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….)