♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
What is your process for outlining a story?
Welcome back to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop! If you’re new to the series, the authors included are always grateful for your reads and appreciate, even more so, when you share our writings with your friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors will engage and impress you weekly, so be prepared to become a regular reader.
If you’ve been following me about the internet, then you might have read my answer to this question before. As it was part of an interview, I didn’t go much into detail. The space only calls for short, blunt answers. To have it come up on the Open Book Blog Hop is my chance to better explain those abrupt answers. Hoping that they didn’t make me seem grumpy!
On the topic of outlining…My preference is to never outline. I write notes and keep them in a notebook or folder close at hand. When I’ve addressed the items on the note, I shuffle the to the back of the line or check them off if they’re written in my notebook. It may seem rather haphazard, but it’s a system that has developed for over 20 years. (Dear Lord, have I been writing that long?) I trust my system and it works for me. This is in no way a sales pitch to do things my way, but it might help someone who is a bit beside themselves thinking they are doing it all wrong. (Pssst! There is no wrong way.)
Many authors seek structure to keep them going. That is how they function. Everyone’s project is arrived at differently and will be completed differently. The rampant advice on the internet is simply the opinion of those who have been asked to elucidate their process. Some may come off as authoritarian, but don’t ever feel there is a formula to get you to the end goal. Facing that there is no easy way sooner rather than later is the best thing you can gift yourself. I’ve written several blog posts on the process myself. The irony of giving advice while telling writers to ignore advice isn’t lost on me.
The irony of writing notes and not outlining is additionally ironic. In a way, it appears that I may be struggling to build a sound structure on which to throw up the walls that will make chapters (rooms) and finally a book (house). Viewing the outline with the metaphor of architectural drawing helps us focus on how this piece is viewed by many writers. You wouldn’t throw up a shining skyscraper without a plan? How can you guarantee it doesn’t fall apart?
The extent of my plan is to figure out from where I start and to where I want to go. Once that is decided, the writing that ensues is ever chasing that end point. It becomes a squiggle between two points with plenty of loops on the way. Somehow, I always get there.
What’s most important for me is that I arrive at the end point organically. When plotting an outline, one can fall into the trap of cliché and other annoyances. It can also point them out, if you’re willing to criticize yourself honestly. Have you ever thought of doing the outline after? As a tool, it can really be quite useful to analyze your story. And, that brings me to the next point of why I don’t outline—it can cramp your style. Imagine writing out this great big outline and letting it rest for a few days only to come back to it and see the glaring holes! Organically writing your piece can tend to avoid these issues because you’re not manhandling the work to fit into an unnatural structure.
Before, I mentioned that I arrived at my system with 20 years of writing. The system adapts for each new work and each stage of the work. Outlines are not adaptable. They’re rigid for a reason: they are the map you laid out to get from point A to B. Absolutely you can change things in them, but then, they’re not doing their job by keeping you on track. A lot of work must go into outlines; a lot of forethought and insights. So you have to have all the research done, and clear eye to the end. I can’t imagine being set up like that. I’d flop.
When I set to work, I’ve done a good majority of the research, or have a really good idea of what I’m writing from years of historical studies and other travels. Most of my books aren’t started until I have had several years think on them. Perhaps all my outlining is done in my head then?
While doing my studies for my Masters, I started to see the screenplay as the blueprint for the film. In the case of film, this outline is imperative to finishing the project. Without it, the director will have a very difficult time getting their job done, as will the actors, as they will have no lines to prepare. Has it been done? Yes.
Films, however, are not novels. While my novels play like films in my head, they’re another animal and require a different approach. Likewise, they are not book reports or research papers, which are other projects that require outlining to keep direct on task. In my opinion, creative writing (short or long form), is more like painting. Certainly the artist plans, they sketch and imagine and execute. What you see in these stages is not something that resembles a clear outline. Art is organic by nature and requires the freedom it requires to become it’s best.
I hope I have made sense. Let’s hop on over to see how the other authors tackle outlines…