I grew up with a father who liked to take road trips. He would think nothing of driving from Providence, RI, to New York City for Sunday dinner. Sunday afternoon drives were his way of relaxing. When driving the back roads of Rhode Island, he would come across a road he hadn’t driven before and say, “Let’s see where this one goes,” and off we went.
I was reminded of this the other day when I sat down to begin a scene-by-scene outline for a new book. In the third scene, one of the characters took the story in a direction I hadn’t even thought of. So there I am, a detailed outliner who knows where the story is going every step of the way, faced with rebellion in the first chapter.
It stopped me in my tracks. What to do? The outline is my map of the story. It’s how I plan my hero’s inner and outer journeys, his growth and change, his story arc.
One thing I’m learning in my writing experience is to allow the characters the freedom to take the story where they want it to go. Fresh plot twists and character insights come from my characters being themselves. And I’m learning to trust my characters. They know the plot, the decisive moment (Jeff Gerke calls it the Moment of Truth) the hero is heading for. Their quirks, their surprises lead to that point from a different direction, usually with better results than I had envisioned originally.
I remain a dedicated outliner, every scene planned before I start writing. But, now I approach each writing session with anticipation, not trepidation, wondering what’s going to happen today. As Dad would say, “Let’s see where this goes.”