Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Plotting Your Route

by Lisa Bullard

10_8PaulBunyanUsing an “I’ll just see where the road takes me” approach has led me on all sorts of adven­tures. But it’s also meant I’ve arrived at mid­night and dis­cov­ered every hotel room in town is rent­ed to lum­ber­jacks.

I still don’t plan ahead for lum­ber­jack influxes—I figure one of those per life­time is prob­a­bly my quota—but that expe­ri­ence has forced me to rethink my approach a bit.

I’ve learned the same thing about writ­ing road trips. My ear­li­er, short­er projects didn’t trav­el enough dis­tance to require plan­ning ahead. I always had a final des­ti­na­tion in mind (the end­ing of a sto­ry is clear to me ear­ly in the process). But I didn’t wor­ry over the how-to-get-there details. A few unex­pect­ed detours just meant more fun.

It was dif­fer­ent when I began draft­ing a nov­el. I jumped in with my usu­al spon­ta­neous approach, steer­ing towards the end­ing but explor­ing all the intrigu­ing side roads. Then my char­ac­ter dug in his heels and refused to move for­ward. I sud­den­ly rec­og­nized what a vast expanse stretched between the begin­ning and the end­ing, and I com­plete­ly stalled out.

I reluc­tant­ly rec­og­nized it was time to plot my route. As soon as I had that out­line in place, I began writ­ing again at full speed. I’m not a full out­line con­vert, but I now see that a road map can be an impor­tant writ­ing tool.

Some young writ­ers are nat­ur­al out­lin­ers. Oth­ers are like me, dragged to it only by neces­si­ty. You can help these “out­line resis­tant” stu­dents devel­op their out­lin­ing skills. For exam­ple, you can work togeth­er as a class to out­line a pub­lished sto­ry. Or you can out­line a “typ­i­cal” human life or a cal­en­dar year for prac­tice.

Some­times even the most spon­ta­neous writer needs to stop and plot their route in order to make for­ward progress.

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