Thursday, 20 September 2007

To Outline or Not to Outline

I have done a lot of writing in my life - everything from letters and journal entries to essays, poems, and short stories. Last year I began my first novel length work and finished the last revisions this month. When I started Tristi's BIAM challenge, I thought I had it pretty much under control. Of course life always throws in extra things when I make myself a deadline. Or maybe I just notice all the extra things more when I am trying to focus on one project. But even when I take away all those distractions, I keep hitting a wall with this latest project.

The book I am working on is an idea I have been thinking about since last year. I put it aside because I wanted to get the other novel done first. Usually those ideas I am not ready for get written in a notebook and put away. This time I took the idea and worked on it whenever I needed a break from the other project. By the time I started the BIAM,I had the second idea almost completely outlined. So I thought I was that much ahead of the game.

I think I may have been wrong. You see, I have never outlined to this extent before. Even in college, I would usually write what I wanted to say, make a good copy and hand it in. (I hope my kids aren't reading this.) This whole outlining thing seems to have slowed me down. Maybe it is because I feel like I have already told the story. Part of what slows me down is that I feel tied to the outline. In some ways that is good because I know when I finish this one, there will be fewer plot holes that I have to fill in. On the other hand I have lost the freedom to let my mind go and follow wherever the characters are going to take me.

So as I trudge my way through this story, I will have to decide if outlining to the extent I did actually works for me. Is the time spent outlining and then trying twice as hard to get the story to flow worth it? I will keep at this project. I still think it is a good story. But when I get to the next one, I will need to seriously ponder the question, to outline or not to outline?


Rachelle said...

Hey I have always been against outlines and did the same thing as you- many times I wrote my essay and if the outline was required I wrote that after. The last book that I finished was the fastest I've ever written and it didn't have an outline. I actually wrote several different scenes from different parts of the book first. I wrote the ending way before I was even finished. Tiger's Kisses was completed within a 3 week period.
Now I'm working on a nonfiction book and the outline is actually helpful even though it was pure drudgery to do it. So I would say whatever keeps those words coming, do it!

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I think non-fiction is the only time I find outlining even remotely helpful. Oh well, live and learn.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Outlining is really helpful in a lot of ways. But the thing to remember that any outline is fluid. Your characters, research and your own imagination will change it and take it in a new direction. It is a good thing to do that helps to eliminate plot holes and the like, saving you time down the road in rewrites. Don't give up on it yet, but again, remember it is not written in stone.

All that being said, you do what works for you.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I started thinking about it again last night, and I think I need to change the POV that the story is written in. I think the story is going to change a lot from there.

Ajoy said...

For me- outlining has been good in the way that I have an idea where I'm heading. But even the outline has changed on me because as my characters does the outline. A never ending cycle! In my opinion an 'outline' should be general. Nothing extensive. Because it will change. grrrrrr

I feel your anguish. Keep up the good work my love. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Everyone works differently, Stephanie. I found my stories rambled too much before I started using outlines. Now they're focused, tight and I write my novels so much faster.

As others have said, the outline has to remain fluid. It's an organic entity subject to change and growth.

My outlines are rarely more than two sentences per chapter. All I need is the basic plot movement for that chapter. The rest is up to me once I start writing.

One of my friends does something in his outline that I thought was brilliant. As he writes his outlines, he makes a notation on whose pov he's in on that particular chapter. That's helped me decide which pov would work best before I go into all the writing.

But everyone is different. Don't feel as if you have to outline.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

It will just be a lifelong learning process. I imagine every book may be slightly different, some needing more outlining than others. Anyway, I will keep working at it. Thanks for all the advice and encouragement.

Annette Lyon said...

I'm anti-outlining in the strict sense. The one time I tried it, the resulting work was flat and boring. I had already lived it, to some extent, as I wrote the outline, so I wasn't really into the story. That said, I do need some semblance of a structure going in--I have to know points A, B, C, D, and E, and that I'll end up at F. How I'll get from A to B and then to C is sometimes a surprise, and I love that.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I think that is my problem too. I just like to have an idea where I am going, not all the details of how to get there.

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