I’m still working on my process, partly because I am currently stuck on a story. I have this idea. Actually it’s a constellation of ideas along with an odd little collection of evocative images, characters, and places that make up a mood or feeling that I think this story could capture. This is generally what my unstructured ideas look like. I’ve been trying everything to discover the underlining structure (i.e. through line, sequence of events, plot) that will articulate this nebulous idea to the point where I can sensibly write it as a story.
So, the past couple weeks I’ve been just working toward some kind of outline. I have never had any luck writing by the seat of my pants. I blame my own empathy. I am very driven in my real life to avoid conflict, so when I just write into the blue everyone in my stories comes to sensible compromises or finds a way to walk away from the dragons they should be facing down. But making an outline is tricky. Outlines can strangle or obliterate a nascent unstructured idea before it’s even had a chance to be born. I think it might be better so say I’m trying to “find” an outline rather than “make” one.
For me, the outline is important because structure is intrinsic to the world and our experience of it. Here’s a quote from the guy that grew/built the table pictured above:
This work is the result of a research project about scale. The “network” structure can be found in every scale: by looking in as far as possible (cells, molecules, etc.), or by looking on the natural human scale (veins, lungs, trees, riverbeds, maps etc.), or by looking as far out as possible (solar system, galaxies). Even representations of the virtual world (the internet) resemble this structure.
Like this table that was once a living tree, my outlines need to grow and change, to be mutable, even while I’m drafting. The outline helps me solidify a collection of thoughts and emotions just enough so that I can capture some essence of the thing that will become the beating heart at the center of the story.