Thursday, September 5, 2013

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Some people think you must outline. They argue that by having a plan you'll be more likely to have a clear structure to your work. You'll also know your ending and can write toward it. Maybe they're right.

Others say no. Outlining stifles their creativity. They feel like they're forced to follow the outline and so it ends in bad decisions. They think no plan is the way to go.
Some authors who favor this method.
“How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” E.M. Forster
“I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.” ― John Fowels
Andre Dubus is against it. Spontaneity is everything. He needs to feel he can go anywhere.
Meg Cabot likes a bit of an outline. A little here and there, particularly toward the middle and definitely at the end but with long stretches where she will invent as she goes along.
John Irving outlines his whole novel. In fact he spends a year outlining. He won't even start until he knows the last line of the novel. Then he organizes the book backward so that he can get to the first line.

Andre Dubus (goes with the don’t outline.)
Meg Cabot (some outline)
John Irving (outline the whole novel)

My method is something of a hybrid. I begin with a situation. A character who is in a certain situation. Then I write a very rough first draft, putting notes and markers in places rather than writing whole scenes and writing whole scenes in other. I rush to get this first draft done. It will be much shorter than the actual novel. It's kind of a discovery draft; it will be maybe 150 pages. But what it gives me is a true sense of the ending.
When I revise I write toward that ending. It might change. Certainly many, many things in the draft will change. But I write toward it, knowing that the ending will be somewhere near that original ending. I build on the novel, deepening character and story, adding more than I take away. That second draft is a real draft. 
Then I start the process of revision.
It works for me. Everyone is different though. The three writers in the vids are all very successful. They just have different ways of working. What's important is that each writer finds his or her way.


Unknown said...

I don't like outlining, but in the past it has just proven itself. Whenever I outline, the result seems to be much better. Although you're right,a hybrid could be nice and the end can always change.

Nico @ Leaf ♦ Pub

Brian Yansky said...

For me a kind of hybrid works but...