If you’re a Structured writer, you always start out with a clear outline of where your story is going and how it’s going to get there. You may knock out each chapter and scene with great detail—creating a dense map. Or you may string together one or two lines for each story point—creating a lacy, spider web of a map. In either case, on any day of the week you can sit down and pull out your outline and jump right into the story. If you use this approach, you very likely tell people that you have a map, not a straight-jacket. Your outline doesn’t stop you from adding important stops along the way, perhaps a new side character or a telling interaction between the protagonist and her alter ego. In your editing process, you may find that you often have to fill in with more details and elaboration. Perhaps add a chapter or two.
So, which system—the Organic or Structured—is best? Which is right?
If you’re pursing your lips in frustration, thinking, “Why is one better than the other? I just write as I feel.” You’re reaction is understandable.
Each method has positives and negatives. The Organic approach allows for more serendipity in the story line—preventing the reader from feeling the novel is too predictable (and, therefore, boring). The Structured approach is less likely to have loose ends, unresolved plot points, and character inconsistencies—preventing reader frustration.
In the past five plus years, I have interviewed several dozen authors and what I have found is that for the first novel or so each person simply followed the technique which best fit their comfort level. In fact, it was so difficult for Organic writers to produce an outline for their publisher that a couple actually wrote the book first and THEN produced the outline their publisher needed! What such dire behavior tells me is that, for the beginning author especially, it’s best to follow your own style. Finishing the first book is not easy. You don’t need to add hurdles to increase the level of difficulties in your adventure. Use whatever technique works for you. Just get it done. Once finished, a thorough editing process will clear up any weaknesses.
Writing is a learning process. As you write more, you’ll probably find you will begin to adjust your approach to your next book. You may very well lay out a brief outline if you’re an Organic writer. Or you’ll write a short story using the Pantser approach if you’re a Structured writer. It’s okay to mix and match! What’s important is that you finish your story, however you get there.
Good luck on your writing journey!