery and more outlining-discovery. A sort of continuum, as Brandon Sanderson puts it. Each writer fits somewhere up and down that scale. Some part outlining, some part discovery. It is the rare writer who is a purist. Most of us are hybrids.
Oddly though, the ways of mixing discovery and outlining are not discussed very often. So, how does a writer blend these polar opposites? How does a writer dynamically switch from one mode to the other?
A purist outliner will quite nearly detail every last nod and sigh. With footnotes. But we’re going to take a step back from that. Create a scene-by-scene breakdown. Answer things like: Where is the scene? Who is in the scene? What are the scene’s aimpoints or goals, if any? Purists would go much, much farther. But we’re going to stop right here. That’s it. Write the scene. Keep your aimpoints in mind. Keep your plot and character details in mind. If you've done research, keep those facts in check. Then just write the scene. Let it flow naturally. Visualize it and write it. If you are visualizing faster than you can write, do not pause. If you get hung up on a piece of the scene, push past it. Leave a little note in brackets to remind you of the part left unfinished. Keep going.
Once you reach the end of the scene, check how you did. Did you meet your aimpoints or goals? Did you keep your facts in check? Did the scene “progress” in the right direction? As the saying goes, the joy is in the journey. How you achieve a scene’s objectives is more important than the objectives themselves. This journey is the part you can discovery write.
Discovery writers might be feeling a serious buzz kill, right now. But you don't have to do scene-by-scene. Simply create the over-arching aimpoints for the entire story. Where do your characters start? Where do your characters end? What was their journey? Where does it take place? What is the conflict? What is the resolution? How did it affect your characters? Then let loose. You are free to dream. Unleash all your creativity upon the story, unrestrained and unbound. Yet, directed. Occasionally, stop and examine your work. Make sure you are on track. See that your story is aimed properly. Don't focus on any particular scene. The general direction of the story is what's important.
It is all about visualizing the story. If you need more structure to visualize, do more outlining, research and character detailing. If these get in your way, junk them. Some of us need preparation and guidance. Some of us only need a blank page and a dream.
Let's talk about dreams next time in: Dreaming of Elsewhere