Monday, July 26, 2010

To Outline or Not Outline…that is the question.

A few days ago I was reading a post on the blog of kt Literary. The posed was about how people plot out their novels. Outline or fly the seat or your pants? As much as I’ve tried to outline, it’s never stuck. I am and, suspect I always will be, a fly by the seat of my pants type of writer. Perhaps if I ever write something like The Da Vinci Code, or my most recent reads: Caught by Harlan Coben or The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, then perhaps I’ll need to outline, post up cards and have detailed pedigrees. Those stories have a tone of characters, plots within plots and enough twists and turns to snap a neck. So, yeah, I’d probably need to outline.

I’m a character driven writer. I like to read books, watch movies and tv shows which are character driven (one of the reasons I never really got into Law and Order). I care less about the crime and more about the toll it takes on the character.

So for me, I’ve never really had to plot out a character driven novel. Sometimes I have to take note of certain things, for instance:

In my latest novel, the first chapter starts with the main character angry that her on-campus parking spot has been revoked and given to the new guy, even though she stood in line last term to get it, and followed all the rules. It’s a small thing, but I wanted it to come back into play near the end of the book, so hopefully my readers will say, “Oh, now I see why her spot was taken.” The funny thing is, I’d written it down as a reminder to circle back around to it at the end. And then I promptly forgot about it, yet somehow managed to still bring it full circle. So I guess, until my memory stops working for me, I’ll keep flying by the seat of my pants as I write.

Tell me, do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?


A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Karen, I'm just like you. Exactly. I've thought the same thing ... "When my memory stops working, then I'll plot." :)

Sometimes I worry, though, that my plots suffer because they're not planned out well enough. Do you worry about that?


Karen Denise said...

I do, A.L.. Sometimes, when I get feedback and they want me to flesh out certain things, I write out things. I go scene by scene and do something of an outline. It doesn't happen often, but I have done it one or twice. But for me, to outline before I've written means I know what's going to take place in every chapter and I usually don't. It depends on the emotions of the characters.

Palindrome said...

I don't think I've ever done an outline like showed above. I will write out a synopsis so I get what I have planned or write out a scene synopsis. But I write both plot and character driven things and I have a million things on my mind at any given moment. Gotta keep it all straight.

Tere Kirkland said...

My outlining is much more free-form. I basically write little essays that encompass plot points, character actions, and their motivations, and scene goals if I'm plotting a chapter before I st down to type.

If I don't write these, I often wind up with long, rambling chapters in which my characters go on tangents. To keep the plot tight, I need to plan ahead!

Goof luck on your WiP!

Karen Denise said...

Well, Palindrome, I guess I do outline somewhat. I have a file that outlines future projects. Like you, I need to get it out of my head so I won't forget it.

Tere, I sometimes ramble on too, but that usually happens in my head. By the time I start writing, call it laziness or just an ability to see when I need to stop, I'm able to cut down the scene and mostly keep it from rambling.

Vatche said...

I'm a pantser all the way!

If I do plot, I usually lose the paper and do it my own way anyway. I could never stick to an outline anyway; it almost feels like I'm limiting or restricting myself.

I have a hazy idea of where I'm headed with my stories, but I know that somehow I'll end up with a satisfactory ending.

So, write on!

KLM said...

I outline in a very rough way, like I know how the story will end, and then I leave it up to the natural flow of events to get me there. Kind of like saying, "I know I want to get to Philadelphia by car by nightfall but I'm not sure which road I'm going to take."

Of course then there are times when I just wing it or improvise within the framework of the story. I absolutely agree with the notion that if it's boring to write, it's going to be boring to read. Plus, you know, I want to have some fun while I'm writing the dang thing. Otherwise what's the point?

Karen Denise said...

Vatche, I love that, "panster" short hand. I agree that outlining can limit. The one time I tried, I found that I'd gone way off the outline by the third chapter.

KLM, I agree with you. I've often written the end of a book first and worked my way to it. And yeah, if it's boring to write it will definitely be boring to read.

Ryan Sullivan said...

I'm with you here Karen--I'm definitely all about character and voice.

Personally, I despise outlines--if for no other reason, just by the term. They term just brings to mind rigidity and order--but often writing is a glorious chaos.

For me, I like goals. I'm a goal oriented person in life and in writing. I know what needs to be done before I start a chapter, but I let it flow and keep my goals fluid.

Mohamed Mughal said...

At least for me, writing is a synthesis of structure and serendipity; I find I need (and have used) both.

Karen Denise said...

Hey, Ryan. I never thought of the term outline, but I know in college it brought about stress for me, so maybe that's why I avoid outlines now.

Nicely put, Mohamed.