Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plan or Not To Plan -- That is the Question

Okay, I'll admit it. I hate to outline a book before I begin writing it. My normal process is that I'll get a rough idea--usually, someone kills someone else, and an idea of a few of the characters--and as soon as it's solidified enough in my brain, I'll begin writing. Sometimes this works well; sometimes not so much.

But, I had something odd happen last year when I began working on Cora's Song. I came up with the premise. I came up with the characters. I came up with a title--which was a first. And, I came up with an outline. This wasn't just X happens in act 1, Y happens in act 2, and Z happens in act 3. I'm talking a full-out, point by point outline. It took me three days to write it--and I was newly pregnant at the time! When I finally typed the thing up this year, single-spaced, it went on for six pages. Yikes!

In the process of writing an outline and utilizing it, I've discovered a few things about not only myself, but the writing process. While having an outline has proven useful to me, my writing process has slowed. In the past, I've written first drafts in just a few months--usually under six months, rarely less than two. And while, yes, I did have a baby during the writing of this book, I worked on the first draft for a year and a half. I could blame the baby, but I know part of it's been me. I was derelict in finishing the draft just because, well, I've got this outline! It's sort of done... right?

I've learned that having an outline doesn't mean a writer doesn't get stuck, either. I had many times where I'd stare at my paper and go, "Gee, I know where I am, and I know where I need to go, but how on earth do I make that leap to get there?"

And, my outline has been fluid. Different forces were working on me (namely pregnancy hormones!) when I wrote the outline. When I finally transcribed it, I realized some things had changed in the story, adjusted for that, and even re-did the ending a bit.

In the past, my first draft always had loose ends that I had to go back and figure out how to tie them up later. While I'm going to have some things to do on this draft, it'll mostly be checking for consistency and world-building descriptions. Truthfully, I think this draft will be ready for publication more quickly than the mystery novel I've been working on for about three years. That's kind of scary!

What's been nice about having an outline, in addition to everything I've said, is that I can see at a glance where I've been already and where I need to go. And, if I need to go looking for a detail, I can approximate where in the story it is, so it does save me some time (although this is still reliant on my own brain, so it's no guarantee I'll find it quickly!) For a non-organized person like myself, this is definitely proof that messy-types can learn to improve their organizational skills, at least minutely.

Now, the weighty part. I'm already beginning to contemplate what will be my next project after I wrap up Cora's Song and Homebody. Will I outline that novel? While I'm not certain--I may fall into my old habits and just have at it--having this outline has definitely helped me. I can finally see the benefits of having an outline. I may not outline as drastically as I did in this project. But if I know where I'm going from start to finish, I think it'll help keep me on task.

And, with a toddler running around the house, I need all the help I can get.

Until next time,

For more information on this topic, check out the following blogs:

Benefits of Outlining
yWriter Software Tutorial

Word Sharpeners:
Planning, Outlining, and Organizing Your Novel -- Or Not!


K.M. Weiland said...

That part about knowing where you need to go but not knowing how to get there sounds familiar! Non-outliners often think that outlining removes all the mystery and suspense from the writing process, because you already know everything that's going to happen. But that couldn't be farther from the truth! I look at an outline much like a road map: it tells me where I need to go, but it doesn't tell me what unexpected adventures I'll encounter along the way.

Liberty Speidel said...

Yep, Katie! I've been working on outlining my NaNo project (or what I hope will be my NaNo project--if certain things happen or don't happen, I'll probably be out for NaNo) and I know that project looks straightforward, but being a mystery, it'll take me on some twists and turns. :) Hopefully, some interesting ones, especially since I haven't figured out my sub-plot yet.

Cindy said...

I never used to outline, but now I have to have a small running list of conflicts and solutions--at the very least. I HAVE to know how the book is going to end and I have to know at least 4-5 major plot shifts in order to begin.

Liberty Speidel said...

Thanks for stopping in, Cindy!

I used to not even have as much as you! I had an idea, and I ran with it. If I was lucky, I'd figure out by about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through who my bad guy was!

Again, thanks for stopping in. Be sure to come back!

Suzanne said...

I think of an outline as providing the dots in a dot-to-dot. I only include the major points. How I get from one point to the other generally doesn't become apparent until I'm writing the draft. The full picture then shows up as I connect the dots. Like Katie said, just because we have an outline doesn't mean there won't be unexpected adventures along the way.

Anonymous said...

Liberty I really enjoy reading your rambling mind of writing. I really admire and love you very much! mom Sherrie

Nina Hansen said...

Great post!! I can really identify, having discovered outlining last November. It is an amazing tool, and can save you at least five drafts!!

Liberty Speidel said...

Thanks for dropping in, Nina!

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