5. Trust the fluidity of the process.
I love Stephen King’s analogy in his book On Writing comparing stories to fossils that we, the storytellers, are uncovering. To plot out a story is to decide beforehand what kind of dinosaur it is. King writes, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”
His analogy helps me to stop thinking of a story as something I create as much as it is something I uncover by asking the right questions.
When people outline, they’ll inevitably come up with ideas for scenes that seem important to the plot, but in the resulting manuscript, the transitions between these scenes (in terms of the character’s motivation to move to another place or take a specific action) are often weak. You can usually tell that an author outlined her story when you find yourself thinking, But why wouldn’t the character just …?
As you learn to feel out the story by constantly exploring what would naturally happen next, you’ll find your characters acting in more believable and honest ways.
Here’s the biggest problem with writing an outline: You’ll be tempted to use it. You’ll get to a certain place and stop digging, even though there might be a lot more of that dinosaur left to uncover.