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To Outline or Not To Outline

Seven months ago, when I decided to write "Winter Child" and I had the whole idea and everything, I had to make a decision - outline or no outline. At the time, I was really anxious to start writing because I was very excited about launching into Jayme's universe, and an outline sounded like a horribly boring thing to do. It was like going into a cold pool, one toe at a time. On the other hand, plunging in was like leaping into the water, and people like me panic and start floundering around and forget that the water is actually maybe four feet deep.

I decided on middle ground. I plotted out a few major scenes, decided where I was going to start, and began to write. Seven months later, I had a 74,000 word manuscript (okay, okay, I'm a slow and lazy and procrastinating writer! [begin lame excuse] I had school! [end lame excuse]) that I was pretty proud of. I stuck it in a drawer, because I'd heard advice about waiting a month, no, three months, no, six years, no, a WHOLE LIFE TIME before revising. But, okay, I got impatient, so I took it out a week later and started marking it up.

Scary. The first ten chapters were all right. The writing had to be tightened up here and there, some things had to be adjusted, some scenes taken out, some taken in, the usual. Probably the biggest change I wanted to make was adjusting Russell's character. He wasn't as edgy as I wanted him to be - too dark and brooding in some places and too light and funny in others.

Then I went on to the last four chapters, and they didn't make sense. They were pretty much the worst in the whole manuscript, there were some major plot holes going on, and basically, they sucked. I did a lot of X-ing out, and decided on a new way to take the story. It would make the story longer (which was okay, because I write rather superfluously so I have to do a lot of cutting anyway), and it was a totally new direction. There was no salvaging the last four chapters. This is going to have to be beyond a rewrite.

And I remember writing those last four. I was stuck in the story, not sure where to go with it, and so I decided to write them (when I was plotting the major scenes, I was great at coming up with those in the beginning and middle, but I sort of neglected the end) haphazardly. Now I have to pay the price with these horribly painful revisions, and I can't help but think that revisions would be a lot easier if only I did some outlining.

I used to dislike outlining because they're so confining. A big part of my writing is when I'll be typing and suddenly things I never thought of started happening and they worked. In "Winter Child", there are some places I'm really proud of that are the result of this.

But I've realized that outlines aren't set in stone. They're usually written on paper, which is fun to burn, or typed on the computer, which is fun to defenestrate. My point is, you don't have to exactly follow outlines. They can be changed and it's possible to make an outline that still allots a decent amount of freedom.

I started casually thinking about the next book I'm writing (it has zombies in it, therefore it shall be awesome), and I think I'm going to outline it.

What do you think? Outlining or no outlining?


Melody said...

After years of experimentation, this is what I settled on:

Write the first draft from nothing. I'm way too excited about the story to sit down and outline (and if I did outline, I would discover all the plot holes and probably never write at all), and so I just write (er...type)! When things come up later in the MS that I didn't prepare at the beginning, I just put them there. The end result is a poor excuse for a story, but it's all there, and that's what matters.

Then comes the hard part. I figure out what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of and what I need to add so that sense is made. Then I outline the first draft, add in the bullet points for what needs to be added, take out some stuff - and then I use that outline to write an entirely new 2nd draft. (Which usually turns out way too long, since I feel like I need to explain everything that had no explanation in the 1st draft.)

For the 3rd (and final) draft, I figure out what I liked (and didn't like) from the 1st and 2nd. Acting on that, I write the 3rd draft, occasionally pulling in already-written scenes from the first two drafts.

It's a lot of work, but it's the simplest way I've been able to find that results in a tightly written story.

Library Cat said...

Hi I am visiting from the HOP! First, Izzy I like your blog. Interesting mix of reviewing and thinking and writing. Second, Melody - this is the first explanation of the writing process that makes any sense to me. I am not really a writer, but have always knows it is hard work. Thanks to you both.

I hope you will have time to visit one or both of my blogs: LibrarysCat and Never Forget !!

Have a great weekend!

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