Outlining vs. Free Writing

Writing Picture

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. I spent the morning with the kids at the beach. We had a lot of fun building sand castles and swimming. Now the kids are napping, and I’m sitting down to write the final chapters of Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Well, I’m not really writing the final chapters, just outlining a first draft. I’m excited how the story has turned out so far. Maddie’s first adventure is an archaeological thrill ride filled with history, suspense and twists, a few laughs and, I hope, likable characters and detestable villains.

In the past, I have recruited test readers to give me feedback on my manuscripts. For the first novel in the Maddie Jones series, I might recruit test readers to critique my outline. We’ll see. I’m not sure at the moment. It would be a strange process, but the outline reads like an abbreviated version of the story. My outlines aren’t typically so put together, but I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson. He devoted two whole lessons to the outlining process. Patterson calls outlines his “secret weapon.” He typically spends two months on an outline before he sits down to write the novel. By having a solid outline filled with suspense and the right amount of pacing, he’s able to write a story that draws you in and makes you keep turning pages.

I got to say, after creating the first Maddie Jones book in this way–outlining the story from start to finish, scene by scene–I will likely never write another story like I did before. With my previous novels and short stories, I often wrote a brief outline, then filled in the gaps with free writing as I went. James Patterson says, “Don’t do this.” He believes your story won’t be as suspenseful and engaging if you go in blind; or, as in my case, partially blind.

Now, I know there is no right or wrong way to tell a story. There are writers out there who will disagree with Patterson. But have they sold 300 million copies of their books? Um, more than likely not. If you want to be successful, I believe you should learn from the best and emulate what they did. I am now convinced thorough outlining is effective. It frees me to simply tell the story and not worry about flashy sentences. I can see why Patterson recommends it so strongly. Will his tips make me successful? Who knows. But Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors is a better story because of it.

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