Monday, January 4, 2016

To Outline or Not to Outline

At this point in my career, it is so important that I get to know my characters as best as I can right off the bat by creating resumes for each, and also, I must outline the story (using a 30 chapter outline) as kind of a road-map, a guide, so that I at least "think" I know where I'm going, and it allows me to concentrate on the matters of the plot as I go along. I see it as kind of a GPS system. And even though things change along the way, for me to have some type of a guide as I write each day, depending upon my mood, I can also decide whether to write the next sequential chapter, or I can skip to the church scene, the sex scene, the divorce scene, the wedding scene, etc., which makes my mission easier to accomplish, and it also helps to alleviate writer's block.

After writing the outline, I then write a one-liner, sometimes more, at the beginning of each heading/chapter number, based on the outline. Initially, I let dialogue energy drive my story, and that leads me through the first draft. I literally write what the characters are saying. After 2-3 more drafts/rewrites, when I'm done with the final story months later, I take a look at all of the alternate routes, off ramps, what was scribbled, emailed to myself, omitted, altered, added in, what morphed into something bigger and better, what was boring that was made exciting, and what was useless that was made purposeful, and I believe that even though it changed, it was easier to have those one-liners to go by. 

When I first started writing in 1997, I did not outline. I went by the seat of my pants. My characters were talking so fast, it was all I could do to keep up with them. Nowadays, I do transcribe, but it's different. Yes, I'm more seasoned, but also, it's more challenging in some ways because the newness and innocence of the process wears off, and it can become routine, basically since I've learned so much. And that's in some way good and bad.

One reason I started using outlines is that after my first book deal, I began submitting option titles by submitting three chapters and an outline, and I would get a book deal based on that. I still do that. And so then, I would use that outline to write the story. Another reason is that many writing courses and other authors have persuaded me that writing an outline is the best way to go. And so I went. 

But, this New Year, I plan to challenge myself and write my next title without an outline, just to see how it goes, as kind of an homage to when I was more of a novice. I hope I will have patience with myself, as I will surely need to be disciplined.

Stephen King says that knowing a story isn't necessary for him to begin his work. He believes that one can become enslaved to an outline, and that the story can become artificial and labored, as opposed to allowing it come into its own being. He feels you can be more creative and less stuck to a direction, if you simply sit down and write the story, and let the characters take you where they will. Just flail away!

Is an outline helpful to you in shaping a story? What's your opinion on outlining? I'm very interested in reading your replies.

Happy 2016 to all, and Happy Writing!!


Linda Thorne said...

I cant' do an outline. A calendar, yes. I have to track when things happen. I've heard that you pay for not having some sort of outline one way or another. You may be revising tons more because you did not use one. I believe this is probably true, but if it's not in your nature to outline, I don't think that can change. Yes, outlines can tie you down, but if you keep them loose enough, they can guide you through your story without the tie-down.
I think it comes down to one simple truth that outlines are probably the better route. I don't outline, but I admire the folks who do.

Marissa Monteilh said...

Hello Linda, thanks for your comment. It can be a tough process, and sometimes it feels like the puzzle pieces are missing, but I kinda miss the freedom of not using one. I admire anyone who writes, with or without one. I enjoyed reading your opinion, my sister-in-pen!

Liane Spicer said...

Happy 2016, Marissa!

I tend to use outlines for novel length work, but write short stories by the seat of my pants. And I use different kinds of outlines for different genres. There's an exhilaration that comes with working without an outline, though. I discovered that last November/December when I started out writing a short story that turned into a 55,000 word first draft of a novel (or series)! It reminded me that this stuff can be fun--I think I had lost the fun factor somewhere along the way.

G. B. Miller said...

I rarely outline. In fact, the only time I outline is if I'm temporarily stuck, then I go back to the printed copy and take notes.

Regarding printed copy: I will print out what I write, page by page and chapter by chapter. At various points, when I have enough pages printed out, I'll spend an hour or so taking notes and making changes. By the time I'm finished writing the story, I have an entire 2nd draft at the ready.

And, I repeat the process with the 3rd & 4th draft.

I Are Writer!

Marissa Monteilh said...

Liane, I agree that the seat of your pants can be less limiting. Short story turned into 55k? Wowww! Can't wait to try it again. Thanks for your feedback!!!

Marissa Monteilh said...

G.B. Miller, I think not using an outline and then possibly creating one if I get stuck sounds like a great plan! Repeating the process after print is the most fun to me. Thanks!