Tuesday, July 14, 2009

why outlines are so great

I might have mentioned I've started a new WIP, the embryonic book #3 SHADOWSONG. Yes?

Well, I'm writing along, see, and I realise the conflict between my hero and a minor villain isn't strong enough. She's standing there twiddling her evil little fingers... well, she's floating, and they're long three-jointed fingers, actually, but... 

So she's forming her nefarious plan. And I decided her plan just wasn't... well... evil enough. Either to carry the scene or to make her interesting, beyond the floating and the spooky finger twiddling.

Oh, noes!! 
I'll have to change some of the plot! Whatever shall I do?

I figure out a few really, truly eeevil ideas that'll make it work. And, because I have an outline... well, it's actually a twenty-page mess of scenes and point of view switches and character motivations and story arcs, but for simplicity's sake, we'll call it an outline...

...because I have an outline, I can see at a glance exactly where those changes have to happen, and how they'll affect the rest of the story.

A few slashes of my red pen -- well, it's a pink pen, actually, and I ask you, how many people have a pink pen?? -- a few pink slashes, and I'm done. Easy peasy. No sweat. Fixed. Ta-da!!

Pantsers, you so don't know what you're missing. Bwahahaha.

So, writers, are you a plotter or a make-it-up-as-you-go-er? How would you approach a silly mistake an important dilemma such as the one above? Forget it, keep writing and go back to fix it later? Go back to first principles? Write the new scene anyway and worry about the consequences later?

Me, I love me them outlines :)

P.S. Drop by Vampire Wire later on today right now!! Marta is interviewing Doug Knipe from SciFiGuy, and he's giving away an ARC of SHADOWFAE!!!

I'd wait for the post so I can give you the proper link, but I have to go to bed sometime tonight :) Okay, so I didn't go to bed yet :) Here's the link to Doug's interview at Vampire Wire. Leave a comment, contribute to the excellence of book blogs and maybe win a copy of SHADOWFAE!!

This is the very first copy of my book on the open market -- complete with free typos!! -- so go on over and see if you can nab it for yourself!


  1. having tried both, I have to say I come down firmly in favour of the pantsers. I am a pantser extraordinaire. There. I said it. This whole planning business takes all the fun out of writing a novel. With an outline, you often end up forcing the characters to do something they wouldn't want to do. My characters do not come fully formed before I start the first draft. They develop as I write, so I can't know if they'll feel like doing what I've planned for them to do, if it's something that's within their character. Instead, I let my characters lead the story as I go.
    The most pantsy novel I've ever written is Seeing Red, which won the top 5 in Authonomy. I got an idea for a situation and a starting scene while resonding to a LJ post about politics. Five minutes later I opened a file to jot down the scene for later use. While I was writing the scene, which was set in an office, someone threw a bomb in through the window, and then I spent three weeks and 98K finding out who did it. This is literally how it happened. I've rarely had SO much fun writing a novel.
    I have to admit that I don't start writing until I know how it will end (in the above case, it was: they found out who did it, even though I had no idea who that would be). I need to have an ending situation.
    What I do when stuff goes off the rails? I abandon the draft pronto and start a new file, copying stuff from the old draft in a structured manner, and fixing up things until I can push ahead further. It usually takes me three to four drafts to reach the end. When I do, I know that all previous scenes flow in a natural way, and that the ending is justified by the previous happenings. Each draft takes me only 2-3 weeks.

  2. Me, I can't do more than one thing at a time, see.
    Drafting is what I call 'fun with words'. It's pure craft. One draft only, because I already know what the story's going to be. I couldn't write 98K in three weeks if my life depended on it :) but I guess the overall time I take is similar to yours, if you're doing 3 or 4 drafts.
    The outline is where the story creativity happens for me. All that business about 'damn, that character would never do that' happens in the outline. By the time I get to actually drafting, those problems are ironed out. Most of the time...
    The fun isn't totally taken out of it :) random stuff still happens, characters change, events condense and scatter. But I like me that safety blanket.

  3. I wrote a novel from an outline once, to see if I could do it and if it would work for me. I completed it and finished the novel, but it still took me four drafts of the above type to get it right. I hated the first draft so much I didn't look at it for a year. It felt incredibly forced.
    I write many, many different things at the same same, spread out in 2-3 week blocks where I will attack one project until the creativity runs out, and then move somewhere else for a bit.
    I'm one of those people who, when faced with a new electronic piece of equipment, will just turn the damn thing on and fiddle before going to the manual. I treat novels in the same way. For me, the 'feel' of the novel, the voice and the character is more important than the plot events. You can fix plot events. You can't fix voice.

  4. Man, sometimes I wish I could do it your way :) but I'm not spontaneous enough a writer. I like to have things planned out. The voice, if you like, comes last for me -- then again, all mine are pretty similar in that respect.

  5. Outlining works
    Outlining works...but pink ink? Hard for me to read so I use red or purple, and usually green for comments. It does save time in the long run.
    Terry Ervin

  6. Re: Outlining works
    Hey Terry! I love my pink pen. Makes me feel speshul :) I also have orange, purple, light blue...