By Cait Collins
I love lists. I can’t take a trip, plan a party, or shop for special occasions without making a least one list. Folks laugh at my purse-size notebooks, but I do stay organized and I don’t forget what I need to buy or pack. I even keep a mini-ledger to track my spending so that I stay on budget.
The question is, “What do my lists have to do with writing?” There are a couple of applications. While lists keep me organized in my personal life, I cannot write from outlines. I have writer friends who need the structure of an outline and detailed character sketches. I know others who write by the seat of their pants. Lack of structure could potentially create pitfalls for the author. On the other hand, too many details can stifle creativity. Personally, I enjoy the discussions I have with my characters. Their point of view has helped me rework scenes. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but the conversations are fund.
While I don’t outline or track turning points, I do keep some lists and notes. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Cunningham, taught an advanced writing group the importance of lists. One exercise was to make a list of 20 physical characteristics of our hero. The characteristics were to employ the five senses. When the list was complete, we were to write the opening paragraph to our story and use six of those items in the opening. I was amazed at how alive the hero became. When having problems creating vibrant characters, I employ this method and it does help me rework the scenes around the characters.
Different writing personalities must find an organization method that works for them. There is really no right or wrong way to structure a story. A rough draft might be an outline. Or a timeline can keep the author focused. The most important thing is to write the story.