By Chris Pepple
I’m an “outliner” of sorts when I write. I confess that I have to refer to my character outlines to remember the exact ages of my characters. I also have trouble remembering little things. For example, in my latest novel, Without a Voice, I had to refer to my character outline to remember what nicknames each relative used for the children in the story. I needed to make sure I was consistent, so I stuck to what I had in my notes.
Besides outlining characters (their ages, nicknames, likes and dislikes), I also start with a rough draft of the general plot. I need to know where the story is headed. With this latest novel, I had to know what cities the characters needed to travel through on their journey so I could make sure that I had done thorough research on each area. I also needed to know about when each new character would be introduced into the plot. Each character had an assigned time to make their grand entrance, and I stuck to that outline.
Halfway through the writing process, however, part of my outline started to fall apart. I blame the characters, of course. They were strong-willed characters who wanted to have a say in what happened next. I tried to force them to stick by my agenda, but they refused to cooperate. They became flat, dull people moving lifelessly through the pages. I knew that would never work for my readers, so I gave in and listened to what the characters were telling me should happen next. The result: one unexpected wedding, one character who grew in unexpected ways, and a shooting that I would have never predicted! Overall, I liked their suggestions better than my original outline.
So when do we as writers need to stick by our plans? When do we need to throw our outline out the window? That can be a tough call for writers. It’s best, however, if we think of our book as a creation in progress. With each new chapter, we are breathing new life into this creation. We also have to realize, though, that this creation is breathing new life into our writing careers and has a few things to teach us along the way. At times, we have to take charge and keep the characters and plot moving along. We should never be afraid, however, to let the process change us and our plans. Sometimes a character develops to the point where our plans no longer fit the person or the situation. If that happens, you have not failed as a writer. Quite the opposite—you have grown as a writer and outgrown your original outline.
Enjoy the moment and let go of the old plans. Something new and wonderful will emerge if you listen to your characters and keep moving and growing along with them.
Chris Pepple is a motivational speaker, published author, and freelance writer. She has five published books including her latest novel, Without a Voice (2017), and her devotional book, Writing Your Faith Journey (2016). Chris speaks to writing groups on topics such as self-publishing, how to find your own creative voice and how to break writer's block. She also speaks to churches and nonprofit organizations on a variety of motivational and spiritual topics and about issues concerning domestic violence. She has a writing degree from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree from Emory University. She lives in Tennessee with her two daughters. Visit her website for more information www.chrispepple.com or follow her on social media: @ChrisPepple16 on Twitter; @ChrisSimonPepple on Facebook.