While it is true that I use a loose outline to write my articles and books, my writing does not begin with one. It begins with the shadow--that dark area that hides between the surface idea and the illumination of inspiration. It starts with a thought, an impression, an opinion, an awareness, or even an overheard comment that stirs the imagination. These are the gems--baby shadows--that I write into my notebooks. Once I decide to enhance that shadow, my journey begins--minus the outline.
Martin Luther King said, "Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see." While his comment was meant for more deeper reasons that writing a story, it spoke to me as writer. It made my journey as an author clearer. It taught me that everything I dream, imagine, over-hear, witness, or have an epiphany about originates from something else--some undercurrent just outside my peripheral vision. It's that undercurrent I search for to make sure my shadow can grow. Once I know where my shadow is leading me, I can begin to write a loose outline. Here is what I include:
- The setting and time frame. This helps me decide if the story is historical, present day, or futuristic.
- The basic idea or premise. This tells me if it's a coming of age story, a disaster story, an adventure story, or whatever. It gives my shadow purpose, and creates drama because at this point, "Only the Shadow knows" where I am headed.
- My main character. I need to know whether the shadow in front of me is that of a hero or a villain.
- At least one scene. I may decide it doesn't fit when I start writing, but it gives me a beginning point for my mind.
That's it! One page of thoughts and then the shadow leads me wherever he/she wants to go. It also tells me whether or not I truly believe that the shadow I see is worth following. And believe me, there are hundreds of times it stays hidden in the back of my imagination. My process may not work for everyone, but if regular outlining isn't working for you, this might. I'll leave this with a thought from Ralph Ellison.
"The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow."