Monday, July 6, 2009

Are outlines for outcasts?

When I first began writing my novel, I had a very loose plot in mind. There was a woman. A journey. And some kind of ending. And that was literally the extent of it. It got me through…well…roughly 3 pages. And then I realized I had to figure out what on earth the thing was about. So I kept writing. And while I wrote, I found out who the woman was, where she was going, who she would meet, and where she would end up. So, after a few false labor pains, the novel was born.

Now that I’m roughly halfway through the darn thing, I’m at the point where I’ve realized something. Something I have mixed emotions about. Something that will undoubtedly send some writers over the edge of cliffs in shock, horror, and dismay. And others back to Starbucks where they nod, shrug, take a sip of coffee and continue typing.

I think I need an outline.

And after discussing this in many writing circles and workshops, the above is usually the reaction. Some people are vehemently opposed to them, finding them stifling and suffocating. And others are so attached to the idea that they find themselves curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs without one.

So why am I both literally and figuratively in the middle? If I started my novel with an outline, I don’t believe I would have gotten where I am now. But lately, I feel that if I don’t have an outline, I’m not going to be able to move any further.

So what’s your take? Take as many detours as possible to find out where you need to be? Or stick to the directions to get to the destination you had planned? And that gets me to the real question. The zinger. Depending on how you do it, are you better or worse off once you get there?

I'm not sure there's an easy answer and I think more people reside in the middle than in my exaggerated extremes. But I secretly can't wait to see who is going to jump off of the cliff. And who is delicately stroking and cooing at their precious little cutsie wootsie outline.


  1. I did the same thing as you for my second novel -- first I wrote it out to see what I had (mind you, it was during NaNoWriMo, so it was easy to not worry about things like structure), then I derived an outline from the first draft.

    I don't cringe at outlines, but I don't cringe at not outlining either. It's a toolbox -- use the best tool for the job.

  2. I don't yet have enough experience to really comment, but I like the back-and-forth discussion. I'm typically analytical and I suspect that I will do better with at least a rough outline. But I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, so we'll see how that shakes out :-)
    p.s. you should post your twitter username on your blog so folks can find you

  3. It's funny because I'm someone that likes structure in my life and then gets annoyed by it. So I guess that's why I'm all outline confused. Good luck with your writing! And PJ, thanks for your suggestion. I just added a twitter feed! I'm new to blogging so it was fun to figure out how to add the widget :-)