Writing when you don’t know where you’re going and how I do it.
And yes, I outline. I don’t outline intensely, however, and there are times when I just plain stumble. I can’t work the way some writers do. I know one who outlines about 200 pages for a 500 page book. That sounds like torture to me, but she is a well-respected, award-winning bestselling author and the only criticism I can make of her system is that it might slow her productivity down because it would mine. But no one else is complaining. All I know is that I can’t work that way. There are things that occur to me when I write that don’t occur any other time, and I like having the freedom and flexibility in my project that allows me to go with the new inspirations.
For instance, in my bare bones road map, I might say Chapter 10 The three of them argue and split up. That might seem comprehensive enough until I actually get there. But then you have to stop and ask yourself: why do they argue? Is it a valid argument or a stupid one cause everyone is tired/drunk/under false assumptions? Do they come to blows or does everyone just stomp off? Do they make threats? Or do they make up, but the truce isn’t sincere so one sneaks off in the middle of the night? All are valid pathways and at least half of them will mesh with what I have planned in succeeding chapters. So while I, as writer, might stare baffled at the dreaded white page, I won’t do that for long. I try to choose the options most rewarding and startling to myself and the reader. It’s fun. It can also take a full writing day or two for the option to occur to me. Have I lost time in my project? Maybe. I can spend that time (while thinking furiously) doing re-writes, flushing out character sketches of future appearances I’ve scheduled in my outline, or I can clean house. I don’t like to clean house. I love to write. So my mind usually spits out some nice inspirations and I’m back in writing mode.
What if I get there and I don’t like where I’m going. That can happen. It usually happens when the writer hasn’t fully flushed out the characters and is forcing one of them against their nature to perform for the sake of the outline. If I hit this point, I have two things I can do: change the character or change the outline. Since my outlines are bare bone, I can do that—particularly if, again, it’s rewarding and surprising. Can you say plot reversal? But if I’ve planned something that is really important, and integral, and I want to do, then I have to explore the nature of my stubborn character. Can I manipulate them into doing what they wouldn’t do and still have it organic? It’s possible. Not necessarily believable or something the reader would accept though (how many times have you read something in a book and said to yourself ‘Oh, come on!’ and closed the book for a while). Or if what I am writing has magic or paranormal parameters, I might bring the influence of the supernatural into it. My character has gotten cursed! That’ll do it. Maybe. Most often though, I simply have to go back to the root of that character and define them fully and naturally, and follow through with their behavior. If they can’t adhere to the plot line, sometimes they just have to go.
For myself, though, I generally have a plot. I know my beginning, middle (or muddle) and end. Middles are tricky. If you find yourself getting bored, imagine your reader will be. Look at your plot. Is it too linear and manipulative? Change it before you start writing. Try plot reversals. If you are uncertain how to work them, may I suggest watching the classic movie “Romancing the Stone”. It’s full of surprising and rewarding reversals. No time for a movie? You can get a copy of the script online. Even reading an act will teach you the reversal.
Even the writer who says they don’t outline probably has a vague idea of the end in mind. Figure out a way to get there that makes you happy. Follow your characters. Put a roadmap in their hands so they can get through life and its speed bumps. If all that doesn’t work, there’s always aversion therapy (house cleaning).