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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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I’ve bitched about the inefficacy of hierarchical organization for ideas several times. One of the things drilled into our minds from middle school on that the Correct Way To Write is to create an outline of the paper to be written, starting at the opening paragraph, and ending with the conclusion. This idea of a rigid framework for writing is beaten into us whether it be a 5-paragraph essay, a 100-page report, or a work of fiction of indeterminate length. We’re told that this is the way to write, and if we just approach it haphazardly, we will end up with a mess as a result.

Try as I might, I was never able to write this way. I could make an outline, but it would be superficial, and just a sham, as I knew once I start writing, the words I actually put to paper would invalidate my outline. For those classes requiring proof that the outline was written before the paper, I’d of course forge a new outline, building it from the paper. My writing process was more a manner of writing the entire essay and then rewring it a few times into an actual solution for the problem at hand. This iterative writing process seems more natural to me, though it may just be a byproduct of too much of my life having developed with computers.

I think the idea behind outline writing is to encourage weak writers to think of their writing as a structural thing, and to ensure it’s not just a pile of rambling nonsense. That said, I think most people who have spent years writing, even if it is just essays and papers for school, learn along the way that a rambling pile of words without focus, structure, and so forth is going to get them a poor grade or a new job.

In any event, why I’m thinking about all of this is that I’ve been slowly accumulating some elements for a short singularity science fiction story. I don’t know that it’s something I plan on writing for anybody other than myself, but I found myself thinking about the writing process this morning. I now have a few pages of random notes that I’ve tossed down over the course of several weeks, which collectively describe some of the ideas and themes of the story. I know roughly how I want to start and continue the story, and as of yet have no idea how I want it to end, beyond that I find happy endings unsatisfying. I found myself then thinking that what I’ve been told to do would be to write an outline of the entire story, and then fill in the words to actually create it. Yet, I was scared that in doing so I would deprive the story of any natural evolution it might undergo along the way.

Ultimately what I’m getting at is that I wonder how other people write fiction (or even non-fiction). Is an outline the way to go? Do the better authors use an iterative method? A storyboard? How is this sort of thing done in the real world once a teaching assistant, teacher, of professor isn’t breathing down your back?