Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Outline This!

Melly offered a link to this post on outlining by Crawford Killian the other day. He has some interesting things to say about the subject. His last point got me thinking, though. He says:
But when you first learned to drive, you were thinking consciously (with an
outline) of every aspect of driving. It took a lot of practice to make
driving a matter of habit. Writing is no different.

I don't completely agree. I do agree that writing gets easier and more natural with practice. As far as growing out of writing with an outline, though, that's going to depend on the individual writer.

One of the things I'm exploring as I work my way toward a first draft of my first novel is an organizational method that suits me. I've tried note cards and line-per-scene and a couple of other methods along the way. What I'm discovering is that I will probably never find one particular outlining scheme that works all the time for me.

My detailed outlines were vital to getting the novel started, but none of them bear any real relation to what the novel has become. As the characters and plot and subplots grow throughout the story, I have to be open to the changes that become necessary, the surprises and ideas that drop in uninvited, prop their feet on the table, and light their cigars. The growth of the characters and plot reflect my growth as a writer and my increasingly intimate connection to the story. If I am not willing to follow valid and compelling paths as they open up to me, I'm wasting my time on this book.

In a nutshell, my outlining method has evolved to match the needs of the story. My origianl outlines showed me the starting point and the finish line, the in-between has become increasingly foggy over time. I have started outlining only 3 to 5 scenes ahead as I write. As I get deeper into the story, each scene brings some new insight that affects everything that happens from then on. This is good.

When I first started this novel *harumph* months ago, I despaired of ever having enough of a story to fill an entire 100k words. That fear is dissipating as I go. Though the first draft will be far short of that mark, there is enough depth and complication in this story and in these characters to fill it out nicely in subsequent drafts.

Outlining has to servce the story rather than the other way around. A rigid outline will kill a story in my mind. I have to retain the flexibility to explore and revise as the story grows. I don't think I will ever outgrow my need for some guidelines, some peek into the future of the story. My mind just cannot maintain a grasp on all the different threads and details that make up a complex story.

That a large part of my writing philosophy: everything serves the story--POV, outline, style, scene and chapter breaks, everything. The story remains paramount at all times. That's not any kind of rule I'm trying to promulgate, either. It's just the way I thnk and work. Every writer has to work out his own methods and philosophy for himself.


At 7:21 PM, Blogger Jean said...

I think my outlining requirements will change as I gain more experience, but I'm not too worried about outlining except in the sense of do I have enough to sell the book, and do I have enough to write the book I sold (now, none of that matters since I'm writing on spec, but I'm practicing for later).

What I hope to attain as I gain more experience is the ability to write more complete, professional quality first drafts.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Carter said...

The Holy Grail--a first draft that doesn't resemble used toilet paper.

Sometimes I wonder if that will ever happen. I sure hope so, this slog through the swamp is not productive.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Melly said...

I guess I'm a bit like you.
I change my outlining method as required. Sometimes I'm detailed and sometimes vague. Depends I guess on how I started, how much I have in my head and how it all flows.
No set rules. What works, right?

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Carter said...

It's too easy to get bound up in the rules or procedures and forget that the important thing is to produce. As far as I'm concerned, whatever gets the work done is the "Right" way.


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