I’ve always been the type of person to use outlines. I like going into a project with a map to guide me. It makes things easier and helps me stay on track when there are long breaks in my writing. Outlines are my personal safety nets.
While it’s been rewarding to take an ink pen and physically mark off each bullet telling the next step in Catherine’s and Henry’s journey, the deeper satisfaction has come in the discoveries between the bullets.
I’m currently writing the first draft of Susan’s War. It’s the continued story of Catherine, Henry, and yes, even Susan. I have an outline several pages long that I’ve been using as I progress with the story. While it’s been vital in keeping me focused, it’s also been indispensable in keeping the story flexible. For example, my original outline for Susan’s War was forty-six pages. As I’ve gotten into the story, I realize now that the story will end well before I ever get to page forty-six of the outline.
That’s because life happened in-between the bullets of the outline. These are the stories that surfaced while tying together the events. Point A and point B are in the outline, but the journey to get from one point to the other isn’t. I’d like to think of them as transition events. I know where I want my characters to begin and where I want them to end, it’s the journey between that I’ve learned to leave open. By doing so, I feel that I’m on the journey with my characters. Although I know where they will eventually end up, how they get there always leaves me surprised.
Is real life any different?
We are start and end at the same places in life, but it’s the in-between that isn’t scripted. We may try to keep it as close to our personal agenda/outline as possible, but life makes us veer course. Our paths take so many unexpected twists and turns, and it’s these moments that mold us and define us.
That’s what I loved about Catherine’s War . . . I had a friend once describe it as “a love story, yes, but it’s so much more than that. It’s how they get there, what they go through to find one another.”
It’s about the journey.
While my outline for Susan’s War is much more detailed than the meager eight pages I had for Catherine’s War, I know that if I want the book to hold the same level of self-discovery and individual journeys as its predecessor, it’s imperative I let the story between the bullets on my outline be told. As is so often the case in real life, the transition events are what give depth to the characters.
As a result, the ending of Susan’s War may not be what I first planned . . . it’ll be better.