I see my story as a movie. That’ s just how my imagination works. I see scenes from camera angles and imagine the little black blips that pop up on the movie screen at the theater. I love a good cinematic scene, the type where you can hear stirring music in the background.
I love trailers too. You know what I mean. Two minutes of the best scenes mashed together with big, bold words cut in between. You see a dozen of the movie’s best lines, three or four amazing actions scenes and a few other tidbits that make you want to go see it. I have always been a sucker for a good trailer.
And that’s how I see my story. I see all my favorite scenes, the ones that are the reason I’m writing the whole book to begin with, where the tension is at its height and the most memorable events happen. But a good story is an undulating wave of tension. It starts out at a low point and goes up and down, building toward the climax. Here’s a video by Extra Credits that really sums it up. By the way, they mainly deal with video game design but they have so many great things to say about storytelling that they’re worth checking out no matter your medium.
Back to my point. There is a ton of connective tissue that tie these major scenes together. The “slow” points, the ones you never daydream about, are where you build the significance of the high points. How many movies have you seen where everything that wasn’t in the trailer was boring, weak, or just downright bad? How many books and games have the same issue?
That is why outlining is so important to me. The first time the idea is on paper is the first time you see it without makeup. When an idea is in your head it’s under the best possible circumstances and you’re not seeing all the things that need to be there to make the scene possible. When it’s on paper you’re looking down at the bare bones of things and for the first time you are going to have to make them work together. There’s nothing worse than having to go back and erase things you spent days or weeks on because your story went in a different direction.
Don’t get me wrong, the outline shouldn’t be the final word on things. My wife (who looks great without makeup by the way) writes without an outline. It is amazing what she has accomplished in just a few months with just an idea, all the while maintaining a solid continuity. She wings it from beginning to end. And even with an outline, that will and should happen. There were many plot points that came up or went away as I wrote. As I was writing inspiration would strike and things would happen. Sometimes I was genuinely surprised by these events. And there were many times I had to go back and erase things I loved because I didn’t see the issues in the outline.
The outline is like GPS. It shouldn’t tell you what lane to use or when to turn on your blinker. All it should do is serve as guide, let you know when to take a left and when to take a right. If you find a better path or find that one is no longer available, ignore it. It’ll freak the hell out and give you the “Make a legal u-turn” command, but as soon as it figures out what you’re doing it will do the “calculating” and a new one will pop up.
This isn’t to tell anyone they need to have an outline. As I said above, there are many who don’t. Some of my favorite authors don’t have outlines. I hope this helps anyone who is considering this technique. I would also be really interested in hearing what some other people’s method are for this.