Friday, November 9, 2012

To Outline Or Not To Outline

There are many schools of thought on how to approach writing and revision, one of the most popular being to outline. It makes perfect sense: create a road map of sorts that tells you every single event that will happen in the story and when and then just plug in and go. But...what if your brain doesn't work that way? How can you know every single thing that will happen in the book before you've sat down to write it or even revise it?

Often when I am writing, I have an idea of where I want things to go in my head, but the characters will take turns I don't expect, leading the story in a whole different direction that makes seemingly perfect sense. I could never have planned it that way because until I was in the scene, feeling the characters, I can't possibly know what they might really say or do next.

It's a lot like life, really. We make plans and then distractions and diversions happen, people don't follow the scripts in our head, inevitable disappointments occur. No worries - I don't hear actual voices in my head, but when I am writing, my characters really do take on a life of their own. I know so many writers have told me they feel it's true too. Therefore, I tend to buck the outline. I do see it's value in helping guide the way, but I feel myself turning into the husband that refuses to stop at the gas station and ask for directions because he's confident he'll find his way and reach the destination. And often, the best things are off the beaten path rather than on the main road. Using Save the Cat AFTER I've written actually helps me more so that I can look for holes, but it actually makes me feel a little overwhelmed to start with it. I'd rather get straight into the business of writing. Yes, sometimes (correction: all the time) those first drafts are messy and a little too stream-of-consciousness, but always, the meat is there.

At least I'm in good company - Libba Bray and Stephen King both buck the outline too and I think they're doing all right, so I haven't given up on my way yet. How about you? Do you need the structure of an outline or note cards to help you along? Or do you like to free-form it and see where you go with a loose idea in your head?


Robyn C said...

Hi! I'm Robyn, and I'm a writer as well. Thank you for posting this! It makes me feel better because I don't use outlines either!!:)

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