I’ve read different takes on whether or not a writer should outline their stories ahead of time or if they should just wing it. Over the years I’ve tried both methods, but I find that winging it works best for me. At least for my short stories.
The one novel draft I’ve completed started with an outline. I did find that it helped keep track of what I wanted to happen in each chapter. But it wasn’t a detailed road map – I simply had a bullet next to each plot point I wanted to hit. It was sort of like having markers spaced out along the path and I filled in the route between each one.
But for short fiction, I don’t see the point. I mean, I’ll think about a story before I write. There have only been one or two occasions where I sat down to write as soon as I had an idea. Usually, I have that “Hmmm, interesting…” moment, then I start to consider it, kick the tires, take it for a test spin (meaning, I think about characters, their wants and needs, the setting, the genre, possible paths to follow) before I actually sit down and begin a draft.
I like working with a rough idea, then building from that to see where it takes me. I like to be surprised by twists and turns, or when writing a line or a scene goes in a different direction than I intended. Then I end up in completely charted territory. It forces me to think creatively and gets me out of any comfortable ruts I may have settled into without realizing it.
The same goes for endings. I sometimes have an idea of how a story may end, or how I’d like it to end, but that’s also up in the air until I get to that point. Endings change all the time. I’m open to new ideas and concepts in my writing. I like the challenge. Maybe I’d be more productive and complete more stories more quickly than I currently do, but why take the fun out of the process?
And it is fun. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I finish a story and think about how much it changed from my original concept. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes they are drastic. There have been instances where the only thing the finished product had in common with the original idea is a character or just a scene.
So for what it’s worth, winging it is the best way to write fiction. It allows the writer to have fun, to be spontaneous, to challenge themselves to do something different. In the end, that makes for better stories.