This is a method that I’ve started implementing in the past year.
Before I’ll commit to any story, I write the first three chapters. Why? Why do this before you outline, before you know how the story’s going to play? This sounds a lot like pantsing. I swear, why did you write a post on outlining if you were just gonna write a bunch of chapters without it?
OK OK OK, devil’s advo-alpin. Time to chill. Lemme ‘splain.
Writing the first three (or so) chapters helps me in a number of ways.
- You can get feedback from critique partners, or alpha readers. If you’re bouncing ideas off of people, it helps to have these chapters as a basis to start off. Sure, this could be done with an outline or discussion, but I find that my outlines are messy, and my discussions are messier.
- You find the voice for the story. In a recent horror story, I started writing it in first person. After the first 20 or so pages, I realized that third person limited would allow a reader some emotional distance as these horrific (horror-fic!) things occurred. If you’re writing with the wrong perspective, these chapters can help you figure that out earlier rather than later.
- You get to know the characters. Sometimes, the way you expect your characters to be can be a little different from how you end up writing them in practice. If you have to make changes to your plot due to character manifestation, catching it before the first draft is hella nice.
- You find out if you straight-up hate actually writing the story. It’s one thing if there’s a routine that you’re forcing yourself into, but if you hate what you’re writing that’s a great reason to move on. If you don’t enjoy writing the three chapters, I sure as hell don’t recommend continuing on that story.
If this doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Every human is different! But always give yourself permission to write, even if it’s not perfect, or won’t make it into the final draft. Perfection is one of those myths, like the holy grail or polite martians. They’re all jerks.