The Use of Writing Templates
Many writers feel
that using plans or
outlines or any kind of template somehow stifles their creativity.
If you believe this
to be the case, you're
not using your templates correctly.
A good template is not an exact outline of
your eventual book.
A good template is
more accurately a series
of prompts that fire your imagination and keep your inspiration pumping
during the writing
Over the years I've
seen new writers make
the mistake of creating mammoth outlines that are actually just
versions of their final books - sometimes up to fifty or one-hundred,
one case I saw, two-hundred pages long.
The problem with
these very detailed
outlines is that, after their construction, the authors tend to feel no
real appetite to write the book or novel.
Why? Because, in a
sense, they already have.
A good template
should be a list of short
prompts that you only refer to after you've exhausted the inspiration
generated by the previous prompt.
If, when you're
outlining, you feel tempted
to fill in every blank, add dialog and descriptions, stop yourself.
Always leave enough
unsaid in your prompt so
that you'll have something to inspire you during the fiction writing
This is why a good
novel or book template
should never be more than, say, 15 to 20 pages long. Any more than that
you're probably actually writing the book…
My own book
templates are rarely more than
one page long, even my 100,000 word epics!
Outlining is a
different mental process
from writing - and it's a good idea for the outlining process to remain
practical, like drawing a
plan, a left brain activity.
imaginative, like lucid
dreaming, a right brain activity.
Don't try to do
both at once.
A surefire way to
get blocked is to use
both hemispheres of the brain at the same time - because the critical
the left brain will often counter the right brain imaginings and
they'll end up
canceling each other out, before you put 'pen to paper', as the saying
If you need more
detail to your outline,
it's best to expand your ideas, either in a separate file or later,
working on your writing.
For instance, I
will sometimes be in a
situation like this:
I will have a body
of text based on prompts
and I may reach a prompt that says:
Introduce Mike - salesman in car yard.
Then I will imagine
how to tell this scene
- or should I say 'show' this scene.
But let’s say
Perhaps there's not
enough detail here to
What do I do? Go
away and think? Take a
long walk and try to envisage the scene with all its subtlety and
As a final resort perhaps.
First I need more
Ones that involve actual writing.
When you're writing
to deadlines (whether
self-imposed or not) you can't disappear for long walks every time you
stuck. Your projects will take too long to complete if you do that.
No, you need to
break down the main prompt
heading into more precise prompts using subheadings. For instance:
Mike - salesman in car yard.
Describe car yard,
Hero enters yard
in his car
Dialog about why
Mike's surly, uncooperative
Hero told to ship
out if not buying
And if at this
stage I'm still stuck, I'll
push myself to imagine the physical backdrop to the scene like the
weather, for instance,
in broad strokes.
Is it wet? Cold?
Then, what's in the
locale? A main road?
Traffic? Is it quiet? Deserted?
Basically, if you
don't know what to write
next, you need to keep drilling down into the prompts. Usually I find
will eventually set me off and I can start describing the environment
clothes, face and demeanor, motivation, or whatever.
Even if that
doesn't happen, I'll use the
old standby failsafe: just write the dialogue - or snippets of the
between the characters - and use that as a starting point.
'breaking down' technique also works
just as well for nonfiction where, if you get stuck, you need to ask
What am I trying to do with this
What do I need to illustrate in
What's the best analogy I can
think of to make this concept easier to
Never be afraid of
using outlines and
At the very least
think of them as a list
of notes you make about a project before you forget why you were
writing in the