Tuesday, January 22, 2008

To Outline or Not to Outline....

It would incorrect to say I don't understand outlining. I do. In a very abstract why-someone-else-would-want-to-do-it way. It sounded like a good thing, an intelligent method, but it appealed to me only as a morbid curiosity. Like why you might want to eat natto—just to say you've done it, and yes, it is disgusting and probably a joke the Japanese play on foreigners.

Outlining, to my inexperienced writerly self, seemed like a joke authors played on those of us who haven't been published yet. Like that rumor someone keeps spreading that editors are evil harpies who exist only to destroy our fragile dreams of publication or the brilliance of our unedited masterpieces. Why pre-write the book, I thought, when you could just write the book?

Work-for-hire runs on outlines. It functions on the concept that you're capable of writing a book, but because it isn't your book—you've been hired to write someone else's—the editor needs to know what you're doing. Preferably before you spend all that time and creative energy writing a book they didn't want. It's a strange beast, this work-for-hire, likely grown in a lab on a diet of radiation and Godzilla movies. Which isn't to say it's not an enjoyable task—a love of words isn't discriminatory about what the words ultimately form. It is, however, a completely different mindset to what most writers consider writing to be.

In this different mindset, an outline makes absolute sense. Yes, of course, you need some map to the strange places in my head. An inkling of the series of synapses that fire in my brain and link, chapter by chapter, character to arc and theme to plot.

But why should I do that for me? I don't need to know what happens in chapter 12 before I've finished chapter one. It'll happen. It always happens.

I realized something while doing the work-for-hire outline: it's a mini first draft.

It's going to change and be revised as much as any first draft. They're never written in stone—more like vomited wordage. The outline's just a guideline, a sketch. So you don't spend three days when you get to chapter 12 wondering where you go after that. It works best with deadlines, because even if it isn't being approved, it helps you finish something in a timely manner.

So I get it, plotter-types. I understand why you do it. It's not a failure to trust yourself or the writing, it's proving you can tell the whole story before the draft is complete. (For some, before it's even started.) So I'll give it a shot. I'll try it, because I don't know that it won't work for me. However, what would really help is if someone could tell me how to stick to the outline.


Dust said...

Hey Chandra,

As a Plotter-Type I don't know if I can tell you how to stick to an outline because my biggest problem is staying interested after I've written it. An outline really is like a first draft. Good on you for giving it a try though. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.


Chandra Rooney said...

Thanks, Tina. :)

Rachel said...

Even when I'm writing an outline, the outline keeps changing. Sometimes when writing an outline I feel like Phaedra - from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I mean - how far detailed should I get before I quit? How many pieces should I mince it all down to?

It seems like it would be easier to just let the characters tell me their story, but I know there are reasons for outlines.

Jamie Ford said...

That's my problem too, so I don't even try to stick to it. My outlines are basically a beginning and an ending. The middle part develops along the way.