Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To Outline or Not to Outline

I thought maybe we should talk about writing since we haven't in a while. I haven't been talking about it because I've been doing it instead.

This new story I'm working on has been both incredibly wonderful fun and a bit frightening. The last few books I've written have gone obediently by their outlines, though there were a few surprises along the way. This project I'm working on now, conversely, keeps changing. 

The changes are fairly small—the story's still essentially the same—but I keep coming upon new ideas that call for changes to what I've already written. I tried writing a detailed outline of my current WIP in an attempt to get it to behave. I'm glad I did it—it helped me to figure out a lot about the story and its world. But I'm only going to use bits and pieces of that outline. I outlined a far more complex story than I think this one is. At its core it should be a simple story—albeit one taking place under quite fantastical circumstances.

I've had to scrap quite a few decent chunks of writing as I've gone, and have just finished rewriting the first pages of the book for the second time. The work I plan to do today will involve yet another structural change to what I've already written.

This is kind of terrifying. I've spent years working off of detailed outlines. I pick at and change the outline as I write, but I really, really like having that map around to guide me in case I get lost.

But, the thing is, each change I've made has made the story much, much better. The changes don't even feel like changes. They feel like erasing a smudge in a drawing, or fixing a picture on the wall that's gone crooked.

They feel like bringing the story closer to what it's supposed to be.

I don't plan to write another outline for this project. I know what I want the story to be. I may write chapter names on note cards and shuffle them around, but that's about it. I used to swear by outlines, but I just don't think that's how this project is going to go.

And I think that's okay. It's tempting to think that a certain process or habit will yield the best results, but I expect each new project will be different from the one that came before.

Or at least I hope so. Writing one book has never been like writing any other to me, and I'll count myself lucky if that never changes.


  1. Sounds like the biggest reason I only use loose outlines. Which is funny, my fellow writer friend noted yesterday or so "you're so meticulous when you're thinking it all out. How the hell did you forget about an important aunt?"
    Yeah, the aunt wrote herself in. Her character's like that, pushy and practical. I really need to stop hand-writing novels. It'd make all the re-writes so much easier. Because now once I finish the book and type it all up... the beginning will have maaajor changes to be made right off the bat.

    I can't wait to hear more about the story. I love it when it's exciting and scary and fun to write.

    1. I love the characters who write themselves in. I'm dealing with a version of that--two characters I previously thought were only side characters have become much more important.

      I can't wait until I can say more about my new project--it's just very early days at the moment. It's the story those monster sketches belong to, though.

  2. Also, I love the new profile pic, Ms. Velociraptor.

    1. Thank you! I decided people may as well know what they're getting into right off the bat :)

  3. I never had a story misbehave like that before, namely because the changes piled up until it either became something new entirely or just completely unintelligible.

    However, I'm with you on the idea of writing detailed outlines. A lot of people don't like to rely on them, but it's like your brain runs in a million different directions all at once. It becomes impossible to focus.

    1. It's kind of fun when a story misbehaves--in a terrifying sort of way. I have a definite rough plot I'm working with. I'm just giving this project more room to surprise me than I usually do.

      I've still done tons of loose plot-sketching, though. My brain tends to go into overdrive and explode when I don't take time to work out the bigger plot stuff separately.