My little outline project

16 Mar?  That was my last post?  Sheesh, I am turning into a total slacker.  Well, I already was a slacker, but this is just a new dimension of slackerdom.


I spent a few hours today outlining a novel on which I am working.  I think it totaled about 3000 words and covered the events of the first eight chapters (i.e., the first half the book).  I’m not a big outliner so this was a unique experience.  Why?  Well, I’ll tell you.  (I can hear the reader already:  "Really?  You’ll tell us?  Well, no shit.")

Maybe eighteen months ago, I had an involved conversation with someone about outlines.  That person was of the opinion that absolutely everything written required an outline.  I think his exact words were, "I insist that all stories use an outline."  I basically told him to f-off and he got lost from that particular forum shortly thereafter.  But the conversation stuck with me, because I am one who almost never outlines.

I’m glad this guy was never a writing teacher of mine.  To paraphrase Meg Cabot from a recent interview, application of these kind of backhanded rules are how authors get the love of writing sucked out of them.  I look at outlines as a potential tool, not an absolute.  After all, no less an authority than Stephen King abhors outlines and I think he is one of the great writers of modern America. 

I know a lot of authors who write full-length novels without an outline.  And I know some who can’t write a text message to their significant other without diagramming it.  I definitely lean more towards the former.  With my short stories, I never outline.  I have the concept in my head and bang it out.  The revision process is where I clean up inconsistencies.  But as I try to write a novel via this process, I run into a lot more trouble.  My plots tend to be a little more oblique and/or have a lot of threads that wrap together and if I try to keep this all together in my head, something always gets lost (another casualty of getting older).

Thus, I decided to outline this book first.  I do see a potential benefit:  having the plot already in hand before I start writing means I can focus on getting my phrasing down.  When I wrote a story called "The Apple," it was a re-write of the Snow White legend from the Queen’s point of view.  It was a blast to write and since I knew every twist in the plot, I was able to concentrate on my characterization.  So I do see the benefits.

On the other hand, I already feel constricted.  I look at the outline as written and have to tell myself that I can deviate from it – that I won’t set the world on fire if I am not following it exactly.

So what did all this mean?  Beats me.  I still don’t like outlines.  I guess I accept that they are necessary evils for some projects – though the threshold for use will vary between authors and stories.  I’m going to follow through with this one, to keep the plot moving in the right direction.  But I think I am going to write some unstructured short stories as I do, just to keep myself sane.  Can’t have an insane writer on our hands, can we?

No, we can’t.  One Christopher Paolini is enough.  (I kid, I kid….)


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