With the release of my book STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE, I thought I would devote the next two posts to excerpts from the Q & A section on organic writing. Here you go!
Q - “Why do you need to write the whole story organically instead of plotting it out? Why can’t you just use this process as you’re outlining it?”
A - It takes time to get to know characters and allow them the freedom to respond to the situations you present to them in the story.
Also, you’ll only know the narrative weight of scenes after you’ve written them and studied them in context. There’s no practical way to do this when outlining.
Finally, if you’re not surprised by the twists in the story and the direction that it takes as you’re writing it, it’s likely many of your readers won’t be either as they’re reading it. It might take me six months of thinking about how to resolve a certain plot question as I’m working on the novel before I come up with a workable solution. I’m nowhere near smart enough to solve all of those plot problems before I get started. And unless you’re a prodigy or a creative genius, you probably aren’t either.
Q - “But if you don’t outline, how do you know how long your book will be?”
A - I don’t. I can’t know how many words my book will have until I’ve uncovered the story.
I might know some general ideas based on the genre, number of point-of-view characters, the complexity of the plot and so on, but novels are not sitcoms. The art form allows us freedom that those who are constricted to a twenty-two minute time limit don’t have. Don’t let a predetermined word-count handcuff you and interfere with telling the story that needs to be told.
Q - “But won’t I have to go through more edits if I write organically? Won’t it take me fewer drafts if I outline?”
A - There seems to be an impression out there that writing a novel organically takes longer than writing one using an outline. Some people outline their books and go through dozens of drafts; some people write organically and hardly have to edit the manuscript at all. Some of it is skill, artistry, intuition.
Writing great fiction takes a lot of time no matter how you approach it. I’ve had a number of professional novelists confess to me that the more they write the less they outline, simply because they don’t have time to write detailed outlines and still meet their deadlines.
Writing organically doesn’t mean approaching a story with a blank slate in your brain—you know about story, about genre conventions and reader expectations. If you’re writing a series, you’ve made promises in previous books that readers will look forward to finding payoff for in the book you’re working on.
If you ask the right questions and let the story continually unfold before you by letting the narrative forces press in upon it, you’ll be able to write the story much quicker than if you were to outline it and then have to make edits because there are continuity or causality problems.