Friday, August 27, 2010

Outline or Not?

H&T happens to be an on-the-spot creation.  In other words, I don't know what I am going to write until I sit down at the computer.  This is frightening and exhilarating. 
Why frightening?  Well, I am always a bit afraid that I will lose the muse, that something will happen and I will come up to a dead end, the story will fizzle or just plain suck and then not only will I know that I am a failure, but everyone who has ever come upon the blog will too.
Why exhilarating?  Writing H&T on the fly and as a serial online (of all places), challenges my mettle and my commitment.  I guess that I sort of need to do this in order to prove to myself that I am serious.  I like it, despite the daredevil feeling that I have.  But, what about the future?
Well, I have many other really interesting story ideas that I plan to work on once H&T is complete, (I have even started blogs for them - although not yet posting - just as a sort of place holder) as well as NaNoWriMo.  I am giving some serious consideration to outlining for these projects, especially NaNoWriMo in order to help me keep on the straight and narrow.  For me, I find that when I write without the outline (which is usual for me) there are times when my brain takes its own mini hiatus to subconsciously mull the story over and come up with new plot points.  Sometimes at the risk of altering what has already been written.
The fact is, right now, I have no real idea where H&T is going.  But, I am not afraid of this because these characters seem to have too much fire to peter out any time soon. I am several chapters ahead of what is already posted to the blog and this creates a nice buffer for those times of brain mini hiatus, and also gives The Artist time to get the art ready. 
But, I keep thinking about NaNoWriMo.  During November (provided I am still game to join in the fun) I plan to set H&T aside (there will still be chapter postings though) and concentrate fully on the work at hand.  That said, in the fast and furious full speed ahead push to get 50,000 words written I don't think that I can do it without the outline.  I fully understand that that any pre-writing messes with the writer's ability to write with the kind of abandon required to complete such a lofty number of words in only 30 days, but no outline?  I can see myself at day twenty with something like 5,000 words and saying "forget it!" and throw in the towel.  I do not want to do that.  Don't want to fail.  (I promise, I am not a perfectionist.)
So, let's weigh in.  What do you usually go with?  Outline or Not?  Why?
The Artist is here:


  1. I always work with an outline, of sorts. It's actually more like a chronological list of important things that have to happen during the story. How my characters choose to get there is their own business, and sometimes the list changes, but if I don't have a structure of some sort, the characters will go wandering in every direction and I'll have no plot.

    Everyone is different, though. I think most writers are either really good with characters or really good with plot. Those who are good with characters don't need character charts, for example, while the plotters often do. The plotters can work without any kind of an outline, while character writers usually can't.

    That's what I've observed, at any rate. Exceptions abound, of course.

  2. I have never written anything longer than a poem or blog post, but for this challenge an outline seems like aplan to me :)

  3. I am the same as Alice - a plan seems like a good idea. Maybe it's in there already but you haven't written it down yet? I love how you describe what writing is like for you however..made me smile and don't worry - you don't suck! Jae

  4. Well, this sounds so familiar. Becoz I have often been faced with the same dilemma. And just recently, after careful consideration, I have bowed down to the fact that outlining your major project would work better for me.

    Like in Wetlands, I have tended to stray a lot from the original essence of the idea, since I am writing on a fly and dont really know where the story leads from here. Which I now feel can be controlled once the plot or the flow of the storyline is preordained, so to speak anyway

  5. Thanks all for weighing in.
    When I wrote my self-published novel An Unproductive Woman (took me a good two years), I didn't have an outline but I did have well thought out character questionnaires. This was helpful because once I knew how each one of my people behaved and what motivated them, the story pretty much wrote itself.
    I do think that my stories are a bit more character driven than lot driven, but not that much. Maybe 60/40.
    One thing that I have ALWAYS found helpful is discussing my story with someone. This "out loud" approach help my mind to make connections and the next step sort of falls into place.
    For NaNoWriMo, I intend work on a young adult book that I sort of started a few years ago, but never got too serious about. I will throw all the old stuff away and start from scratch. This story is VERY character driven, so I do see the need to have solid character sketches complete before the start of NaNo because they will direct the story. But I do know that certain things much happen in order for the story to have the relevance that I wish it to have.
    So........drum roll please, I think that I will definitely do a loose outline to keep me grounded.
    Next question guys. Do any of you use a specific form/worksheet in order to outline?

  6. Speaking of form/worksheet, actually not at the moment. Mostly for me, it is outlining the novel in various drafts, starting with a rough sketch and then gradually developing on it, finally dividing it into each chapter, making sure everything is as detailed as possible, trying not to leave too many gray areas before I actually writing the novel.

    Though I would be more than interested to know if you have any particular method/software in mind. Any suggestions?

    I have also heard there are lots of softwares around these days that help you in outlining your novel's storyline, characters etc etc. However, Novel managing software dont really sound like a good idea to me becoz, being a software designer myself professionally, I can tell you that softwares are bound to be superficial. They can take out a lot of artistic elements/aspects from the creative writing process, which is a enjoy unmatched in its purest form.

  7. @Lev
    Well, therein lies the problem/issue. I do have a very comprehensive form for a character questionnaire derived from the book Building Believable Characters but I don't have a fform for outlining. I have been causually checking out some things online, but I have yet to see anything that match my specific needs, ie. detailed, but not so much as to stifle natural changes that occur when crafting a workof fiction.

  8. Yes, that happens to be a major problem when it comes to looking for a ready made format to build your synopsis on, the layouts available arent flexible enough, and are too superficial in the method they pursue.

    btw, though it has nothing to do with our current topic, have you heard about "Write or Die Online" website?

    Its something I have recently discovered and was a fun thing to try. I have tried it couple of times and it did have a major effect on the amount of words I could churn out within a very short span of time. (Last I tried, I was able to muster 1400 words within one hour)

    Do give it a try and let me know what you think?


  9. Thanks Lev. This is really interesting software. I may actually get the desktop edition. This looks like it would make NaNo a bit easier to get moving on. Thanks again.