Monday, April 5, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline... that is the REAL Question

Hello again,

I've been working on the rewrite of my novel, "Song of the Daystar", and now I'm stuck on a scene that just doesn't want to come out quite right. I know I'm not the only writer that this happens to. So I've decided to turn to the dreaded outline.

I know, I know! I once promised myself I never would! I'm such a traitor!

But the truth is, a lot of writers outline, especially when they hit the dreaded writer's block. When I first started to write I found that I could write better if I just didn't think about what was going to happen. Instead of planning out the next scene or the next couple of pages, I would sit down to the keyboard, close my eyes, and type whatever came to mind. This is called "seat-of-the-pants" writing, and it helped me piece together my first couple of rough drafts.  But let me tell you, the actual writing was atrocious! Some of the sentences flowed, others just fit together in a sort of choppy pattern, and still others made no sense at all.

And the scenes!  More than half of them had nothing to do with my original vision for the story.

I started to rewrite.

In those first years, a lot of what went into my stories were stored in my mind,  though in no particular order. This meant that I had to go in and try to sort out the jumble of ideas as I went. Sometimes I still do this, but not as often.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned the value of outlining; I’m not quite so apprehensive of it anymore. In fact, I’ve started seriously using it when trying to plot out future books.

Of course, I’ve also discovered that one can fall into the dreaded Writer’s Block while outlining too; just goes to show that there is no sure and set way of securing a total plot, beginning to end. What do I do then?  I follow the outline, writing the story up to where I became stuck; then I’ll sit down and start outlining again.

But not all outlines are actually comprehensible, or in order. In fact, at least half of my so called “outlines” are just pieces of paper that I randomly jotted a few notes on. More often than not my outlines resemble internal conversations I have with myself when brainstorming, which often contain questions my mind is having trouble solving; if I continue writing and rambling, sometimes the answers to those questions come to me in the form of a random idea that would actually fit the story’s plot.  Other times I'm just left with the same questions to mull over as I go about my daily routine, discovering an answer later in the day when I least expect to find one. 

Sometimes, though, my inner-self decides it's feeling in an organized mood and I turn to the more ordered version of the traditional outline, trying to make my notes short and to the point.

Either way works.

I also use character sheets which I type up that help me keep track of each important or sub-important character in the story, what they do, and how they fit into the plot. I find these very helpful, as sometimes I forget about a character that in one scene seemed to be important, but that later just disappears. Keeping a character sheet has helped me pin-point characters like that and either include them later in the story so that their roll becomes more important, or take them out because they just don’t need to be there. (And for anyone wondering, I find the book “Novel Shortcuts” very helpful when I run into a block, because it answers some of the questions writers run into when writing a book or short story, and gives you tips on how to correct common mistakes.)

So the question was, “To Outline or not to Outline.” I do both, but perhaps some of you use one rather than the other. Maybe some even despise one but love the other. Why? Why don’t you tell me all about it. :D


p.s. I'm sure there are a lot of blog posts out there giving info and insite on outlining for novels, but if you would like to read more I found this page very interesting.  Teen Inklings E-Zine: Vol 3. The Outline

No comments: